Cultural identity in the face of political suppression – a longer view of Spanish exile: thoughts on #Catalonia.
October 28, 2017 § Leave a comment
Lately I feel muzzled. I’m taking a crash course in some of the issues surrounding the current turbulence in Spain, but my brain won’t make the stretch required and I don’t know how to talk about it. It’s become my job to respond with my art practice, I’m just taking my time getting there.
The debate (such as it is writ on screens) narrows into ugly nationalism pinned to flags, and fists knocking against a glass fronted Catalan radio station. Soundbites scream at me from opposing sides, I try to read longer articles in the night as insomnia claws my brain’s waning powers, but it is all like treacle. Words, drip and meld. Right or wrong? Legal or illegal?
But, my remit is never going to be the fine detail of political analysis involving finance and corruption, among a plethora of arguments about who did what. Forget questions of legality – I will never fully grasp them – they are a maze of contradictions, with confusion (as far as I can see) between EU enshrined rights to self determination and the Spanish constitutional legacy with it’s roots in a bloody history of civil war, the long Franco dictatorship, and an unresolved passage to democracy.
From the perspective of an Anglo-Spanish exile ( yes, I am still to reclaim my lost Spanish nationality) the hands of Mariano Rajoy have Franco’s fingerprints.
Yet many on the left remain silent. Some are even vocal against Catalan self-determination. It is ugly nationalism, the Catalans owe Spain money, the Catalan parliament has been tainted by Pujol’s and other corruptions, they say. And on it goes. Rajoy’s corruption of course figures in the argument, but only takes this particular brand of opinion so far in terms of tolerance for the Catalan question.
They’re certainly no fans of Rajoy but they are tired of it all – they want the Catalans to pipe down. And that’s the generous view. Okay, the Spanish nationalist backlash is a great worry for them, but in a very real sense the nationalism (if that’s what it is) shown on both sides is received with the same odium in some quarters. Forgive me, but I feel this lacks nuance given the historical background – and yet it is some of those who know this background intimately who aren’t sympathetic to Catalan secession. Of course, I realise that not even all Catalans want independence, and the current situation is proving divisive within the region too. But I have had my eyes opened to the lack of support for the separatists in unexpected places.
What is little spoken about is the quite visceral hatred of the Catalan people (and their cause) which is to be found in other parts of Spain. It’s an uncomfortable truth, often lacking in the international coverage of events. And yes, this level of hostility can work both ways, but you have to ask what’s provoked it from the Catalan perspective?
People say follow the money, it’s all about finance. On one level this may be correct, but then again what is it that ordinary citizens who voted for independence want, rather than the politicians and financiers? What is it that they want to separate from?
I take the long view, and I’m again astonished by the silence of the left in this respect (no doubt someone will fill me in). Surely the impulse towards self-determination lies in historically suppressed and contested questions of culture and identity.
You see I’m old enough to remember Barcelona in the Franco era, and to have heard stolen snatches of Catalan in the night air on my grandmother’s balcony. Back then it seemed a quaint language – I didn’t know it had been forbidden. Catalan phrases sometimes tripped off the tongues of our friends and neighbours at home. But it was swallowed back in public spaces, and I never learned more than fragments alongside the Castilian I picked up so naturally in my grandparents home in Barcelona. I was the second child of a bilingual family and I now wonder if I could have been just as easily trilingual.
I can’t separate what I’m gradually learning and absorbing of recent history from this present struggle. Why is so little spoken about the open wounds resulting from a national failure to face up to and negotiate historic memory. Franco sought to destroy Catalan separatism, and with the fascist victory at the Battle of Ebro (1938) he took control of the region. More than three thousand people were killed and significantly more exiled, including my father. He had been born in Madrid but as the son of Republican civil servants followed the elected government in retreat to live in Valencia, and subsequently in Barcelona. He was at the Battle of Ebro too, a young reporter with a commission to write for a regional magazine called Blindajes, which covered the armoured forces of Catalonia (tanks).
After the long dictatorship the degrees of autonomy were granted at the negotiation of democracy in 1977 have been played heavy-handedly with by Madrid, leading to the growing call for independence since 2010 when the Constitutional Court in Madrid overruled part of the 2006 autonomy statute.
Isn’t it this heavy hand which feels like Franco’s? Isn’t it this clumsy game of cat and mouse which has inflamed the separatist feeling so?
So I return to my reading – the treacly texts sometimes stick and I get glimmers of understanding. Catalans who want independence have been abandoned. The EU supports Spanish unity despite the obvious violence against citizens at the polling stations, and the proposed state control of the region’s parliament, it’s police and telecommunications to ensure ‘order’ for a new election process (not a referendum) to replace the sacked officials.
