Multifaceted Reflection: Identity & Pride throughout Spain
by Sofia Guerra of FIU Honors
In Spain for Miami España: Ida y Vuelta with Professor John W. Bailly
Establishing the Roots
What does it mean to be American? What does it mean to be Spanish? What does it mean to be Catalan? I grew up in the US and took my first steps across international borders through Spain and Catalonia. Being surrounded by people of all ages, ethnicity, and histories, hearing an array of languages from region to region, and tasting what each city has to offer, whether home or abroad, repeatedly teaches me that there is always more to what we think we know lying beneath the surface. Now with a broader lens there is vast clarity to that omen. There is no look, dialect or flavor to tether anyone from the three places mentioned to the generalized labels I’ve posed. There is no outside factor that will distinguish one from the other. So how does one define their national identity?
[Photographs by: Sofia Guerra of FIU. June 27, 2019 (CC 4.0)]
From the urban and globalized landlocked capital, through historic trifles of towns like Segovia, to the quaint coasts of Catalonia, it was impossible to overlook the different currents each city holds. Madrid is nothing like Barcelona. The two capitals, both figureheads for their representative regions within the same international border, both full of national pride, lie on opposite sides of a tense and violent history. Tourists packed into the pebbled beaches of Barceloneta reign as far as the eye can see. This provides a stark contrast to the slower paced, and sandy, cove beaches of Sitges, where beach-goers of all ages and walks of life wear what they please-if anything at all, during routine beach days of moseying in the sand. While they share the same Mediterranean waters, a capital-city beach crowd mimic the vibrant myriad of stones beneath their feet, and a small coastal town allows for wiggle room where everyday life, and people soak up the sun. Each attract a different catch.
Miami’s melting pot was all I knew for most of my upbringing. Everyday experiences like school, errands, and general life come with a background noise heavily made up of Spanish and English, with Portuguese, French, Creole and other languages also in the mix. My Freshman year of College was spent in Sarasota. Consequently, the only breaks from the hearing a semi-twangy rendition of the English language existed in blips of weekend trips home. Sarasota showed me a different side of Florida; one that fell closer in line to what I knew as the conservative, small-town northern region of the state that often parallels the social and political make up of rural middle states. I went from a globalized city, where Cuban cafeterias and Thai fusion restaurants lie on the same streets within walking distance, to a town where the nearest croqueta was a 25-minute drive away. Cuisine aside, it was immediately apparent how different Florida could be perceived from varying cities as an outsider. Are Jacksonville and St Augustine less authentically Floridian than Miami and the Keys? Or are they better representations? When you’re stuck to a geographical location you are none the wiser until you reach past old boundaries build your own associations.
MADRID: Identity through the Arts
Spain’s capital surpasses its function as the nation’s center for foreign and stately governmental affairs. It’s home to the Museo del Prado, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Between the two institutions they house among the richest pieces of visual art, important not only to the construction of a distinctly Spanish artistic narrative, but to the grand dialogue of art history in its entirety. The conglomeration of these works in the capital transforms Madrid past its legislative duty into a compact cultural hub, buzzing with a hum of national pride.
I was expecting the capital to be the most ‘Spanish’ city- a true precursor of what was to come. It struck me at first as an alternate New York. It smelled like a big city, looked like a big city, and the Big Apple was the closest comparable experience I had to contextualize what I was experiencing. While the United States is hardly considered an old country, New York is among the oldest cities we do have in the states. Its status as one of the original colonies aids its cultural importance to the US because it has been through the cultural, political, and economic successes and failures since the dawn of the country. Therefor it is no surprise that New York, as well as Madrid, are unique and priceless entities that radiate the creative voices that have shaped their respective nations artistically.
Some of the most tumultuous events in Spanish history took place centuries before the Americas were even discovered which, provided a distillation period for artistic development. While the US had no concrete, distinctly American style until the emergence of Pop art in the late 1950’s, Spaniards were tweaking continental movements like, those of the Renaissance and Baroque. Doménikos Theotokópoulos (nicknamed El Greco) rejected the innovations in perspective of the Renaissance, in favor for dramatic composition, and free utilization of bright highlights with heavy shadow. Diego Velazquez behaves similarly, dismissing tediously rigid technical application for every inch of his subject, limits it to areas like faces, or details, to then create an atmosphere using heavy shadows and quick painterly brushstrokes. Both El Greco and Velazquez rebelled against the common thread of what was developing around them to pursue a visually darker, bold, and dramatic rout which in the end landed them venerations as part of the great Masters through the history of art.
Dark, striking, and true are a few words to describe pieces created in, around, for, or pertaining to Spain; adjectives which were just as honest in the 15th century as they were in the 20th century. These artists do not shy away from the horrors or war, gore, sorrow, political corruption, and even mental illness. During the 19th century, Goya’s Black Paintings took to a new level of darkness. In the 20th century, Picasso broke three dimensions into four, and began to experiment with movement on the canvas- a theory turned skill which he perfected and employed to the greatest war painting of the century.
