29 April 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

After a week of writing about how much I loved the editors week in Argentina I hate to do this, but I have to go on a bit of a rant about the U.S. Embassy in Argentina.

It’s important to provide a bit of background first: Fundacion TyPA supports a number of artistic activities in Argentina, including this “Semana de Editores,” which consists of ten participants from around the world who come to Buenos Aires and spend a week learning about Argentine literature, with the goal that they will then return home and publish a few Argentine works in translation. Or at least develop a greater understanding and appreciation of Argentine culture and be in a position to share information about what’s going on in Argentine literature. (Which is what I hope I’ve been doing through these various blog posts.)

Thanks to the economic collapse of 2001 (I almost wrote, thanks to the IMF’s mistreatment of Argentina, but this isn’t the blog for that kind of debate), the government doesn’t have a lot of money to invest in cultural activities such as this. (Just imagine losing two-thirds of your money overnight and watching the poverty rate in your country skyrocket . . . Cultural exchanges automatically fall into the “luxury” category following such a severe economic collapse.) Nevertheless, the Argentine government goes on, inviting ten people a year, paying for their hotels, meals, transportation around Buenos Aires, etc., etc. (And really, this was one of the most well organized, well constructed editorial trips I’ve ever been on.)

The only thing they can’t afford to pay for is the flight to Buenos Aires. Instead they ask the various embassies in Argentina to support the cultural exchange by providing $1,000-$2,000 to pay for an editor (or two) from their country to participate in this trip. Most agree willingly and see the benefits derived from such an experience. I know that Ori Preuss met with the Israel Ambassador to thank him for subsidizing his trip, and the two women from Germany were sponsored as well and had a long meeting with the Goethe Institut. And I’m almost positive all the other embassies supported their editors—France, Italy, China, etc.—that is, except for America.

I’d heard before that the American Embassy in Buenos Aires was never fully supportive of this program. That they’d paid a few hundred dollars here and there, but never the full amount, and never consistently. Which, in my opinion, is absolutely disgraceful.

It’s not about the money. To me, the experience I just had was worth every cent of the cost of a plane ticket, and I’m sure many other American editors and translators would agree. But, still, it’s absolutely ridiculous that the U.S. government can’t give the Argentines $1,000 in support of this trip. Absolutely ridiculous and embarrassing. Seriously, the U.S. pissed away many more thousands of dollars in the time it took me to write this sentence. But provide a minimal amount of money, a token amount really, more a symbol that yes, the U.S. does believe in cultural exchanges—that’s apparently impossible.

But it really is up to the government how they spend the people’s tax money. (And there are good cultural programs in place, such as the State Department’s support of the International Writing Program at Iowa.) And I wouldn’t really even be that upset if I hadn’t stumbled upon Embassy’s stand at the Buenos Aires Book Fair.

Seriously, it’s all about space exploration. Yes. Space. Exploration. At the Buenos Aires Book Fair. And no, I have no idea either what these two things have to do with one another.

Here’s the “explanation” from the U.S. Embassy’s website:

The United States Embassy will participate in the 34th Buenos Aires International Book Fair. During the 50th Anniversary of NASA (National Aeronautics and space Administration), the Embassy booth theme will focus on the important advances in science and technology developed by the United States. Books, videos and related items from space exploration will be shown at the booth. Visitors will have the opportunity to feel like an astronaut for a while and take a photo wearing a space suit.

Really? In a space suit? How, um, great. I can’t imagine that anyone goes to the book fair all manic about the possibility of learning about space travel . . . Of trying on a space suit! And if this isn’t disturbing enough, follow the thread of some of the other events the U.S. is sponsoring at the fair:

The Embassy has prepared a large number of activities during the Book Fair, including the celebration of the “United States Day” on April 29.

The Embassy is proud to announce the visit of the distinguished writer and journalist Tom Wolfe, who will give a lecture and sign books at the Fair. Mr. Wolfe will also meet with Argentine representatives from the cultural and media arena.

Fernando Caldeiro, American astronaut born in Argentina, will talk about his experience working at NASA and how to become an astronaut.

How to use Internet to start your writing carrier [sic] will be the theme of a roundtable by American authors.

Granted, some of the other events the U.S. is involved with (such as the panel featuring Argentine writers who had attended the Iowa International Writing Program) are pretty interesting, but from the above, it’s clear that exporting relics of American culture is much more important than facilitating a true cultural exchange.

I doubt anything will come of it, but I’m going to write to Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne (BNS-PublicOpinion@state.gov) to let him know how disappointed I am and to encourage him in supporting this editors week in future years. Really, it’s more for my own personal sense of closure, to express to someone in power that I think the U.S. should be supporting exchanges like these across disciplines and around the world, and that by essentially shunning Argentine cultural organizations, they’re acting as a poor representative of American culture—something that I’d like to distance myself from.

Just to make it clear, these are my opinions alone, and in no way reflect Fundacion TyPA, or anyone else. And I’m really just irked by this particular situation—the International Literature Exchanges and Translation Fellowship programs at the National Endowment for the Arts demonstrate that there are people/governments organizations concerned with supporting international literature and cultural exchanges. It’s just that when I arrived in the Atlanta airport to the shocktastic blatherings of CNN, I realized just how screwed up our priorities are.

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