The Trip of a Lifetime
By Gabriel Marrero
The time had finally arrived. An entire semester of learning about the culture and history of Spain had led to this moment. As I landed at the Madrid airport I did not really know what I was going to encounter. I had been to Spain with my family before, but I knew that the educational and historical journey I was about to embark on would be far different from my prior trip. I came into the country with an open mind, willing to learn new things, take home new experiences, and possibly accept unknown new truths . As a Cuban American from Miami, I came to learn and experience the rich culture of my great great grandparents. I sought to discover the many similarities I shared with this country despite the vast cultural differences due to immigration and the passing of time.
Lavapies was a melting pot of diversity, vibrant with influences from different ways of life. As my classmate Bella and I began our journey through the neighborhood, we had no idea what to look for. With so much to see, it can be difficult to focus on a single thing. We knew the area was famous for its bars and taverns, but we wanted to experience more than that. After strolling through the narrow streets for some time, we came across a park with a basketball court and a soccer field with a concrete floor. As sports fanatics, we couldn’t resist and ran through the gate into the park, but past these gates was an experience that I’m sure neither of us will ever forget. Waiting for us at the soccer field was a group of eight boys, probably around ten years old, along with a few older boys in their late teens. We were just taking a look around the park when the boys asked us if we wanted to play with them. We agreed to play and made teams of adults versus kids: Bella, Franco, a local named Samu, and I versus the eight boys. Once the teams were formed the trash talking began; however, I was significantly lacking in this department as I had never done it in Spanish before. I played goalie and did my best to not let the kids score, but the real hero of the game was Bella. She scored goal after goal and won us the game. Afterwards, we spoke some time with the local on our team, Samu. He was originally from Morocco and had been in Spain for many years. He talked about how big soccer is in the country he currently lives in, and the evidence was right in front of us. Many kids and older boys flocking to the park to play everyday made it very clear. The soccer, or fútbol, culture we experienced in Lavapies was a stark contrast from that of Miami. Soccer came originally from Europe and came to the Americas thereafter, perhaps a possible reason why it’s not as popular here as it is in Spain. However, there was another court in the park that belonged to a sport created in the United States that is now currently growing in popularity and finding its way back to Europe: basketball.
Although empty when we got there, some people finally began to arrive at the basketball courts. I grew up playing and watching basketball all my life so I absolutely knew I had to make my way over there. The first thing I noticed was a massive NBA logo in the middle of the court, the American and widely accepted best basketball league in the world. We began to talk with two of the locals there and convinced them to let Bella and I play against them in a 2 v 2. I immediately felt the cultural differences as we began to play. In America, I am honestly seen as just an average player, I’ve always just played for fun, but these Spanish locals thought I was really good. Since the sport isn’t as popular in Spain as it is in the U.S., they probably don’t come across as many people who have played for many years. A few of their rules were different as well, but I wasn’t there to be a stickler. I was there to have a good time and experience how they play basketball in Spain. Although the experience was fun, it also left me with some profound thoughts. The first thing I noticed when I was playing was how different the views of each sport of each respective country are. Soccer is the most popular sport in Spain while basketball is just beginning to gain popularity while the opposite is true in the United States. Despite these differences, however, we immediately played and had a great time with the locals from Lavapies. This is because sports bring people from all kinds of different cultural backgrounds together. I have played countless games of basketball and soccer all my life, but these two I will always remember.
El Raval, similar to Lavapies of Madrid, was also a melting pot of cultures filled with restaurants and people from all sorts of different backgrounds, and similar to Lavapies, I had no idea where to start. As I walked through the streets of El Raval , I came across a small plaza with graffiti art popping off the walls. As I examined this interesting art form, I noticed two small posters on the wall. It was an advertisement for a DJ event, but very interestingly it was all American music! Album covers from renowned American artists like Kanye West, Travis Scott, and Kendrick Lamar dominated the music selection at this event. I also realized as I walked through the many restaurants and stores that they were playing American music. It may seem somewhat irrelevant and insignificant but it was important to me because of my “Ida” project from the spring semester, which was all about music, specifically the Spanish guitar that Spain gifted to the rest of the world. Spain created the foundation for the beginning of modern music with the invention and innovation of the guitar; American culture returned the favor and gave them the most famous musical artists of our time. This small encounter at the plaza inspired me to investigate a little more into this phenomenon.
Within the hour I had found a record store filled with vinyls and album covers that belonged to once again, mostly American bands. The Ramones, Guns n’ Roses, Van Halen, and Tom Petty are just a few of the big artists displayed throughout the store, all mostly rock bands or heavily influenced by rock, which as I mentioned in my “Ida” project, is only possible through the creation of an electric guitar, a direct ancestor of the Spanish guitar.
Perhaps one of the coolest things I encountered was a simple guitar store. Primarily, the store attracted me because of my love for music. However, most importantly, the store’s display of guitars embodied my “Ida” project perfectly. It was almost like the family tree of guitars, as the Spanish guitar stared back at me with all of its many descendants: the electric guitar, steel string acoustic guitars, blues guitars, and even a double neck guitar! I wrote about this in my project in the spring but it was just a whole other experience to be in Spain and see this expansion of the guitar where it originated in person.
A Lesson on Religion and History
Although the experiences of playing sports with locals and seeing American influence on music in Spain was exciting and aligned with my personal interests, of most impact is the fact that I learned about the history of my great great grandparents’ country. I specifically enjoyed learning about the Arabic influence on Spain as well as Spain’s religious history. Undoubtedly, Spain is Catholic and is widely known as the most Catholic country in the world. However, many forget, either intentionally or accidentally, that Muslims inhabited the Iberian peninsula for over 700 years. Prior to this trip I had not been exposed much to Arabic culture , but the fact is that the Arab influence in Spain was quite significant. The architecture was absolutely stunning, unlike anything I had ever seen before. The idea behind the Islamic designs was to make very complex and abstract designs, representing the complexity and greatness of God, a concept that I found very interesting. La Alhambra, El Alcazar, and the Mosque of Cordoba were three of the most spectacular displays of architecture I have ever seen, all from Islamic design. I was also unaware of the Spanish “convivencia,” which refers to the 400 year period that Muslims, Jew, and Christians lived together in peace. In a world tainted with hatred, bitterness, and division, it’s beautiful to see that despite differences, people were capable of treating others with respect and kindness even centuries ago. Unfortunately, this time of peace was followed by many many years of violence during the Reconquista and the Spanish Inquisition, leading to another interesting connection I made. The philosopher Maimonides from Cordoba still resonates with me profoundly. He preached that power hungry people used inherently good and moral institutions, like Christianity, by corrupting and brainwashing ignorant people into following their agenda by making them believe they were fighting not for man but for “God.” But what does man know of God’s intentions? I see much of this concept in our world today. Political leaders spread false narratives and information to people who are simply ignorant, corrupting good institutions for their own personal gain. It is our duty as citizens of not only America, but of the world, to be aware of events and keep in mind the violent history that has plagued all of human existence throughout all time.
The experience of going to Spain will be forever ingrained in my mind. Experiencing the beauty, the culture, and the people of Spain opened a window into my own life. Understanding the culture of my past family members was a wonderful and enlightening experience. I too am a melting pot of Spanish, Cuban, and American culture. Undoubtedly, Spain is a great country with much historical richness to offer. Each city offered a history, a story, or a legend — is there a difference? Perhaps but the fact remains – Spain is a combination of the past mingled with a vibrant and modern today.