To be sure, Latin America has enormous challenges ahead. The region continues to be plagued with political instability, seen most noticeably in Venezuela’s recent economic meltdown. Violent crime fueled by drug cartels and social inequity overwhelms law enforcement and judicial systems in countries like Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Brazil and Colombia.
Corruption, rickety economics, environmental degradation, polluted cities with their sprawling slums, all are part of the story of Latin America. Yet, the contributions of Central and South America in terms of food and culture are with us everyday. For example, consider Latin America’s profound contributions in terms of food. The tomato, the potato, bell peppers, chile peppers and corn, all originated here.
Or how about the immense natural history of Latin America? This is home to the world’s tallest waterfall, Angel Falls in Venezuela, and the biggest waterfall system in the world, Iguazu Falls, in Brazil and Argentina.
And then there’s music, dance and literature. Imagine music without the contributions of Brazil, Mexico and Cuba. Where else could the tango have been invented but in Argentina? Latin America gave us the literary voices of Neruda, Garcia-Marquez, and Borges.
It’s hard to overstate Latin America’s reach. Mexican food is just slightly behind pizza and sushi in global ubiquity. Salsa rhythms and tango clubs have people dancing from Glasgow to Vladivostok. The audaciousness of Latin American art, with its ability to blend the aesthetic and the political, has inspired other such sensibilities around the world. Think of the way Che Guevara’s iconic likeness became the iconic symbol of revolutionary chic.
For me it’s still the hidden corners and little moments that tell the most interesting stories, and Latin America offers an abundance of both.