With the death of Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, the world loses not only a great writer but also someone who always had an opinion. Whether you agreed with his point of view or not, Fuentes always had something to say about literature, culture and politics.
I attended the presentation of his last book La gran novela latinoamericana at El Instituto Cervantes in New York where he made more than a few controversial comments about his colleagues. When asked why he hadn't included Roberto Bolaño, the renowned Chilean writer, as one of the great novelists in his book, Fuentes responded, to the astonishment of the audience, that he hadn't read him. He also said that although Borges was one of the big Latin American writers, he didn't like him because he had met with Chilean dictator Pinochet.
I was lucky to take part of the press conference that followed his presentation where Fuentes was asked, among other things, about the upcoming election in Mexico and about the Occupy Wall Street movement both topics that he managed (You can watch the video of his answers here.)
But when I asked him what he thought about the impact that the low graduation level of Mexican students in the United States would have in their future, he seemed to be completely unaware of the situation. He said -without a shred of a doubt-- that Mexican students graduated in large numbers.
When I asked about his thoughts regarding the image of Mexican immigrants in the U.S., which at the time was suffering from the relentlessness of the press coverage of stories related to undocumented immigrants. He emphasized that the image of Mexicans in the U.S. was magnificent, that he meets them in restaurants and hotels and that his people contributed to the American economy. "They are not ruffians," he said.
Although I was surprised by his answers I gave him a pass because I felt even someone like Fuentes shouldn't be expected to be knowledgeable about every issue. I was, however, taken aback by his inability to admit that he didn't have an opinion or that he didn't know the statistics.
Now that we lost him and with him one of the most influential writers and thinkers of our time, I already miss his "everyone's entitled to my opinion" attitude which earned him more than a few enemies. His willingness to voice controversial opinions is something not many people have, much less manage to sustain that attitude for a lifetime.
Mariela Dabbah is the author of Poder de Mujer: Descubre quien eres para crearel éxito a tu medida, and founder of The Red Shoe Movement a movement to encourage women to wear red shoes to work to show support for other women's career development. She's a writer and consultant on issues that help Latinos crack the leadership code.