They Have Forgotten Many Things
[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.