U.S. Ambassador is a Pop Star in Paraguay

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  07.02.08 | 12:07 PM ET

imageIf we could just replicate James Cason a thousand times over. The U.S. ambassador to Paraguay not only learned to speak Guaraní, the indigenous language spoken by most Paraguayans, but he has recorded a hit album (pictured) of Paraguayan folk songs in the language. Now, just a month before his posting ends and he leaves the country, he finds himself a pop star in Paraguay, featured on TV and in newspapers.


“The polls show that Paraguayans thought we didn’t respect their culture,” he told the BBC. “I said, that’s not true and so that’s why before I even came to the country, I learned Guaraní and I’ve been studying since then.”

The BBC page has audio of him singing. For someone who claims never to have sung much, he’s not bad.

A terrific Miami Herald story on the ambassador details his approach to learning the language—details that should inspire any traveler. He began studying a month before leaving a posting in Havana. He used out-of-print textbooks and was tutored three hours daily.

Reports the Herald:

Upon arriving in December 2005, he stepped off the plane wearing the traditional hand-embroidered Paraguayan ao poi dress shirt and greeted local reporters in Guaraní, delivering a three-page speech. Not even embassy staff knew he had studied the language.

In Asunción, he recruited his third tutor and began watching Guaraní TV and filling his iPod with vocabulary lessons that shared time with the Beatles, Buddy Holly and Whitney Houston on his playlist. He soon discovered Guaraní music, translating 1920s songs about emigrants longing for Paraguay and Paraguayan soldiers who march into battle afraid their girlfriends will stray in their absence.

A government official told the Herald that he’d never met another U.S. official who could speak Guaraní.

Cason’s successor has big shoes to fill.

Related on World Hum:
* ‘Good Teachers Make for Good Journeys’

1 Comment for U.S. Ambassador is a Pop Star in Paraguay

Julia 07.02.08 | 2:53 PM ET

I’m impressed. Unfortunately, I think Cason is probably a rarity among Foreign Service officers.

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