3 min read

Learning to say "I hope you never feel joy" in Spanish

This is just what you say to fascists...

By the time I was about to graduate high school, I had made it to the Advanced Spanish Literature class, where we read authors like Federico García Lorca, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez in full, in their original Spanish. I remember it being every bit as difficult as talking about novels in English class, though I’m sure our teachers were going easy on us.

Maybe this was my senior year of high school or my freshman year of college, but it was right in the middle of my Spanish Lit phase that a teacher had us read La aventura de Miguel Littín clandestino en Chile (Clandestine in Chile). The book was the true story of the Chilean filmmaker Miguel Littín who snuck back into Chile under the dictator Pinochet after having been exiled for over a decade. He interviews and documents the resistance and this is how I learned about Chile’s 1973 military coup and the following dictatorship. This class was my first introduction to things like The Spanish Civil War, resistance movements, and the corruption of the World Bank and IMF. It was also the first time I heard music by the Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodríguez.

As a listening exercise, we listened to Silvio Rodríguez’s Ojalá. It wasn’t just hey, listen to this song and see if you can figure out what the lyrics are. We were supposed to take it apart. We were played a live version, with thousands singing along, and told that it was adopted as a protest song against people like Pinochet. Even though it was originally written as a song about heartbreak, we were told people used it as a way to tell corrupt governments I hope you never feel joy.

(I took their word for it, and have read conflicting reports of his actual politics and/or involvement with the Castro regime, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here.)

While I’m pulling most of this from some very fuzzy memories, this is the closest description to what I had been told about Rodríguez back then:

It was Rodríguez who, along with fellow singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés, gave the first big concert in Argentina to mark the end of military dictatorship after the Falklands war. And when Pinochet fell, Rodríguez returned to the Chile he'd first visited during the Allende government of the early 1970s, to give a concert in memory of his friend, singer Victor Jara, murdered by Pinochet's henchmen. —Jan Fairley, “An accidental hero” The Guardian, September 15, 2006

This was one example I was shown as a kid of how to use your words. How to use your music. This is how I learned to express anger towards men like them. I hope you never see anything beautiful ever again.

Listening to Ojalá, the anger isn’t apparent in the melody necessarily. The crowd’s voice is full of hope, or maybe a celebration. Even if you have no idea what any of the words mean, it feels cathartic. It’s beautiful. Sing your heart out, eyes wide, in Spanish, I hope something happens that will erase you suddenly.

I think that’s what so many of us are feeling right now, a bitter hope and excitement. We need that light at the end of the tunnel. Generations of people around the world have been here, wishing an end to the misery caused by an equally miserable person.

I was taught in school that this is how you respond to fascists. These are the kinds of words you have for them, without apology. I hope you disappear. I hope you eat glass.

I hope something happens that will erase him suddenly.

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