In 2013, I am leaving San Francisco to travel through Latin America for a year. I’ve wanted to do something like this for years – ever since I returned from a year in Argentina during high school. Before I left Argentina, one of my teachers shared with me, pointedly, a poem by Mario Benedetti called “El Sur También Existe” (The South Also Exists). The poem decries the destructive excess and aggressive self-righteousness of The North and celebrates the patient resourcefulness and long-suffering humanity of The South. I have always remembered the poem’s insistent repetition of the phrase ‘el Sur también existe.’
Don’t forget about us, my teacher’s kind voice reminds me. Amid all of the comfort, privilege and opportunity that your circumstances offer you, don’t forget.
Too many people in the North have forgotten or never learned about the imbalances created by our global system. Northerners’ upper hand in that imbalance gives us a certain power – and thus a responsibility – to change it. I want to work towards a better, mutually beneficial U.S. Latin American relationship; a just and fair society improves everyone’s quality of life. It lifts people from abject poverty, yes, but it also liberates the privileged from a lifestyle dependent on exploitation.
Much can be learned about these things from books, journals and websites, but statistics are no substitute for personal experiences and relationships. I want to see what it’s like to live in Latin America with my own eyes, to hear and feel it. I know that visiting a place isn’t the same as being from there, and I recognize that travel has its limits. But it was the personal connection formed between my Argentine teacher and I that helped me to remember – el Sur también existe.
I have faith that the people I meet along the way – the people I will work with, eat with, speak with, grieve with, rejoice with and become friends with – will teach me something about a cultural world from which I do not come, but with which my cultural world is inextricably bound by our shared humanity and history (and market). By learning their stories, I hope I can find a way to remind my fellow Northerners that the South also exists, that we are connected through our actions, and that with that awareness we can share a world that is friendlier, more vibrant and more just.