October 12, 2011

Two Spains, Many Spains: 1492 and "La Hispanidad"

"Here lies half of Spain. It died of the other half."
—  Mariano José de Larra, 19th-century Spanish satirist

John Vanderlyn's Landing of Columbus, 1847

Today is "La Fiesta Nacional de España," what was formerly "El Día de la Hispanidad" in Spain, and as such offers another opportunity to return to the theme of "las dos Españas" (see "Las dos Españas" entry). The narrative of "Two Spains" is very attractive for its explanatory power. Consider the deep significance of the year of 1492 in Spanish history. It was:

1) the year that the Catholic Monarchs ("los reyes católicos"), Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II, defeated the last outposts of Moorish occupation in Andalucía thereby unifying Spain,

2) the year when Christopher Columbus ("Cristobal Colón" in Spanish) "sailed the ocean blue," initiating Spain's imperial conquest of the New World, and

3) the year when all the Jews in Spain were either expelled or forced to convert to Catholicism, starting the Spanish Inquisition.

Don Quijote, one of many classics
from "El siglo de oro"
1492 thus marked the beginning of a high point in Spanish political power, and in particular Castilian and central Spain. It was not only the year that marked the completion of "la reconquista" of Spain by los reyes católicos, but the initiation of "la conquista" of the New World and the importation of all its wealth and territorial power. Isabella was the monarch from Castile, Ferdinand of Aragon. Their seat of power, though initially split between the two regions, would eventually be located in Toledo, near the center of the Iberian peninsula. (In 1561 the capital was moved to Madrid, also in the center, which has been Spain's capital ever since.) Thus would begin what would come to be called "El siglo de oro" (the Spanish Golden Age), running from roughly 1492 to the middle of the 1600s and marked by its wealth of cultural classics Cervante's Don Quijote, Lope de Vega's many plays, and Baltasar Gracián's philosophical treatises, among others, would all pass through the Castilian courts forging the basis for a nationalist national culture, a.k.a. "la Hispanidad."

"Tanto monta, monta tanto, Isabel como Fernando" (as much as the one is worth, so much is the other), the motto of the Catholic Monarchs symbolizing their sharing of power between Aragon and Castile. Here it is shown with the escudo of the reyes católicos, showing the castle and lion of Castile and the eagle and "senyera," or four red stripes on a golden background, emblems of Aragon's rule over the países catalanes. This is the first official seal of a unified Spain.

The 12th of October in 1492 was the day Columbus first spotted land in the Americas, so to celebrate it today as El Día de la Hispanidad is in part to celebrate the expansion of Spanish (read Castilian) culture across the globe. What's more, initially this holiday was known as "El Día de la Raza" (Day of the Race) to mark the meeting of the peoples of the New World and the Old. In the 1920s, a Spanish priest living in Argentina suggested substituting "la Hispanidad" for the more racially loaded term "la raza," reasoning that much as "Cristianidad" demarcated all the christian people, hispanidad would mark all the Spanish peoples ("pueblos hispánicos"). In some respect, the switch could be interpreted as focusing on the shared cultural heritage of Spanish-speaking people, rather than on the direct racial lineage. Yet, to give you a sense of the strong interlinking of centrist, Castilian culture, language, and religion, it was common to hear one say "habla en cristiano," speak in Christian, to mean speak Castilian Spanish, "castellano." (This use of "cristiano" interchangeably with "castellano" would continue in Spain up through the Franco dictatorship, the 1940s to 1960s.)

In 1958, the holiday's name was changed from "de la Raza" to "de la Hispanidad" in Spain (though, amazingly enough, not in most Latin American countries). "La Hispanidad," for better and worse, was still marked by the legacy of the earlier centrist and imperial period. Which is perhaps why in 1981 the newly formed democratic Spanish Congress renamed the holiday "Fiesta Nacional de España y Día de la Hispanidad," and then in 1987 dropped entirely the "Día de la Hispanidad" bringing us to the present name. Yet in much of the country today, October 12th is celebrated and known more informally as el día de la Virgen del Pilar, who incidentally is the patron saint of La Hispanidad and the Spanish Guardia Civil. Madrid marks the day with a parade of the country's military forces. So while in name it is no longer El Día de la Hispanidad, the holiday continues to be infused with that spirit.

