They Have For­got­ten Many Things

The Iowa Review - - NEWS - Robin hem­ley

[T]he essence of a na­tion is that all in­di­vid­u­als have many things in com­mon; and also that they have for­got­ten many things. —Ernest Re­nan

My new Ar­gen­tinian friend Eze­quiel and I sit near the pool ta­ble, sip­ping our lo­cal Long­don Pride beers when he spots the most fa­mous guy in the Falk­lands. On the day of the ref­er­en­dum last March, this guy danced to the polls cov­ered head to toe in a suit and shoes be­decked with Union Jacks. The Vic­tory Bar, packed with Falk­land Is­lan­ders on this Fri­day night, is a Bri­tish pub to outdo all Bri­tish pubs, bunting ev­ery­where as well as a pic­ture of two bull­dogs with the cap­tion, “What We’ve Got, We’ll Hold.” This is one of the most iso­lated com­mu­ni­ties in the world, both po­lit­i­cally and geo­graph­i­cally, but you wouldn’t know it by the way they make a crowd in their iso­la­tion, re­mind­ing me of the hun­dreds of hud­dled pen­guins I saw this af­ter­noon at their re­mote rook­eries on the is­land, al­most oth­er­worldly in the way they seem obliv­i­ous to any­one else. As far as fore­gone con­clu­sions go, not even North Korea could have staged less of a nail-biter than this ref­er­en­dum: on whether to re­main a Bri­tish Over­seas Ter­ri­tory or not. What you must un­der­stand is that there are fewer than 3,000 peo­ple in the Falk­lands, a group of is­lands off the south­east tip of South Amer­ica, about the size of Con­necti­cut. Set­tlers have come from the Bri­tish Isles since 1833, and most Falk­land Is­lan­ders can trace their Bri­tish roots back gen­er­a­tions. It is more of a vil­lage-state than a city-state, and for as long as any­one can re­mem­ber, they have told the world ad nau­seum that they are Bri­tish through and through, though Bri­tain has at times re­jected them, Ar­gentina has de­spised them, and the rest of the world has largely ig­nored them. Of the 1,516 votes cast in the ref­er­en­dum, 1,513 vot­ers cast yes votes and three peo­ple voted no. That per­haps was the only sur­prise, that there were as many as three Falk­land Is­lan­ders who didn’t want to be Bri­tish. The pres­i­dent of Ar­gentina, Cristina Kirch­ner, like­wise had a pre­dictable re­ac­tion. She called the vote “a ref­er­en­dum of squat­ters.” Most of the is­lan­ders I’ve met think of her as a “nut­ter,” but her re­cent saber-rat­tling has made them ner­vous, liv­ing as they do in Ar­gentina’s shadow.

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