"Utopia is on the
horizon: When I walk two steps, it takes two steps back. I walk ten
steps, and it is ten steps further away. What is Utopia for? It is for
this, for walking."
- Eduardo Galeano
Some years ago, when first reading online samples of Eduardo Galeano’s book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, I felt my heart tremble and open and stir. This convinced me to buy the book and read it. It is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read because it eloquently and with compassion exposes some of the brutalities and the realities of existence, all the while reminding us about being human, appreciating each other, and having good reason to continue on. As Galeano writes: “And because in the history of humankind every act of destruction meets its response, sooner or later, in an act of creation.”
The book convinced me in no uncertain terms that the basic framework of material society, what some call civilization or progress or modern comforts, is an illusion built on the backs and sweat and blood of Indigenous, African, and other Human slave labor. See that exquisite gold trimmed piece of furniture, yes lovely, but where did it come from and what fellow human being went underground into a mine or deep into a forest to help get the materials? Whose water may have been polluted to get some of the filaments that help make the computer run so I can write this tribute and share it with others? Thus, the Uruguayan author blew my mind from its place of complacency.
In that same book, Galeano depicts, citing resource after resource after resource, how the charms and trinkets of Europe and then the West aka USA were the products of the rapings of Mother Earth. The book’s title sums it up yet the pages tell the full tale.
Look at what goes on today. Issues of the extractive economy are at the forefront of virtually everything. And every day it seems there’s another article, another book relating this. Just this week someone told me of The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa's Wealth by Tom Burgis. I commented to a friend how it sounds like Galeano’s book, but about Africa.
There is much positive with the world but to learn of the continuing abuses makes me readjust what Utopia means. Maybe Galeano knew that Utopia, as we tend to idealize it, is really an illusion. Or if it’s attainable there’s a heck of a lot of work to do to bring it about.
Galeano walked the talk. As Isabel Allende writes, in her “Foreword” to Open Veins of Latin America:
“He has walked up
and down Latin America listening to the voices of the poor and the
oppressed, as well as those of the leaders and the intellectuals. He has
lived with Indians, peasants, guerrillas, soldiers, artists, and
outlaws; he has talked to presidents, tyrants, martyrs, priests, heroes,
bandits, desperate mothers, and patient prostitutes. He has been bitten
by snakes, suffered tropical fevers, walked in the jungle, and survived
a massive heart attack; he has been persecuted by repressive regimes as
well as, by fanatical terrorists. He has opposed military dictatorships
and all forms of brutality and exploitation, taking unthinkable risks
in defense of human rights. He has more first-hand knowledge of Latin
America than anybody else I can think of, and uses it to tell the world
of the dreams and disillusions, the hopes and the failures of its
people. He is an adventurer with a talent for writing, a compassionate
heart, and a soft sense of humor."
If we may never get to where we are going, if Utopia is a mirage... then we best make the best of where we are.
In analytic geometry there’s what’s called the asymptote: “‘straight line continually approaching but never meeting a curve,’ from Greek asymptotos ‘not falling together.’”1
If you continually go half the distance toward a destination, mathematically you will never get there. Yet Eduardo Galeano got there... or was it really just here from a different perspective?
Some people want this, some that, some are content, some never are. Considering all that is going on around the globe aka Mother Earth, rather than achieving something, nowadays it often feels like we would simply do well “not falling together,” with “together” including bees, and other endangered species or what Indigenous Peoples call “relations.”
It is encouraging to learn of other Utopia walkers.
“A small team of
women are planning the historic walk of thirty international women
peacemakers from twelve different countries. We hope to cross the DMZ on
May 24th, 2015, International Women’s Disarmament Day... Since the DMZ
is the most highly militarized border in the world, women peacemakers
believe it is only right, as part of their lifelong work for disarmament
and demilitarization in their own countries, to walk in Korea, in
solidarity with their Korean sisters. The women of Korea want an end to
the 70 year old conflict. They want to reunify millions of Korean
Also, the Navaho or Diné Peoples with their “Nihígaal béé Íina: Our Journey For Existence”:
“As young Diné
people, we realize that we can’t continue on like this. We need clean
air, water, and a viable lifeway for our people and for all human
beings. In facing this crisis of our future, the idea of walking to
raise awareness was born. We are walking to honor the legacy of our
ancestors during Hwééldi, who, a 150 years ago, were forced to walk
hundreds of miles away from our homelands in the winter to be imprisoned
for four years in the name of American colonization.”3
This 3-1/2 minute video tells it in their own words, “Our Journey For Existence”:
The other day a friend reminded me of the words of the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado:
“Travelers, there is no path, paths are made by walking.”
And, from Machado's Campos de Castilla:
footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon
glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road Only wakes upon the sea.
"Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, y nada más; caminante, no hay
camino, se hace camino al andar. Al andar se hace camino, y al volver la
vista atrás se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino, sino estelas en la mar.”
Thanks to Eduardo Galeano the tall grasses on the path are not so thick, the waves of the ocean are not so rough.
I have also read Galeano's Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, another fabulous book. On the bookshelf and summer reading list is Voices of Time: A Life in Stories. There are many more.
As with Utopia walking, there are more books than can be read, and more experiences than words can convey... yet we keep walking... and talking... and telling the stories...
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is an essayist and resident poet on Axis of Logic. In addition to his work as a writer, he is a small press publisher and Turtle Islander. His new book is “Drive-thru Theofascism & The Hero's Journey.” He also hosts an audio show "Between the Lines: listening to literature online."
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