The Art of Disagreeing
An interview with Fernando Garavito
Sometimes “sick days” bring more than a well-deserved break. A year ago, on one particular sick day, I found inspiration. I picked up a magazine and read about Cities of Asylum, an organization that gives refuge to persecuted artists from around the world in the United States. The article mentioned a persecuted artist—a journalist, actually—living in Santa Fe. I did some research and found the name: Fernando Garavito.
I soon learned that Garavito was a controversial journalist in Colombia who received threats from his country’s government for speaking his mind. He won the Lannan Foundation’s 2006 Cultural Freedom Award. He teaches Spanish to elementary school kids. I tried to contact him but had no luck. A few months later, I met Le Chat Lunatique, whose drummer, Fernando Garavito, is Colombian. I asked another member of the band about Fernando’s past only to find that he was most certainly not a journalist in his home country. Then, a month or two later, Fernando and I were sitting on the porch of a mutual friend's house when he told me he and his family were refugees from Colombia. I then realized that everyone has a father, and some young men are named after their fathers.
I had found him. My friend was the son of the journalist I had been searching for. Fernando Garavito the journalist, Fernando Garavito the drummer-cum-translator and I met for an interview.
Where are you from?
I used to say that I am from Colombia, but the United States has taught me to say that I am from Latin America. Latin America is one big country divided into little pieces.
What was your profession there?
I was a writer, a journalist and a teacher. But my real profession is to disagree.
How did people respond to your work?
Of every 1,000 people, there are 999 positive and one negative. The problem is that the 999 positive remain quiet and the only negative one screams.
What made you move?
I was threatened with death for saying, and proving, that public life in Colombia is dominated by narcotraffic and paramilitarism.
Where did you move?
I came to the United States, first to Maine, with the intention of speaking about Latin America and about its problems with a country that is crucial to the continent. But here I found that the United States has, little by little, become another Latin American country.
How did you become involved with Cities of Asylum?
As a writer, Cities of Asylum offered me protection for two years. It is a program that protects persecuted writers who cannot express their opinion with liberty. I think I am one of them.
What is the most recognizable difference between Colombia and the U.S.?
There is one fundamental difference: Latin America is a disorganized chaos. The United States is a very well-organized chaos.
How has the transition been?
For Latin America, the U.S. is the center of the world. For that reason, when a Latin American comes to this country he feels vertigo. I felt vertigo, I feel vertigo and will feel vertigo.
What differences have you found in the general public's reaction to their own politics and government?
In Latin America, politicians are disliked but chosen. In the U.S., politicians are appreciated and chosen—and then disliked. In Latin America, you hate the government, but you live off the government. In the U.S., you respect the government, but you live against it.
How has your family adapted to the U.S.?
My wife and I, who are old, have not yet fully adapted, and may never be able to do it because our cultures are very different. Our children, who are young, have adapted more easily. Our purpose as parents is that they adapt to the good, reject the bad and don’t lose their roots.
What are you doing now?
What is the most significant thing you left in Colombia?
What is the most significant thing you have gained since coming here?
A new vision about my writing.
What drove you to write controversial articles with the knowledge of the danger of doing so?
I write what I think, and don’t know what fear or danger might be.