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In a Polarized Spain, What Does It Mean to Be Spanish?

“+ LOVE” graffitied on a wall in Barcelona in 2009. Photo by Flickr user Almusaiti. CC BY-SA 2.0

“Fracture” is the word of the day in Spain, where the Catalonia region's bid for independence 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 dictatorship.

If you don't support the October 1 independence 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 violence against Catalan voters, you must be anti-Spain. 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 Spain 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 Spain 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 “humanize” 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 cariño, tú no eres español. Ser español no es llevar la bandera, ni gritar como un berraco frases de odio que espero que no sientas. Tampoco lo es ponerse una pulserita en la muñeca, ni cantar el cara al sol. El concepto de ser español es algo totalmente distinto, o al menos lo debería ser, porque a estas alturas de la historia yo ya no sé qué decirte.

Como española que soy, te voy a contar lo que para mí es ser español:

Ser español es arder cuando arde Doñana o temblar cuando tembló Lorca; es sentarte a escuchar historias de meigas en Galicia y llegar a creértelas; es ir a Valencia y no sentir rabia por leer un cartel en valenciano, sino que te agrade poder llegar a entenderlo y es presumir de que las Canarias nada tienen que envidiarle al Caribe.

Sentirse español es sufrir por no haber podido vivir la movida madrileña, enamorarte del mar al oír Mediterráneo de Serrat, es pedirle borracha a tu amiga catalana que te enseñe a bailar sardanas, querer ir a Albacete para comprobar si su feria es mejor que la de Málaga y sorprenderte al ver lo bonita que es Ceuta.

Para mí ser español es presumir de que en Andalucía tenemos playa, nieve y desierto; sentir casi mérito mío que un alicantino esté tan cerca de un Nobel, pedirle a un asturiano que me enseñe a escanciar la sidra y morirme de amor viendo las playas del País Vasco en Juego de Tronos.

También es española la cervecita de las 13.00, el orujo gallego, la siesta, el calimotxo, la paella, la tarta de Santiago, las croquetas de tu abuela y la tortilla de patatas. Lo son las ganas de mostrarle lo mejor de tu ciudad al que viene de fuera y que tú le preguntes por la suya; es hacerte amiga de un vasco y pedirle que te enseñe los números en euskera, por si pronto vuelves a por 2 ó 3 pintxos; es enorgullecerte de ser el país ejemplo a nivel mundial en trasplantes, de formar parte de la tierra de las mil culturas y de ser los del buen humor.

No hay nada más español que se te pongan los vellos de punta con una saeta o con una copla bien cantá, atardecer en las playas de Cádiz, descubrir casi sin querer calas paradisiacas en Mallorca, hacer el camino de Santiago en septiembre maldiciendo el frío o que Salamanca y Segovia te enseñen que no hay que ser grande para ser preciosa.

Así que, acho, picha, miarma, perla, tronco, tete, mi niño… eso es ser español, lo otro es política. Pero si de política quieres impregnar este concepto, también te vuelvo a decir que te equivocas: porque ser español no es desear que le partan la cara a nadie, es sufrir la situación de paro de tu vecino o el desahucio que has visto en la tele; ser español no es oprimir el SÍ o el NO de toda una comunidad autónoma, es indignarte cuando nos llaman gilipollas con cada nuevo caso de corrupción; ser un buen español es querer que en tu país no haya pobreza, ni incultura, ni enfermos atendidos en pasillos del hospital y, joder, querer quedarte aquí para trabajar y aportar todo lo que, durante tanto tiempo, precisamente aquí has aprendido.

Eso es ser español, o al menos, eso espero.

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.

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