No Country for Green Dogs

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“España camisa blanca de mi esperanza
reseca historia que nos abraza
por acercarse sólo a mirarla.
Paloma buscando cielos más estrellados
donde entendernos sin destrozarnos
donde sentarnos y conversar.” Blas de Otero

(Spain,  the blank shirt of my hope,/ your shriveled history  embraces us/ by just drawing closer to contemplate it./ A dove searching for starrier skies/ where we can understand each other without tearing ourselves apart,/ where we can sit down and speak our hearts)*

History repeats itself all too frequently.

This past week, it seems everyone in Spain knows what being Spanish is. Everyone knows and they all think that their idea of Spain is the only (or the best) idea.

To my dismay, I have once again confirmed my suspicions about the true nature of deep Spain. We are a country  mired by  a profound feeling of inadequacy, a country that needs to show everyone how good we are but manages to let our petty squabbles take command at the worst possible time.

Since the Civil War that ravaged the country for three years, there has been an undercurrent of mistrust among what many analysts and historians have called ‘The Two Spains’. The winners of the war, the heirs to Franco and his forty-year regime, have managed to instill a fear of being left alone, a fear of standing up or standing out from the crowd in the wrong way. Before, during and after the Civil War, it was of utmost importance to not let the neighbours know too much about your peculiarities if these could be viewed as strange, whether they were  your political views or walking  around without shoes in your house. No one had strong political views in Spain for most of the second half of the twentieth century. It was a cause for nervous conversations and almost invariably being asked to lower your voice.

In 1975, with Franco’s death came the Transition, a period when all the hatchets that had been raised during forty-odd years were buried in order to live in a democracy. All the major political parties agreed.  From then on, all differences that existed were swept under the proverbial collective rug, seemingly by a common agreement, because it benefitted everyone. Never mind the victims of the war or their families, which never got a public acknowledgement of the injustice they suffered and the crimes committed against them. Everyone decided to settle for a ‘democracy’ that was planned by the heirs to a dictator. Whoever criticised or doubted it was made fun of, and Spaniards are proverbially afraid of public shame as it brings about the menace of ostracism. That’s why people here are so happy. Happy means no one will ask you what’s wrong. You’ll just be a clone like any other or you’ll be ostracised, which means that you’ll be alone. The herd does not protect outsiders.

If they can ostracise you for not becoming a clone of them, think what lengths they’ll go to to protect the herd that they feel will protect them against any outside menace. Perhaps I am too radical (I am, by Spanish standards) but I saw what happened to me and also what happens to people who have the misfortune to fall outside of accepted social standards for whatever reason. There’s no way you can comply with all the rules, written and unwritten, of your typical Spanish town and/ or village unless you’re born there, raised there and don’t care to have your own criteria. In fact, I’ve had people say to me, especially women: you go on writing, I don’t always agree with you but at least you give me hope that I may one day be brave enough.  They rarely tell me this in public because too much closeness with an outsider is suspicious.

In Spain, to be brave you don’t need to do much, just question a few rules and ruffle a few feathers and you’re out, regardless of the good you might have done for the community or the personal sacrifices you might have made. I was fine while my mother in law was alive because she shielded me from it all she could. She was exceptional. As soon as she was gone, I was alone, literally. Nobody insulted me or anything. Not enough guts for that, but when I said in a casual conversation ‘Hey, come by for coffee!’, I heard things like ‘Well, I may, but it’s just not the same without her…’ or ‘The house is finished for me without her. I can’t bear going there knowing she won’t be around…’ Conclusion: If you are not ‘one of ours’ (meaning you are a clone with slightly different facial/bodily features) you don’t count, your pain or struggles don’t count and we will not give you more attention than is absolutely required. They are willing to overlook all those things and more. To the Spanish mind,  being different or having peculiarities is the most unforgiveable crime . Franco left it, in his own words, tied and well tied. People don’t want to risk being seen as different. You lose friends, family, support systems. They’ll usually never say why, you’ll just find yourself alone one day.

The Spanish are more interested in being part of a large group, the larger the better, in which to hide. That’s why Catalonia (or the Basque country, or Galicia, and even less Asturias) will not be independent within, at least, my lifetime. Because Spain is “one, great, free” country and 30 something million people is a bigger group than, say, 5 million, so the criteria is: I will go with whatever group provides a bigger number because there is safety in numbers.

Not only can you be discriminated for looking different but for, and I quote, “bending over to pick something up off the floor differently”. I look pretty average, I am not outstanding except for the fact that I wasn’t born and raised here, which you wouldn’t know if I didn’t tell you. I speak the dialect, promote the culture, participate in the communal life, and yet I am told that ” A dog is more from here than you!” Literally. You just have to ask things that are considered obvious or uncomfortable to be ostracised. You can have your opinions if you keep them to yourself. They cannot see their own chains so you’re a menace to the group by pointing them out. You’re the baddie. And you cannot prosper in Spain without a support system unless you happen to be wealthy.

Spain is no country for Green Dogs.

Catalans are not Green Dogs in and of themselves but their love for their culture come what may is seen, and has always been seen, as arrogance and pride by the rest of the country because it is what differentiates them from other regions. This is a menace to the collective psyche. There is a common stereotype of the Catalonian as proud and a bit snobbish, always looking down at people from other areas. While there are certainly people like that, they are not, as far I am aware, the majority or even a significant number.

I’ll end this post as I began, with a few verses from a poet who loved his country but was not blind to its flaws or blinded by a biased sense of patriotism.

España camisa blanca de mi esperanza
de fuera a adentro, dulce o amarga
de olor a incienso, de cal y caña.
Quien puso el desasosiego en nuestras entrañas
nos hizo libres pero sin alas
nos dejos el hambre y se llevó el pan.

-Blas de Otero

(Spain, blank shirt of my hopes/ inside and out, sweet or bitter/scented with incense, whitewashed walls, reed baskets,/ you instilled your unrest in our guts/ you made us free but took our wings,/ you left us the hunger and took the bread.)*

*Note: These are my own translations and interpretations of the poem and are not compliant with any source or previous translation.

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