Monday, September 12, 2011

L'onze de Setembre

September 11th, is a dark day for both Americans and Catalans alike.  On September 11th, 1714 Spanish troops seized the city of Barcelona during the Spanish War of Succession and made the Catalans surrender.  Over the next few years, the Spanish king banned the Catalan language and basically just suppressed the hell out of Catalonia.  So it’s for this reason that on September 11th the Catalans celebrate their National Day, aka “La Diada.”

I was fortunate enough to see La Diada last year, it was during my first week in Barcelona.  Last year I went to an organized event by the Generalitat (Catalonia’s government) and got to walk about their parliament building.  This year I took a walk around Arc de Triomf, where they have a big Catalan flag with the blue triangle and star (the flag for Catalan independence) hanging between the arc.  Around the walk from the Arc to the Parc de la Ciutadella there were many stands selling all sort of Catalan nationalist items, like flags, pins and scarves.  There was even a booth headed by two Basques, because some people view Euskadi (the Basque Country) and Catalonia as “brothers,” because they are both distinct nations within the Spanish state.  I thought it was a nice show of solidarity that a few Basques showed up to celebrate the National Day of Catalonia.

The main event of the day is the laying of floral offerings on the monument of Rafael Casanova, who was commander in chief of Catalonia during the Siege of Barcelona in 1714.  Because of his resistance to Spanish forces he’s become a symbol of Catalan nationalism and for this reason the people of Barcelona pay tribute to him on their National Day.  When I was there, the castellers (Human Tower builders) from my old neighborhood of Sants were there, paying tribute by building a mini castell and placing their floral offering onto the statue.

Later in the day, I meet up with my Catalan friends and we walked around looking at the stands and then later watched one of my favorite Catalan groups, Obrint Pas.  All around me it seemed like everyone was either wearing the independence flag or had a sticker on their shirt that had some reference to independence from Spain.

Now some of you may be wondering, “why do so many Catalans want independence, they’re Spanish after all.”  The answer is that many of them don’t feel Spanish at all, they are only Catalan: it’s their language, their culture and their way of life.  Catalan culture has castells, pa amb tomàquet and cava while Spanish culture has bulls, gazpacho and sangría.  One participant summed up it perfectly when he said “Spanish culture is the culture of the center and south of the country, they don’t incorporate aspects Catalan and Basque culture into the national ‘Spanish’ culture; so why are people surprised that I don’t feel Spanish, my culture is not represented in Spain.”

Furthermore, many of them feel like Spain is constantly repressing them, saying you can’t do this or that.  The most recent example is the decision by the courts that Spanish is to now be the language of the classroom, alongside Catalan.  Since the 80s, Catalan has been the vehicular language in the K-12 education in Catalonia, which is to say that every subject (except Spanish) is taught in Catalan.  The argument for this was that every child that comes to Catalonian schools, whether they be 6th generation Catalans or child of African immigrants, will learn to speak Catalan in order to promote the use of that language and to facilitate integration into the community.  Very few people had problems with this method of “linguistic immersion” as was shown in poll after poll.  However, three families demanded that their children be instructed in Spanish, brought their case to the courts and won.  What the Catalans fear is that with this decision the Spanish and other immigrants to Catalonia are going to have their kid instructed in Catalan, while the Catalans will continue to be instructed in their native language.  This could be problematic for two reasons:

a) It will endanger the Catalan language.  In the 70s, there was a massive amount of immigration from the poorer regions of Spain to Catalonia and the children of those immigrants learned to speak Catalan.  Today, those people don’t identify with the region where they parents are from, they are Catalan and are from Catalonia.  It’s their culture, it’s who they identify with and it’s partly due to the Catalan immersion they received as a kid.
b) Having the parents either chose Spanish or Catalan for their child will create a division within the kids, which is possible to last for a life time.  No one wants to split the kids into two groups because this will just foster more negative feelings towards one another.

Through my interviews I’ve noticed that people in Catalonia are just fed up with the Spanish government.  They pay view high taxes here which then goes to the Spanish government to be divided up amongst the other Autonomous regions in Spain; of course, Catalonia receives very little of that money back.  They don’t have control over taxes like the states in the Unites States do and they want more control over their money because they have things they would like to improve in their country.

Basically, I think the best way to sum all this up is with a great metaphor from my friend Laura: “Spain is like the parent that keeps on saying ‘no, no don’t do that, that’s not allowed’ and Catalonia is like the child.  If you keep on hearing this over and over what are you going to do when you’re 18?  ‘Bye guys, I’m fed up with you, I’m outta here.’”

Here are some videos I took and you can also check out my pictures in the Catalan Nationalism photo album that I started last year.

The Castellers of Sants:

Singing "Els Segadors," the national anthem of Catalonia:

Obrint Pas (a very pro-independence group) performing "Seguirem" off of their new album Coratge, near the Arc de Triomf on La Diada:

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