It will all be temporary it is claimed – but the intention seems clear. We are back to Franco’s imperative to squash Catalan separatism once more. Nobody knows where this will lead contemporary Spain, but you can’t help feeling, nowhere good, is the likely answer.
October 23, 2017 § 11 Comments
It’s been a little while since I blogged in this space. Life has been busy for this autistic.
I’ve learned a great deal lately in my professional life, mainly about the absolute importance of working from core knowledge. Congruence is the buzz word right now – and from it so very many good things can and do flow.
This is all very timely and segues nicely into other areas of my life. Viewing the recent Chris Packham documentary Asperger’s and Me has set the seal on a growing trend. I know it wasn’t a perfect programme on autism per se (I even wonder what such a thing would look like as there are so many ways of being autistic) but it was perfect for Chris.
Many will point out that this was a white male perspective (as ever) and that there was an unhelpful division between Asperger’s and autism (a false division some would argue – myself included). Horrifying sequences were filmed in the US where autism was likened to cancer with resultant ABA ‘behavioural chemotherapy’ administered. I’m still reeling. We witnessed the controversial TMS intervention being applied to a young man – a subject I myself have written passionately against in a previous blog post.
Yet Chris being perfectly himself is what we’d all like – and in this sense it felt nothing short of a miracle. We saw (perhaps for the first time?) an autistic man owning the screen quite openly – after decades of masking his autism for viewers he dropped it revealing a far more interesting persona (even than the one so many of us have admired for so long).
Yes, Chris is an even more compelling personality as an autistic – so swallow that world. Absorb the truth that our unmasking can be your enriching. And not as a beguiling enchantment (as autism sometimes is portrayed) but as a reality – Chris didn’t smooth over the areas of intense struggle which led him to consider suicide seriously on three occasions.
Okay, this programme suffers on some levels – unhelpful ideas and information slip through the net at times, but Chris holds the narrative. His status and skill as a presenter has conferred this power (one so rarely held or shown by an autistic), and his openness can be a gift to us all.
There have been three tangible occasions already in which the programme has helped me (I mean specifics – the overall effect can’t really be quantified). Three conversations which have been eased by Chris.
I’ve been greeted by a new level of understanding and given considerations not previously offered. I have been able to say how hard it is for me to socialise with people who don’t know I’m autistic – how much I sometimes dread it, how much masking can be involved, and how I won’t sleep afterwards because my sensory system can’t quickly shift from hyper alert masking mode to relaxation. The later a party the longer it takes me to unwind, and the more impact this has on subsequent functioning for days to come.
Finally my family understand, I can talk openly with some of my neighbours, and I can tell a dear old ‘neglected’ friend why I never stayed in touch. This is down to Chris – if they’ve watched the programme a new foundation has been laid.
I’m not saying this will work everywhere or every time. I’ll still have to mask and I’ll still be met with blank faces. But I can now manage certain relationships with more realistic expectations on the other side. This feels like another watermark moment. So thank you Chris, and amen to more of that.
October 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
This is quite a specialised blog post. I’ve been excited to find a slide show presentation from 2014 on a memory stick (autistically I burrow backwards and rely often on chance encounters with the past – the trick is to leave a trail…)
Like Hansel and Gretel before me I left some breadcrumbs, but still I’m rather awestruck that I could have missed working my way back to this somewhat seminal moment in the evolution of a project called The Museum for Object Research.
It’s a singular slide show. Many of the references will be obscure. It relates to my father’s two earliest plays – one unpublished and the other published in the Castilian language in small number and now out of print. Many of the references would be known only to the conference delegates of 2014 (familiar with the history of Spanish exile). Other references perhaps only I, or a handful of other people would understand. This doesn’t really matter. It’s the conceptual framework for my object work that matters – this is the exciting nature of my find!
October 2, 2017 § 7 Comments
I am not Catalan but I feel the recent events in Spain very deeply. I am an Anglo-British daughter of a Spanish Republican exile born in Madrid. My grandfather was from Galicia and my grandmother from Southern Spain, but they returned from their exile in France in 1941 to live in Barcelona. This place was my home from home as I grew up. Barcelona was my long Summers’ idyl, the city of all my high days and holidays, and my absolute love.
I have written often in my art blog about the long erasure of the Spanish exiles from the history books of Spain, and how my father and my grandparents never spoke of their internment in the French camps of Argelès sur Mer and Barcarès. I didn’t know or question why I lived in two places, or why my grandmother wept so bitterly in her kitchen each time we returned to England.