The civilian town of Guernica in the Basque region was flattened under the repugnant orders of fascist military general, Francisco Franco, who rose to power and sustained it through dictatorship for a 40-year period. Picasso’s Guernica (1937) A Cubist rendition of the tragic event traveled the globe, raising money for Spanish Civil War relief until it arrived at the MoMA in Manhattan, NY where Picasso ordered it to stay until the restoration of democracy in Spain. His masterpiece is overwhelming in size and takes the viewer through a chaotic maze of faces, severed body parts, distorted animals, fire, debris, a Basque pieta with her motionless child, and a flower of hope.
By the time Guernica (1937) arrived in New York, the artists building the adolescent art scene in the US were gaining inspiration from movements abroad that leaned toward Expressionism and Abstraction. The dialogue between contemporary American and European artists of the 20th century provided the theoretical means for American artists to think more creatively. Ultimately the development American Pop art became quite popular and became a distinctly American Style. However, the movement itself focuses heavily on consumerism, goods, and the elusive American Dream. It started as a commentary on American society, but soon grew into a lackluster, over-the-top, aimless movement.
through literature: Barrio de las letras
Walking down Calle de las Huertas, my feet guided me over gleaming prose. Embedded in the bricks are words from the poets and novelists from Spain’s Golden Age of literature, leading me through Barrio de las Letras. The novel and imagery of Don Quixote, written in the early 17th century, are inseparable to Spain’s literary and artistic identities. The knight himself is scattered throughout the country by sculpture, plaques marking his route, countless canvases, and Picasso’s lithographic prints.
Miguel de Cervantes’s masterpiece is a product of this literary Zenith in the nation’s capital and has been translated into 60 languages. Cervantes resided and wrote here towards the end of his life. These narrow, sloped streets are where he produced the novel that acted as a catalyst of inspiration for countless intellectuals and artists alike. The sun hangs low, its light bounces off the golden words of Cervantes. Not far, a wall wearing his words as well, this time in graffiti.
Federico Garcia Lorca, an early 20th century poet, wrote, drank, ate, and lived in among these streets as well, just hundreds of years later. Garcia Lorca was involved in the diaspora of creative thinkers that have consistently found their place in Barrio de las Letras for hundreds of years.
The literary identity and potency of this neighborhood is not just for the indulgence of Spaniards. Ernest Hemingway, the American literary figure traveled to Madrid, to the French-square of Plaza de Santa Ana, and engaged with his European counterparts like Garcia Lorca.
It has historically been a region bustling with creative activity, and today is no exception. Today the neighborhood is a young adult’s hub. Its speckled with specialty gift shops, boutiques, taverns, and restaurants. The area feeds the hunger of the young creatives. The narrow side streets are inviting and a welcomed retreat from the pace of Madrid.
SEVILLA: Identity through Architecture
Today the warm riverbed city is a winding maze of white, yellow and red. Sevillan Baroque, seen consistently throughout the port city is an architectural style that reflects the sentiments of Spain during its age of exploration. Whitewashed washed walls adorned with yellow or red trim and topped with Spanish tile are common among the winding streets. Heavy, yet intricate ironwork guards every threshold- door, window or gate- and provide a stark, grounding contrast to the otherwise light palate. It’s a beautiful anomaly, frozen in time.
Decorative Sevillan Baroque wasn’t always the makeup of the city. The Torre de Oro, or Tower of Gold is a repurposed Moorish tower used by the Spaniards as a tax house. The landmark structure hints at the past presence of Al-Andaluz. For the Spaniards, Sevilla became most important at the dawn of the 16th century. The port city was refurbished specifically to accommodate any trade between Spain and the New World.
At its peak it was the richest city in Spain, but it was a direct product of the wealth obtained through the nations contact with the Americas. Sevilla experienced a Golden Age contemporaneously with Spanish exploration, exploitation and conquest in the Americas. The economy grew immensely, and a visual culture followed. Due to the economic boom, Sevilla developed a highly decorative architectural style that was reflective of their values, power, wealth, and history. The Moorish-inspired whitewash walls, used for temperature control and disease prevention in the warm wet city were soon rebuilt with yellow and red facades accompanied by complex and abundant iron railings, balconies, doors, and window-cages.
The center of the town is the most elaborately decorated area. Official government buildings, the Catedral de Sevilla, and clergy houses were all centrally located and donned with statues or sculptural reliefs of notable people, symbols, or pivotal episodes in the nation’s history. However, these subjects are rarely displayed autonomously.
