The Iowa Review

ROBIN HEMLEY
They Have Forgotten Many Things, Pt. 1


"[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. The "victory" alluded to in the bar's name is presumably the victory of England over Argentina in the seventy-four-day Falklands War in 1982, preceded by Argentina's invasion of the islands. No mere referendum could change this uncomfortable status quo, in place since the end of the war, when the territory became a military fortress, the airport itself a British base. Possession of the Falklands, known as the Malvinas to the Argentines, is enshrined in Argentina's constitution.

The Union Jack man is wearing an Adidas shirt now, but still Ezequiel wants his photo taken with him. Clearly drunk, the man obliges and seems intrigued by Ezequiel's interest in the Falklands. In that way that all travelers are transformed into symbols of their nations, Ezequiel might as well be dressed head to toe in Argentine flags, as far as this man is concerned. This is not a good look in the Victory Bar.

"What's your opinion on the Falklands?" the man asks Ezequiel. "Have you had any of your impressions changed?"
 

Ezequiel starts to speak, but the man barrels on. "If Argentina just accepted the Falkland Islanders, everyone could get along just fine. Am I right?"

"You're probably right," Ezequiel, who is small and thin and looking rather vulnerable, says with an uncomfortable smile.

Meanwhile, a man who is three Union Jacks to the wind, dressed in coat and tie, gravitates toward me. I have a bad feeling about him. He seems curious about Ezequiel and so I introduce myself as an American.

"Oh, I thought you were an Argie," he says. "Then I'd have to knock your head in."

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ROBIN HEMLEY

Robin Hemley is the author of eleven books of nonfiction and fiction and has received many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, three Pushcart Prizes in fiction and nonfiction, and the Independent Press Book Award. He is currently Director of Writing at Yale-NUS College in Singapore and Distinguished Visiting Writer at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

"They Have Forgotten Many Things" originally appeared in the Winter 2016/17 issue of The Iowa Review. This is excerpt 1 of 3. The full essay can be read at

The Iowa Review, "They Have Forgotten Many Things"

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on September 04, 2017

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