There were Spanish critics of la conquista even during the Spanish Golden Age. This sketch showing the cruelty of conquistadores was included in Bartolomé de las Casas's accounts of the "destruction of the Indies" written in 1542.

Which brings us back to the Two Spains and a counter-interpretation of the modern-day significance of 1492. Many Spanish intellectuals in Hemingway's day, and really ever since, have sought to make sense of Spain's descent from political power in the 20th-century by reinterpreting 1492 and the Spanish Golden Age. Spain was a victim of its own success, so they reason. The readily available "cheap" wealth, gold and other treasures, from the New World kept the Castilian regimes from investing in the newer and (in hindsight) more enduring capitalist wealth brought with industrialization. Thus, scholars such as José Ortega y Gasset, so influential to the Generation of '27, reasoned, Spain was slow to modernize. Employing the racialized explanations common in early 20th century, they even saw the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 as an economic deterrent to Spain's modernization, since Jews were associated with financial innovations and modern intellectual traditions which had taken place in other European countries.

Photo of a group of authors, including Lorca (second to the left), later dubbed the "Generación del '27"

So 1492, once celebrated as a moment when Spain consolidated and purified its national identity, is also seen as a moment when the country got trapped in the past and turned away from many of the liberal European currents driving the Enlightenment and industrialization. And Americans will surely not be surprised to learn that there are contested politics today surrounding the significance of Columbus and the conquering of the New World. Spaniards traveling in Latin America, and particularly Mexico, might hear a local speak quite sarcastically of "la Madre Patria," referring to Spain and its alleged pretension of being the motherland for all Spanish-speakers. Such resentment is a lesson to anyone foolish enough to believe that shared language equals shared culture or understanding, though this is a sentiment which, at its core, is the ideal expressed in the celebration of El Día de la Hispanidad.

The flag of "la Hispanidad," with the three crosses representing
Columbus's three ships and the purple color from the Crown of Castile,
the region which gave birth to the Spanish language

Needless to say, even the counter narrative to 1492's significance suffers from both over-simplicity and a Whiggish view of the past. For one, despite the strong Castilian political dominance, throughout its modern history, Spain retained much of its regional cultural heterogeneity. Centralist authority was always contested, and rulers varied in how much cultural and political autonomy they deferred to the kingdom's different regions. (To anyone reading this in Mexico, please take it into consideration not to presume that Spaniards are uniform in their embrace of "la Hispanidad" and "la Madre Patria". Catalan and Basque people, and perhaps most Spaniards in general, identify less with the centrist tradition than with their own particular (and much less imperial) regional identities.) Moreover, the last thirty years have been marked more by Spain's Europeanification through the EU, or by the influx of immigrants coming from countries in Africa or eastern Europe that have little to do with this reconquista story. For these reasons and more, I continue to stress that there are not just Two Spains, but many Spains.

While there is still talk in Spain about "la Hispanidad" and Spain's special historical connection to Latin America, such talk today is better understood in the context of a global capitalism than a vestige of old imperial aspirations. The embrace of shared language and shared history is opportunistic and strategic, seen to be ways that Spaniards and Latin Americans can build transatlantic alliances to mutual benefit in a global economy usually dominated by Anglosaxon countries and the English-language.


pf said...

Hey! Let me recommend you this book by a famous Mexican thinker: http://www.filosofia.org/aut/001/razacos.htm

I think it may change your interpretation of what "raza", "hispanidad", and "madre patria" meant and still mean for many people in Mexico and Spain. You won't find strange anymore that Día de la Raza is still the chosen term in most Spanish speaking countries.

Congrats for the blog!

An Expat in Spain said...

Thanks for sharing! José Vasconcelos sounds like a really interesting figure. I can see what you mean about how he and others changed the meanings around "la raza" and "indigenismo", what with his concept of racial (and I presume along with that cultural) fusion or mixing. I appreciate your helping to put it in context for Latin American cultures. I must confess I know much less about those perspectives, and can only really talk about a US or Spanish one.

John Hilston said...

Looking forward for more helpful posts like this one.
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