Palacio de San Telmo is an iconic, vast red building, punctuated with ornaments of yellow, and stamped with a sculptural façade so intricate there are a million places for your eyes to look. It previously functioned as a school for navigators. Around the sides are larger than life, fully in the round sculptures of navigators, and religious or historical figures. The craftsmanship of the Palacio is astounding, and the colors ring vibrantly in contrast with the pearly white façade, but a closer look reveals the dark intentions of a powerful nation. was previously a naval building.
Professor Bailly prompted us to look up under the balcony. “You see whose holding it up?” he asked. I first recognized the sculpted feathered headwear of the native American group hoisting up the balcony for the academy. A closer look revealed faces twisted in pain and frozen in immaculate marble. While the sculptor may have included the grouping to show the use of Spanish colonization efforts, it reveals the relationship between wealth stolen from the Americas, brought back to Spain, then used to fund more voyages to the Americas and continue the cycle. Not only that, but this sculptural narrative is worn by a building forming more navigators for the country’s Naval forces.
The identity that Sevilla has built through its architectural front is directly based on the economy provided by Spain’s spoils from a new transatlantic resource. When walking through the city it becomes evident that there is a boastful attitude about Spain’s treatment of the New World. A monument to Christopher Columbus stands tall in a manicured park not far from Palacio de San Telmo, and not far from the river itself. The dawn of the twisted relationship between the New World and the Catholic superpowers of Europe can still be seen in Sevilla.
BARCELONA: Identity through Language
When I heard Catalan for the first time, I felt like my ears were tripping over themselves. Some words and phrases in Spanish came through but they felt unfamiliar. Walking out of the train station, and letting my ears adjust we were greeted with Barcelona. Yellow and Red are not the colors of Spain any longer, they’re the color of Wilfred the Harry’s golden shield, stained four bloody stripes. The tale behind the flag of Catalonia reveals the grit and determination for National sovereignty.
Catalonia has long been among the most economically profitable regions in Spain. While the region does hold some autonomous rights the two nations are still economically affected by one another. Conservative theologies in Spain argue that independence for Catalonia is a money-hungry political pursuit, yet through research, and experience, I’ve come to learn that the main factor that continues to reignite old furies are debates on language.
In the modern history the dictatorship of Francisco Franco greatly affected the trajectory of Catalonia receiving autonomy. By enacting language laws, he evaporated any legal protection for the language to exist. He barred the language from being taught in schools, used in media, and any other public use. Forty years of fascist control kept Catalan out of public rhetoric; he was trying to eliminate a culture by any means necessary. A generation of citizens born between 1936 and 1975 had no chance to learn their native tongue. Immigrants moving to the region, weather as war refugees or from outside Spain all together had no chance of learning the language. Those who did had maintained the language were scene as educated and respected.
Now in Barcelona most public signs are written in three languages: Catalan, Spanish, then English. The generations coming of age within regime of Franco have made an active push to reestablish the language since his death in 1975. The political fervor of the region is present and tangible. Wilfred’s four bloody stripes are everywhere: from flags to stained glass, and trencadís. Some variations of the flag include a hopeful star of independence modeled after two colonies to gain independence from Spain in the modern: our neighbors, Puerto Rico and Cuba.
Through Remembering: El Barri Gotic
Through the length of his militant rule, Francisco Franco regularly used senseless violence to make political gain. An example of this violence was Franco’s vile orders to carry out an aerial bombing on the Basque town of Guernica. The town was flattened, and it showed his opposition the lengths at which he would go to remain control.
Throughout Franco’s military coup some of his ideological enemies fled to Barcelona. This ensued a continuous bombing of the city, causing immense damage and flattening entire sections of the town. During this gruesome episode of conflict in September 1938 Placa de Sant Felipe Niri changed radically. The Placa previously had a children’s school next to the Iglesia de Sant Felipe Niri. When the bombs started to fly, the children sought refuge in the church’s basement. However, the church was struck, and the children were trapped under the debris. While some people attempted to rescue the children, a second bomb dropped bringing the death toll to 42.
Today the only thing standing from the era of Fascist violence in the Placa is the façade of the Iglesia de Sant Felipe Niri, covered in perforations from the shrapnel that took so many lives that day. They act as a reminder of a dark area of Spanish history, an area no one can forget, but some refuse to talk about.
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Farnsworth, Lawrence A. 1937. “Revolutionary Forces in Catalonia.” Foreign Affairs 15 (4): 674–84. doi:10.2307/20028810.
“Plaça and Church Sant Felip Neri Barcelona – Square: IrBarcelona.” Ir Barcelona. February 12, 2017. Accessed July 20, 2019. https://irbarcelona.org/barcelona-squares/placa-sant-felip-neri/.
Preston, Paul. “The Scars of Catalonia: How a Century of Mistrust and Political Incompetence Fuelled a Secession Crisis That Could Lead to the Break-up of Spain.” New Statesman, 2017. http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.fiu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsglr&AN=edsgcl.520322408&site=eds-live.
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