Guest blogger Maureen Dolan asks what you do when the romance of Spain wears off?
You’ve been here a decade and find yourself living in just another country, one sometimes less progressive than your own. You were drawn here by los toros, el sol, el flamenco and la siesta. Now you defend animal rights and prevent skin cancer. Your work ethic baulks at lying about in the middle of the day and Camarón triggers your migraine. Maybe you should “go back”.
But you can’t – you have a wife or husband and kids. And the sentimiento trágico de la vida sets in.
It happens to me. But I have a secret. Her name is Última. I found her in 1983, in the novel Bless Me, Última by Rudolfo Anaya, set in 1940s wartime North America.
Far from being last, as her name suggests, she was my first, connecting me, not only to a new culture, but to a new idea of culture. I knew about Spain’s South American colonies, but this was new, as it knotted my English-speaking life and my love of Spanish together in a new way.
In the mid-eighteenth century an expansionist United States invaded Mexico, finally ending a brutal war only when half of Mexico was ceded to them for $15,000. California, Arizona, Colorado and what is now New Mexico – names given them by the Spaniards – joined the U.S. But what about the people? They were given a choice – stay or go. Most stayed on their ancestral lands.
Bless Me, Última, published in 1972, introduced me to the New Mexican descendants of this land grab. The Spaniards (unlike other conquerors of the Americas) left their families at home and had offspring with the native population, resulting in a mestizo Spanish European and American indigenous race. Última’s people are Spanish-speaking vaqueros and farmers whose religious beliefs blend Spanish Roman Catholicism and Native American animism. Their horsemanship is Spanish and their speech contains archaisms from sixteenth-century Spanish.
Última, an elderly curandera, was so named to underline how the agrarian lifestyle of the Luna farmers and Márez cowboys is fated to disappear. The young people are schooled in English and seek urban jobs or join the army. The novel is written in English, although Anaya, a Spanish-speaker, not only reflects the underlying Spanish speech patterns but inserts many borrowings from Spanish (a strategy now used by non-Hispanic writers, such as Cormac McCarthy).
Yet, in the 1970s people of Hispanic origin clamoured for cultural survival and social equality. They carried out mass protests, adopting the strategies of the Black Civil Rights Movement. Their principal battle was to defend, not one or the other aspect of the Anglo-Hispanic environment in which they lived, but their bilingual, bicultural way of life.
One of the fundamental pillars of this movement, called the Chicano Movement, was the demand for bilingual education. Children born into Spanish-speaking homes and then schooled in English often became high-school dropouts as they were expected to acquire knowledge before they were well-grounded in the new language. The Chicanos, their numbers swelled by waves of Mexican immigrants to the U.S., won the battle which all other linguistic minorities in the United States lost – they retained their Spanish language while adopting the Anglo-Americans’ English, through bilingual education.
In the United States, throughout most of the 20th century, Spanish was regarded as a “poor people’s” language. Today, however, non-Hispanic North Americans are learning it in droves, due to the upward mobility of Hispanics and the Spanish transition to democracy after Franco. Politicians of every stripe, Barack Obama the latest example, court the Hispanic vote in Spanish. The Instituto Cervantes is gearing up to corner this huge cultural and linguistic market. It has centres in New York, Chicago and Albuquerque and centres are planned for San Francisco, Houston and Washington D.C.
And so, Última was not the last, but the first, as the wisdom of her hybrid culture, with what I like to call the struggle between the roots and the road. Far from disappearing, it has transformed itself and endured.
Today mainstream America emulates her ecological respect for the land and her embodiment of the “sacred feminine” so revered now by Goddess Feminists. With Última, I began to learn that nation state borders are arbitrary, that cultures have no boundaries and that there are no dividing lines on the land. Languages meet and blend, Spanglish being just one example. Politically, culturally and philosophically, nothing is static or monolithic. And while you can´t always move away, move back, move up, you must always move forward.
So forget romance. Forget tragedy, and move forward, with Spain.
Do check out Maureen’s blog for more inspiring writing, at www.cecyspain.blogspot.com