Gisell Rodriguez Espana 2019 Vuelta Project: A Comparison Across the Sea
Different leaders, different visions
Leading to collisions and indecisions
A constitution can no longer be a solution
As the dissolution begins and the empire collapses .
Today, when we compare the Spanish system of government (parliamentary constitutional monarchy) and the government of the United States (constitutional republic) a simple way to differentiate the two is that the United States has a president and not a king or queen. However, taking a look back years ago, Spain followed a monarchy system of government in which the king had nearly absolute power as the church played a major role in decision-making as well.
Unlike in the United States, where people have the privilege to vote for laws, leaders, and representatives, the general population in Spain had no say in any of those matters. Even with one elected president in the United States, their powers are limited due to checks and balances as the Founding Fathers included to prevent tyranny. On the other hand, the monarchs had the divine right of kings, which legitimized their ability to make those decisions for people by stating that God justified their rules. Sadly, at the time, more people were illiterate, and the enlightenment did not begin until the 17 and 18th century, so the abuse of power from both the church and government lasted many centuries.
Bias can easily be found amongst the monarchs as they had no restrictions to their rule. For example, King Henry IV was nicknamed “El Segoviano” because of what he did to rise the beautiful city of Segovia instead of distributing wealth evenly. Coin houses, schools, palaces, alcázares, and monasteries were all ordered under his order in the town. Touring the Catedral de Segovia and climbing the 189 steps to get a glorious sight of the city is a view I will never forget.
Something that both countries share is that the capitals were once moved. The United States has had many cities acted as the capital until Washington D.C. was agreed, but these relocations did not occur due to a religious institution’s power. Toledo, Spain was once the capital until Felipe II moved it because one of the wealthiest cardinals in the world resided nearby. This caused the king to seem less significant as the cardinal’s residence was four times larger than Felipe’s. With such a prominent figure beside, I can imagine the selfish reasons that caused Felipe to want to leave as power consumes man and man causes corruption with power.
Overall, I do not think that a monarchial system without a constitution would be successful due to different people in charge having different ideas and visions. Besides, people also must be involved with the government as the government itself exists because of the people who provide taxes, wealth, innovation, and community. Leaving the power that an absolute monarch holds is dangerous as tyranny and chaos are what will eventually result from it as many countries in the past have shown. Adopting a constitution which limits the power of the monarch in the 20th century was one of the best things Spain has done to secure its government from these incidents to once again happen.
Professor Bailly wanted every student to aim for viewing the authentic side of Spain, not the general tourist experience. While he made it sound easy, many interactions I had with people started with them trying to speak to me in English or ask where I was from due to my accent. The United States has no official language unlike Spain, so my version of Spanish led me to be seen as an outsider as soon as I spoke my Cuban-ish Spanish. During my exploration in La Latina, Madrid, I learned to exchange: okay for vale, jaba for bolsa, and absorbente for pajita, which took a while for me to get accustomed to. On the flip side, now that I am back home, every once in a while, I use my new vocabulary words by accident.
Another obstacle in Baillys’ goal for us was the rise of globalization and American culture, which followed us where we went. McDonald’s and Burger King seemed to be available in every city we went, but I noticed clear distinctions between some of the advertising. During my first free day in Sevilla, I remember passing by a Dunkin’ Coffee yet the advertisement did not match the Dunkin Donuts advertisements I see back home. “Healthy tea” advertisements were not the same as the new Twix, Hershey’s, and Kit Kat coffee flavors they introduced back home. Actually, there was no sign of the many options of flavors for coffee as there are in the United States. I find it very interesting that the menu options of these popular American fast-food restaurants are modified to seem more appealing to the Spanish. However, I did not spend my precious time in Spain eating American food; I tasted a wide range of Spanish cuisine. While each dish and restaurant was different, for the most part, the food felt much lighter compared to the many meals I’ve eaten back home. What I mean by lighter is that simpler ingredients were used such as olive oil and vinegar for a salad as opposed to being drenched in ranch or caesar dressing. It is no surprise to me to see just by walking around in La Latina, a difference in the health of the general population. Nearly 50 percent of adults in Spain are smokers, almost twice as much as the percentage of smokers in the United States. While the obesity rate in the United States is nearly double what it is in Spain. In both countries, smoking is a leading preventable cause of death, yet it is socially supported in Spain from what I observed in the many cities we traveled to. Making your own cigarettes at home has also persuaded some to continue smoking as it does not cause as much of a financial burden when compared to purchasing a box at a time.
Another difference is the amount of walking done on average in each country. While I understand that comparing my abroad experience with Bailly of walking 10 miles on average each day is a bit of an exaggeration, people in Spain do use public transportation and walk more than using a car. A benefit of this is that Spain can fit museums and parks into their budget while in the United States, most land falls under private property.
