The tarnished present of Spain: Gaffner abroad

This week on Soleil’s Adventures in Spain, I realize how grateful I am that I was able to experience study abroad through Trinity.

The program organizers, Trinity’s own Bladimir Ruiz, Rosana Blanco-Cano and Katsuo Nishikawa, among others, scheduled a busy week for our traveling seminar. We spent two or three days in three cities in the region of Andalucia, the south of Spain. We usually woke up before 9 a.m. and did not get to our rooms until midnight. This non-stop walking history tour of Spain was incredible, and definitely the best cure for 10 students’ jet lag.

I wasn’t aware of how grateful I was to have this inspiring, educational and bond-building seminar until I arrived back in Madrid for IES Madrid’s orientation. While Trinity’s orientation was taking us to several historic landmarks and explaining the significance and interculturality of Spain, IES Madrid sits everyone in an auditorium for four hours at a time to talk about safety and class schedules.

I don’t blame IES Madrid. Their job is to keep us safe and secure during our time abroad. But sitting in a cold auditorium and listening to them explain how pickpockets will rob you of everything you own for two hours is incredibly boring. I can’t imagine how the students who just arrived that morning didn’t fall asleep right on the spot. The cure for jet lag is sunlight and activity, not eight-hour-long orientations.

But one part of the IES Madrid orientation that I was truly engaged in was their Diversity and Inclusion speaker. Owen Thompson is a journalist who came to Spain to study literature, and loved it enough that he stayed. His talk was about a blend of the ‘Old’ Spain and the ‘New’ Spain, and it shed light on a perspective of Spain that is not always clear.

From 1939 to 1975, give or take, Spain was under Francisco Franco’s autocratic rule. This dictatorship largely prevented Spain from partaking fully in the development of the rest of Europe. When Spain finally became active with the rest of Europe, after Franco’s death and the beginning of the reign of Juan Carlos, they were a little behind.

“The Kingdom of Spain is Past meeting Present in a very crucial junction,” Thompson said during his talk. The past he’s talking about refers to the history of the Franco regime, which has left its mark on modern day Spain. The present that he refers to, however, is another complicated issue that is currently being debated.

Spain has 17 autonomous communities. These autonomies function under their own set of constitutional laws, that follow Spain’s federal constitutional laws. Of the 17 autonomous communities, several have their own language and culture that is considered different from Spain. One of these autonomies is Catalonia.

Catalonia has its own language, Catalan, that was repressed during Franco’s regime. Franco had made a point to establish Spain above all else, and mark any other culture as a threat. During Franco’s regime, Catalonia was forced to hide their unique language, culture and identity. After Franco’s regime, Catalonia has finally been able to begin teaching Catalan in schools, as well as celebrate their identity once more.

Celebrating their identity, however, includes potentially becoming a fully autonomous community, aka, their own country. In June 2017, the government of Catalonia called for a referendum. This vote would determine whether the community of Catalonia intended on seeking independence from the government of Spain. However, on Sept. 7, the government denied this referendum, claiming that it was not permitted within the Spanish Constitution.

Thompson’s lecture often referred to this climactic moment in Spanish history. When referring to Spain’s emergence after Franco, he said, “Spain was finally present. … A lot of historical, burdensome baggage was being done away with.” However, when he was explaining the current political climate, Thompson said, “Spain has come from a burdensome past to a tarnished present.”

This issue is not so simply solved by opposing political parties.

“Spain goes about these problems differently. This is not just socialism versus conservatism, or nationalist versus centralist,” Thompson said. Even with the increased independence of an autonomy, there are Spaniards who do not want to be a part of Spain. This is the tarnished present that Spain has come to and must learn from.

Let’s tie this back now. Spain is not a ‘young’ country. The Kingdom of Spain, perhaps, but Spain as a flourishing nation has a long history. Yet, Thompson often spoke of how Spain is still young due to its past.

“Spain is still growing up — just how analysts say the United States is still coming to terms with its troubled past,” Thompson said.

Which brings this to the United States, and its relatively young history. In our current climate, the term “troubled past” is more than accurate. It’s interesting to see how a young country such as ours has problems that have analysts comparing us to kingdoms across the pond. Spain is not incredibly different from the U.S. We both have a troubled past that is continuing to haunt our tarnished present. But both of these countries has shown that we bounce back, no matter how messed up our past is. We have to look at it a different way, though: it’s not just one idea vs. the other. Both the U.S. and Spain are coming together to solve their respective problems that any young country would have.

To be honest, the biggest culture shock for me isn’t the referendum for Catalan independence. It’s actually just that Spaniards don’t refrigerate their eggs.