As a region that is growing rapidly from various fields, Southeast Asia has similarities with Latin America. These 2 regions share the same historical background as colonialism, cultural pluralism, and spiritualism. The Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CESASS) of Gadjah Mada University (UGM) held SEA CHAT #22 “Regional Literature Between SEA and Latin America, What Makes the Differences?” by Gladhys Elliona Syahutari, on Friday (02/28/2020) at the PSSAT Library. Attended by the public and intern students from Singapore, Belgium, and the Philippines.
In fact, 4 out of 11 countries in Southeast Asia can understand each other’s languages. Namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei with Malay or Austronesian roots. Likewise, Thailand and Laos, although they can’t understand each other, but it comes from the same language family (Kra-Dai). In fact, in the Latin American region, the majority of countries can communicate with each other using Spanish, or Portuguese and Brazilian which are still one family. This explains a little more why literature in Latin America is unified when compared to Southeast Asia.
From the colonial point of view, the majority of countries in Latin America were already independent earlier than the average of Southeast Asia, which had just gained independence in the 20th century. The use of the colonial language makes Latin America easily understood by Europeans, which is the center of science. Supported by the Latin American academics who have studied and worked in Europe, to bring home the rich of science. This geographical advantage is certainly not obtained by Southeast Asia which is located far from Europe or America.
Some of these facts certainly show the uniqueness or challenges of Southeast Asian literature. “How many Southeast Asian writers study other Southeast Asian languages?” asked Gladhys, a UGM Graduate Student in Performing Arts and Fine Arts Studies. This question provokes active discussion between participants. Of course, the answer is not much. Southeast Asian writers tended to translate his work into English, then circulated it between the Southeast Asian region, where actually there were not many demands. For example, the famous novel Laskar Pelangi was translated into many languages, but none of the languages of Southeast Asia.
Gladhys’ interest in this topic began when she became an assistant curator of literature in the arts community. For her, this rich Southeast Asian literature has various challenges that must be resolved immediately. One of them is the ability and willingness to learn from each other in Southeast Asian languages. “I’m also curious to read Thai literature. But of course, it is difficult to find here and language differences, ” she concluded in closing.