The parks throughout the country never failed to fascinate me. How was it that the Parque Del Retiro of Madrid had more roses than the number of roses I had ever seen in my 18 years of life? I never realized the lack of appreciation I had for nature until I walked into some of the lovely gardens throughout the country. Seeing the beauty that can be accomplished by having these parks, I believe, can make many in the U.S. realize that not every inch of land should become commercialized. The American Progress painting, which supported the Manifest Destiny in the 1800s applies to Americans today as we still have a constant desire to industrialize instead of preserving nature.
What I believe I will miss most about Spain is the ability to walk anywhere, regardless of the time without feeling endangered. The night of the Sant Joan Festival in Barceloneta also called the ‘Nit del Foc’ (Night of Fire), I remember walking back to our cozy apartments around 2 or 3 in the morning. Something that back home, I would never dare do as I instead plan my events during daylight as it makes me feel safer. Crime exists everywhere; however, I do not know if the high restriction of gun ownership, the many women roaming the street alone, or the presence of hundreds out at night simply made me feel fearless.
Independence and Identity
Before our trip abroad, Bailly asked us what made Americans different from other people, so I always asked myself to find what m akes the Spanish different from others? I could not find any significant differences, so I looked for small ones such as Spanish dishes. Patatas (potatoes) came from America, flamenco was inspired by gypsies, and Catholicism did not begin in Spain as Spain was not a country when the religion first began. There are constant reminders of foreign influence around the country, which made me think of Miami as they commonly refer to the U.S. as a melting pot. One of those reminders is the Palacio Real in Madrid which was ordered by a French king (Felipe V) and designed by an Italian architect. We should not forget about the Real Alcazar in Sevilla which takes Mudejar style artwork to the next level as you notice the Christian details by looking deeply at a pattern and noticing a cross, or by knowing that the written Arabic on the wall is praising the king. Did you think the 4 Gats, where Picasso held his first art exhibition, is a Spanish idea? Wrong. The café, like many other ideas, was inspired by France. Another French influence are the town squares that remain in many cities throughout Spain as Napoleon once ruled the country.
In contrast, the U.S. has several neighborhoods that are flooded with people of the same background, which cause their culture to spread in the town. For example, in states where Asian migration was massive, some neighborhoods to this day are known as Chinatown. In Miami, we have a large number of communities similar to these known as Little Tel Aviv, Koreatown, Little Havana, and Little Haiti.
During my time in Barceloneta, I was reminded of Miami beach. The event that most stood out to me was when I finished my exploration in the city and asked a stranger for help on the metro to which I was responded with a cold “Catalan Catalan.” With a puzzled face, I replied that I did not speak Catalan and asked for directions a second time. Once again the woman said “Catalan” shrugged her shoulders and turned around refusing to speak to me. The Catalan language is mainly influenced by romance languages such as Italian, Spanish, and Occitan and is used as the official language of the Catalonia regions who are attempting to gain independence from Spain.
In the attempt to do so, several politicians from Catalan parties including the former vice president Oriol Junqueras are either facing trial or are in exile as this act is deemed as illegal.
Walking down the streets of Barcelona, you could see yellow crosses dispersed as flags on balconies or chosen to be worn as a pin to symbolize the Catalan politicians who are sought after by the Spanish government. I felt slight anger as Barcelona itself gained much wealth from Spanish territories in the Americas, Philippines, and Africa by not allowing them what they now seek: independence. Many of those countries to this day remain as third world countries, and even though they have Spanish roots, they are not recognized as European by the U.S. government. Many seem to have forgotten that part of history as even President Trump has stated he wants immigration from European countries to increase as opposed to immigration from “shithole” countries that are the way they are today due to colonization from the European countries. During our day trip to El Museo de las Americas in Madrid, there were many art pieces dedicated to labeling people based on their parent’s ethnicity and social rank in society. One does not have to go many generations in the past to realize our own DNA is not from one country or region, we form part entirely as one human race.
With this being said, I ask myself what makes people of Catalonia so different from the Spanish that it is acceptable for them to gain independence and unacceptable for other countries? Especially when the new flag used to represent Catalonia includes the star used in the Cuban flag. A different language, culture, identity, and different ideas could be applied to all from the 30+ regions which were once under Spanish rule, so what makes them different? Out of all the cities we visited during our study abroad class, I least expected to see a statue commemorating Christopher Columbus in Barcelona yet there it stands at the end of the city’s busiest street, Las Ramblas. Could they not see the blatant hypocrisy by having this statue displayed?
On the other hand, I understand the feeling of opposition towards a country you are not a part of. It took many years to fix the tensions between the North and South of the United States after the Civil War so I can imagine the pain felt by people in Barcelona when Franco was responsible for bombing a church injuring over one hundred. It is no wonder why the Guernica was such a complex painting for Picasso, but its impact is noted by everyone’s frozen-like reaction as it stands today in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. Overall, I am appreciative over the fact that I can view Catalonia with different perspectives regardless of where my feelings may fall.