It's been a interesting time to be Uruguayan this year; Eduardo Galeano made his way into the world's spotlight—and the #1 spot on best sellers lists— after Hugo Chávez handed a copy of his Open Veins of Latin America to President Obama. Uruguayan-American Carolina de Robertis' debut novel The Invisible Mountain, is said to be positioned as a lead title when Knopf releases it in 8/09. And it's only May. Uruguayans are just not used to this much attention.
Being born in a country wedged between two Latin American giants, with a total population of just over 3 million, generally makes you feel like a drop in the bucket. Uruguayans often resign themselves to a certain degree of anonymity, especially abroad. Not much is known about us; there aren't many "Uruguayan" stereotypes to pull out of a hat to enable others to jump to conclusions, and many people can't locate us on a world map. There's always our famous beef, but that is something that we share with Argentina, so it doesn't do much toward identifying us as a singular people. To be fair, we have ourselves struggled with our national identity, but that is a different matter. The fact is, Uruguayans are a quiet bunch in many ways.
But we could always count on Benedetti to speak for us. Mario Benedetti was probably Uruguay's best-known writer. More than the pivotal Onetti, more than the fiery and controversial Galeano, despite the latter's resurgence. Because Benedetti's readers truly love him. They cherish the nostalgic quality of his prose, and yearn for his evocative poetry. The magic of Benedetti has always been the simplicity and universality of his message. In a way, Benedetti personified what it is to be Uruguayan on a world scale, which is probably why I always brought him up in conversations with non-Uruguayans. And it never failed; those who knew him, always loved him.
Benedetti had been ill for over a year, and on May 17th, his body finally gave out and he passed away at the age of 88. I encourage you to take a look at the video below, and to celebrate the life of a simple man who, with the help of words, his only tools, carried out a very important duty: He reminded us how to be human.
Chau Mario, gracias por salvarnos.