So what accounts for this Latin American eccentricity of constitutional plasticity?
A passage in Professor Carlos Eire’s book, Learning to Die in Miami, where he explores his assimilation to American life may give us a starting cultural clue.
As he learns the language, young Carlos notes that his thinking is different in English, and that his new way of thinking alters his perception of the world. He is affected by the way in which his new language gives so much more choice and responsibility to the self than his native Spanish. In Eire’s example, if on the way to class one of your books falls to the ground, you would say in Spanish: “ Se me cayó el libro.” This construction is hard to translate since reflexive verb forms are rare in English. It would be something like: “The book dropped itself from me.”
In essence, the Spanish construction implies a shifting of responsibility and the conception of a victimized self. In contrast, the English composition would be one where responsibility is fully acknowledged as we would simply say: “I dropped my book.” We would say “the book fell” only if we had not been responsible for holding it.
With humor and wit Eire brings home the point: “Oh damn, the book had the nerve to fall from me. Damn book. Damn gravity. Poor me. If only the laws of gravity were different, I would not be having this problem.” What an insightful cultural contrast! In English it is our own fault that we dropped the book. In Spanish, the book dropped itself from our hands.