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In a polarised Spain, what does it mean to be Spanish?

To celebrate the country's diversity, according to one woman's viral message

L Finch | Global Voices 

In a polarised Spain, what does it mean to be Spanish?

“Fracture” is the word of the day in Spain, where the region's bid for and the Spanish government's response are not only pushing the country into uncharted political territory but also sowing the seeds of hate.

Many are warning that the crisis is giving rise to an “us versus them” mentality that is dangerously inaccurate in its simplism and uncomfortably familiar for a country that only four decades ago was under a fascist

If you don't support the October 1 referendum, which was suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court and deemed illegal by the central government, you must be anti-Catalan. If you don't applaud the actions of the central government, including the police against Catalan voters, you must be anti- Spanish is the only acceptable language, or Catalan is. There is only one Spanish identity and one Catalan identity. All or nothing.

Messages like these abound. But is the situation truly so binary, and so uniform? Judging by the popularity of one woman's Facebook post about what it means to be Spanish, the answer is no.

In a viral missive, Laura Moreno de Lara describes a that not only celebrates the many distinct cultures, customs and languages contained within, but defines itself by that diversity. A country not of disdain and violence, but of solidarity and love.

Her post was originally published on October 2, and from there was widely shared on WhatsApp. It seems to have resonated deeply with people throughout Spain, attracting more than 324,000 likes and 37,000 comments so far.

Moreno de Lara told news site Verne that she had wanted to “humanise” the concept of being Spanish after seeing so many speak about identity through a political lens. Below is a translation of her message with annotations for those not familiar with Spain:

No honey, you're not Spanish. To be Spanish is not to carry the flag, nor is it to furiously shout phrases of hate that I hope you don't feel. Neither is it to wear a bracelet on your wrist, not is it to sing [the fascist hymn] “El Cara al Sol.” The concept of being Spanish is something totally different, or at least it should be, because at this point in history I don't know what to tell you anymore.

Being the Spanish woman that I am, I'm going to tell you what it means to me to be Spanish:

To be Spanish is to burn when the Doñana [National Park] burns [with wildfire] or to shake when Lorca shook [in the 2011 earthquake]; it's to sit and listen to stories of meigas [witches] in Galicia and start to believe them yourself; it's to go to Valencia and not feel anger at reading a sign in Valencian, but gratitude that you were able to make it out; and it's to brag that the Caribbean has nothing on the Canary Islands.

To feel Spanish is to distress over not having been able to live through the Movida Madrileña [countercultural movement], it's to fall in love with the sea when you listen to the song “Mediterranean” by [singer-songwriter Joan Manuel] Serrat, it's to drunkenly ask your Catalan friend to teach you to dance the sardana, it's to want to go to Albacete to see if their local festival is better than Malaga‘s, and it's to be surprised at how beautiful [the Spanish enclave] Ceuta [located in North Africa] is.

To me, to be Spanish is to boast that in Andalusia we have beach, snow and desert; to feel almost as if it's my own achievement that a person from Alicante is so close to receiving the Nobel Prize; to ask an Asturian to show me how to pour cider; and to die of love seeing the beaches of the Basque Country on Game of Thrones.

What's also Spanish is the one o'clock beer, Galician orujo [liquor], the siesta, calimotxo [a mixed drink of red wine and cola, popular in the Basque Country], paella, St. James cake, your grandmother's croquettes and potato omelette. What's Spanish is the desire to show off the best of your city to those who come from elsewhere and to ask them about their own; it's to become friends with a Basque person and ask them to teach you the numbers in Euskera, in case you soon go back for 2 or 3 pintxos [small snacks offered at bars]; it's to feel proud for being the country that leads the world in organ transplants, for being a land of a thousand cultures, and for being considered good-natured.

There is nothing more Spanish than getting goosebumps while listening to a well-sung saeta or copla, staying till dark on the beaches of Cadiz, discovering almost without meaning to the idyllic coves of Mallorca, doing the Camino de Santiago [pilgrimage] in September cursing the cold, or having [the cities of] Salamanca and Segovia show you that you don't have to be big to be beautiful.

So, my acho, picha, miarma, perla, tronco, tete [various regional terms of endearment], my child… that is what it is to be Spanish, the other stuff is politics. But if you want to inject politics into this concept, I will tell you once more that you're mistaken: because to be Spanish isn't to want someone's face smashed in, it's to feel the pain of your neighbor's unemployment or the eviction you saw on TV; to be Spanish is not to press YES or NO on an entire autonomous community, it's to become incensed when they treat us like idiots with each new case of corruption; to be a good Spaniard is to want a country free from poverty and ignorance, where no ill people are attended in hospital hallways and, dammit, it's to want to stay here to work and give back all of which you've learned precisely here during so much time.

That is what it is to be Spanish, or at least, that's what I hope.

This article was published on Global Voices on October 9, 2017.

First Published: Tue, October 10 2017. 11:26 IST