This is what violent political repression does – it silences you. Not just in the streets with batons. No. The erasure of memory and the taping of tongues creeps deeply into the everyday fabric of our lives. In many ways the invisible brutality of a dictatorship is at the heart of my recent cycle of paintings called simply, Buenos Días Dictador.
The dictator is everywhere and nowhere. The dictator follows you wherever you go.
The Catalan question itself is too complex for me to write about. I am an artist, not a historian or political analyst. But I know about living with exile. I know about suppression. And I know what’s more that these wounds run so deep in Spain that even 81 years on from the start of that Civil War it is hard to talk about Spain. Mine is a postmemory experience. My contact with the history is indirect, but my fear is present and real.
I have changed my social media settings to share this blog post.
The Catalan question can be hard to grasp, but you can recognise state suppression when you see it. All the hallmarks are there – and it’s impossible to argue with the statement by Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau. A line has been crossed and Rajoy is not fit to serve. Like so many bullies before him he is a coward, one who has set armed police against an unarmed citizenry.
There have been many opportunities to negotiate, which is what democracies are made for. Democracy is talking. Democracy can never be throwing citizens around like rag dolls, breaking their fingers, kicking and batting them with truncheons. Someone has died I believe, and more than 800 injured.
Most sickeningly there have been statements by Rajoy and his deputy claiming a proportionate response. But, no. This is not ‘normal’ or right.
With my art practice I witness. It’s all I can do.
September 26, 2017 § 8 Comments
I have been thinking about the constant demands to adapt to a neuro-normative culture and be the autistics others would like us to be.
There’s usually a snag.
Being autistic – being diagnosed late in life – is a process (of) unbecoming.
I can’t do what I can’t do, and I can’t be what I can’t be.
Not ‘neurotypical’ with quirks –
I really am autistic.
I’m just not the autistic you want me to be.
Ah yes, and so it is.
Autism is as real as concrete or snow (except it doesn’t melt).
But you need us to fit in to your ways.
Got it. Ah yes. I got it.
I caught it, and caught on.
I’m suppose to be this, that and the other. All things, in fact.
All things except the one thing I am.
This autism is not convenient.
Not at all.
With regrets and adieus.
This is the wrong autism!
Just the wrong kind.
September 13, 2017 § 1 Comment
Some days I hear blather.
It’s talking or something else.
You say it.
And we cut the grass.
The wind blows.
She is moaning.
I will meet you at the station.
Ah, but you won’t be there.
Because this is the longest day.
And I won’t swim in the sea,
or even touch it with my toes.
August 30, 2017 § 1 Comment
I have two countries – England and Spain.
I have one neurology – I am autistic. I am not a person with autism, or half/ almost neurotypical. I can do neurotypical communication ( to a point) but mainly I’m guessing; smiling and filling the gaps.
For the longest time it seems my being Spanish in England/ English in Spain provided cover for a deeper cause of my alienation. An alienation (which being an undiagnosed autistic) I hadn’t ever fully identified.
This brings to mind a set of Russian dolls, nesting as they do, concealing and revealing everything and nothing. They are empty after all – containing only one another. But let’s not even begin the Russian side of my family history. That’s the smallest doll in any case – the final solid figure you get to at the end of the game.
Conundrums are everyday stuff when you’re autistic, I reckon. At least they are for me. I suspect we do paradox especially well. Right now I write this post in Spain – after a long period of visiting other places for other reasons – and I am home in ways I cannot feel in England. Yet in truth England has been the more lived in of the two counties.
I, being autistic understand that I am socially different. I love my people intensely – those friends and family who make me feel safe. My relationship to place feels as though it may be unusually powerful.
As I returned to the streets of Donostia or San Sebastián as it’s known in Castilian (last visited as a child) I experienced a deep sense of homecoming.
Bizarrely, or maybe not so, it has been the street furniture that’s called to me like an old friend. Railings and lampposts regail me. Pavements wink and wave. I am transported to my past self. Reconnected to my true self? I don’t know.
I only know that I feel me in ways that cannot be pathologized. Open sport on who I am is simply closed. In the Basque Country I feel no judgement. This is because I am on holiday rather than trying to make a life for myself, I know. But it is also a break from online bickering which sadly characterises debates around autism these days.
I’ve been saddened to watch from Spain as fellow autistics have fallen out. There has also been ignorance on display by one ‘celebrity doctor’. Oh please! They are nobody, yet people seem to listen. Such is celebrity.
People seem to think autism is up for grabs, trivial, something open for comment.
So I’m happiest communing with the pavements of Donostia. They don’t judge. They never did. Acceptance is written into the street lamps – they mercifully remain the same.
Unchanging they embrace me. They carry me back, to simpler times.