Celebrating Cervantes

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The English have their bard, but the Spanish have Cervantes. 400 years after his passing, his work is celebrated in Hong Kong  through a prize that honours students who love his language.

The Mexican and Spanish Consulates have joined forces to recognise the efforts of students in high schools across Hong Kong who study the Spanish language through the awarding of the Cervantes Book Prize.

Miguel de Cervantes, the author of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha, known in English by its shorthand Don Quixote, died 400 years ago and is remembered fondly not only in his native Spanish but also by those who know his work through translations into almost every major written language.

The Octavio Paz Gallery of the Consulate General of Mexico was the scene where top students of the language were honoured by Acting Consul General of Mexico Saúl Zambrano Barajas, Consul General of Spain, Santiago Martinez-Caro, and the CEO of the bookseller Paddyfield, Peter Gordon.

d 14 students won prizes in the inaugural Cervantes Book Prize in Hong Kong
In total, 14 students won prizes at the inaugural Cervantes Book Prize ceremony.

Selected by their teachers for excellence in learning, students received a certificate and a copy of the famous tome. Paddyfield supported the event and the award. Gordon also inspired students with stories of his experiences learning the language as a young man in Colombia.

Cervantes’ global impact on literature was noted by the Spanish consul general who pointed out that El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha was the second most translated book in the world, second only to The Bible.

Zambrano Barajas, quoting Mexican Nobel Prize winner for Literature Octavio Paz, exclaimed during the event, “With Cervantes, freedom begins. With Cervantes, modern literature begins. Cervantes smiles; learning to be free means learning to smile.

He finished with, “Please, smile; please continue to learn Spanish; please, pay tribute to Cervantes. Bienvenidos al mundo de la ñ!”

Below is a press release by the Mexican and Spanish Consulates General:

The Consulates General of Spain and Mexico in Hong Kong and Macau are pleased to announce the inauguration of a new “Cervantes School Book Prize for excellence in Spanish-language studies”, awarded to students selected by Hong Kong secondary schools with Spanish language programmes.

The Cervantes Schools Book Prize has been established as an annual award open to every school in Hong Kong and Macau with a Spanish language programme and is awarded to a student in the second-to- last year of secondary school. It is designed to encourage the study of Spanish — one of the world’s most important and widely-spoken languages — and to support students’ university applications.

The inaugural prizes were awarded at a ceremony on 3 June at the Consulate General of Mexico. Consul General of Spain, Santiago Martinez-Caro, noted that “This year is the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish author of ‘Don Quixote’, the well-known and the second most translated novel in the world after the Bible. The two Consulates General have jointly organized this book prize for the first time in commemoration of this great writer and as a part of the Cervantes 400th Anniversary programme.”

Mr Saúl Zambrano Barajas, Acting Consul General of Mexico added, “With the launch of the Cervantes 400 th Anniversary Book Prize, we recognize the performance and progress of students who excel in the process of learning Spanish as a second language. The Cervantes Book Prize aims to become a foundation in Hong Kong for the propagation of the Spanish language, a new incentive that will motivate youngsters to pursue the study of the beautiful language and also strengthen their academic curriculum.”

The inaugural Book Prize ceremony was presented to a packed gallery of students, teachers and parents. Winners came from across the spectrum of Hong Kong, including both the local and international sectors. “It is really encouraging,” said Mr. Martinez-Caro, “that in this very first year of the prize, 14 Hong Kong secondary schools, that is more than 70% of Hong Kong secondary schools with Spanish language programmes, already take part in this event, demonstrating the schools’ generous support and persistent effort in contributing to the development of the Spanish language and culture. We hope that this prize can raise the public’s awareness of the importance of the Spanish language, one of the most important and widely-spoken languages in the world, and to encourage more educational institutions in Hong Kong to start teaching Spanish.”

Mr Zambrano noted the practical benefits, telling the students that it “allowing you to communicate with more than 500 million people, speaking Spanish will expand your professional horizons and expose you to some of the richest cultures of the world.”

The 2016 prize itself was a copy of the special 400th anniversary edition of Don Quixote published by Restless Books. The Prize is sponsored and coordinated by local Hong Kong bookseller Paddyfield.com.