15 July 2011

A Spanish History Lesson (which inevitably includes Antonio)

My language class started oral presentations today. Basically, we read a short text, summarize and explain it to the class (in Spanish! Eep!), and then answer questions. The Man Who Never Does His Homework had not, of course, done his homework. The following conversation ensued (but, again, in Spanish):

Javier (the professor): "Are you ready?"

Man: (blank stare, sheepish smile)

Javier: "Are you ready to present your book?"

Man: "I don't remember my book."

Javier: "You don't remember."

Man: "No."

Javier: "Your book is called Amnesia."

Also, my other professor spent much of class today talking about how handsome Antonio Banderas is. And then she Googled a picture of him and drew little hearts around his name on the board. I kid you not. Sometimes my life feels like a satire.


On a more somber note, I am constantly surprised by the number of foreigners in Spain who have not heard of Franco. To be fair, I didn't know anything about Franco until I read this in-depth book on Spanish culture, and I still don't know that much about him (so, all of you more knowledgeable friends, correct me where I'm wrong!). It makes sense that my generation has not been widely exposed to the history of European dictators when a lot of history teachers never get past WWII in high school. Still, I feel that if you come to Spain, it's important to know who Franco is. I'm still learning, but just to make sure you never visit and accidentally yell, "I heart Franco!" or something, here's today's brief history lesson!

Franco became Spain's Head of State in 1936 and was a major player in the Spanish Civil War. (Interesting sidenote: in said war, the conservative generals were supported by Nazi Germany and Italy, while the socialist Republicans were aided by the USSR. How's that for a crazy historical power surge?!) After the war, Franco began his regime--and it is less popular in the history books, for some reason, though he suppressed his people through censorship, forced prison labor, and even concentration camps for "enemies."

Even more interesting: Franco and Hitler did discuss terms of Spain joining the Axis in WWII, but it never happened--particularly because Franco wanted to preserve and defend traditional Christianity and Catholicism, and he didn't like how Hitler was twisting those ideologies (um, ahem?). Oh, and Franco was also anti-Communist. What?! (Hitler allegedly said that he'd rather have teeth extracted than deal further with Franco.) He killed thousands of his political opponents, as well as forbidding certain languages and certain cultural practices and traditions that were just not quite Spanish enough.

Spain was controlled, traditional, conservative, and oppressed for at least those forty years, and after Franco's death in 1975, the country moved toward democracy--and banned all symbols of the Franco regime. However, not everyone thought of the regime negatively. Some Spaniards were appreciative to find their standard of living raised and their traditional values upheld, so it's possible to still find older Spaniards who do not spit his name with the same animosity we think of when recalling figures like Hitler or Stalin.

But there are no longer any remaining statues of Franco in Spain, no street names or symbols that acknowledge his regime. His never-ending list of human rights violations got his lyrics scratched out of Spain's national anthem. They also earned him a controversial burial plot inside Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), a basilica with a massive cross monument next to it, meant to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Oh, yes, a monument built with slave power--forced labor by political prisoners. Franco didn't intend to be buried there, but when you're a dictator, I guess sometimes dreams don't come true. At this very moment, there is huge controversy surrounding the monument, and a committee has about four months left to decide whether Franco's remains should stay there (many Spaniards see the Valle as a divisive reminder of the Franco era, rather than a tribute to the fallen).

In Spanish, the word "usted" is the formal "you"--what you would use to address, perhaps, a professor or someone of an older generation. But in language school, my professors have told us a few times that we shouldn't use "usted" or "ustedes" with them--or, really, with anyone, except maybe people in their 70's or 80's who may find it disrespectful otherwise. And this linguistic shift stems from the Franco regime, as well. The Spain of the past 30 years is a very different Spain than it had ever been before. Almost like a pendulum, the culture of oppression is swinging toward freedom and individuality, away even from staid, stoic expressions like "usted."

And that, friends, ends my foray into pretending-to-be-a-history-teacher. Thanks for holding on til the very end. To reward you, my professor's favorite picture, a picture I have seen at least twice now during class. Ahh, many things have I learned in language school, but I'm not sure if Spanish has been the main thing. :)

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