Who was José Emilio Pacheco, and how did he contribute to Mexican literature?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Jose Pacheco was one of the most honored voices in Mexican literature.  He was the recipient of the Cervantes Literature Prize in 2009, the highest of honors for a Spanish language writer.  He also established himself as one of the leading voices in Mexican literature.  Born to parents with wealth and status, Pacheco forged his own path in seeking to become a writer with a distinct voice.

One of Pacheco's contribution to Mexican literature was his articulation of a voice for the emerging country in a globalized world.  Pacheco was rare in how he had seen Mexico emerge through the 1960s and 1970s and into the modern, globalized setting.  Through such a change, his greatest contribution was how he wrote about issues that impacted Mexico, both new and old, and human beings, no matter their distinction.  

The themes that ran through Pacheco's literature reflected this unique reference point.  For example, Pacheco wrote much on the issue of cruelty in the world, suggesting that “Out of a thousand [fish], 10 will reach the sea."  Yet, this was secondary to the cruelty of human beings:  "Fish don’t torture... Their banks don’t ever charge interest.”  Such a voice speaks to the reality of an emerging Mexico, a nation that was on the move, but voices like Pacheco demanded to know in what direction.  In one of his most famous books, Battles in the Desert, Pacheco speaks of the casualty of memory in the advancement towards the future:  "They demolished the school, demolished Mariana's block of flats, demolished my house, demolished the Roma neighbourhood. That city is gone. That country is gone. There is no memory of the Mexico of those years. And nobody cares: who can feel nostalgic about that horror?"  Mexican Poet, Efrain Huerta, suggested that the individualization of individual voice and identity were critical ideas in Pacheco's work:  "José Emilio Pacheco’s poems demonstrate formal perfection and an inner, emotional involvement.  This poetry contains a yearning, an ardour, a search for colour and secrets, a quest for the right word, for the right tone.  (Who is capable of finding his true voice?)"  This mirrors how Pacheco viewed his own role as a writer in suggesting "I like poetry to be the interior voice, the voice no one hears, the voice of the person reading it. That is how the 'I' becomes 'you', the 'you' becomes 'I', and in the act of reading is born the 'we' that only exists in that intimate, full moment of reading."  All of these ideas speak to the immense contribution that Pacheco had on Mexican literature.

In these ideas, Pacheco's contribution to Mexican literature was to ask the critical questions about society and human being.  He sought to construct a realm that was devoid of intellectual grouping and classification, but rather speak to a condition that impacted real people in Mexico. He is unique in how he rejected any attempt to "force" him into a group or movement.  His contribution to the literature was to develop ideas rooted in reality such as voice, memory, and personal identity.  These contributions last long into Mexican literature, ideas that enable succeeding writers to develop them further into a canon of Mexican literature.

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