By Fátima Serra, Foreign Languages
D. Carlos Robles Fraga, Consul General of Spain, came to visit SSC and gave us great insight into the relationship between Spain and the USA. Nowadays, both countries have common problems—like their relationship with North Korea, Iran and the Middle East—and a common interest: to make life in this world sustainable in the long term for 6 billion people. However, to get to this point the US and Spain have had a long trajectory together, sometimes as friends and sometimes as foes.
The Consul reminded us that the first American city, St. Augustine (San Agustín) in Florida, was founded by the Spanish in 1565, 42 years before the Jamestown Settlement and 55 years before the Mayflower arrived. Also, the ever present image of the American cowboy is actually a direct descendant of the Spanish vaquero that settled in the Southwestern United States. And finally, the dollar symbol ($), comes from a Spanish coat of arms engraved on the Spanish colonial silver coins used right after the “discovery” of the New World. This symbol included two columns and a small “S”-shaped ribbon around each, with the motto “Plus Ultra” meaning “Further beyond.” The columns and the motto marked the entrance to the rest of the world—the Americas—and indicated the overseas possessions that Spain had.
However, these facts, lost in the American psyche, are not the most significant ones that molded the American-Spanish relationship. According to the Consul, Spain had a big impact during the War of Independence of the US. The Crown of Spain supported the independence movement because the Spanish territories had frontiers with the British. Troops and economic help were sent from Cuba, and while fighting in Florida escalated, the British had to reinforce the southern front contributing to a weaker northern resistance. This independence idea moved south to Latin America. Robles stated that it was not so much that Spain was a failing Empire, but rather that the spirit of the American Revolutionary War had caught on in the imagination of Latin Americans, and Spain couldn’t stop it.
The idea of Spain as a “decadent Empire,” was in part coined by Salem’s William Prescott. Educated in Harvard, he devoted his life to the history of Spain and the Spanish-speaking world. During the same period, George Ticknor, a Bostonian, became the first Professor of Spanish and French at Harvard University. At the end of his life he donated his extensive Spanish literature collection to the Boston Public Library. In the eyes of the Americans, the defeat of Spain in the Spanish American War 1898 corroborated this image of an old fallen nation in contrast with a young, strong United States.
Right after the hiatus of the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 the scholarly ties between New England and Spain became strong again. All Spanish intellectuals on the left had to flee the country to escape the persecution by the Franco regime and save their lives. Some of the most renowned poets from Spain settled in Boston, such as Jorge Guillén and Pedro Salinas. After the death of Franco in 1975, with the transition to democracy and inclusion in the European Union in 1988, Spain changed drastically and rapidly to become the modern country it is today. After 200 hundred years, Spain and the United States became military allies in 1982 when Spain joined NATO. In sum, throughout a history of confrontation between the two countries, the Consul left us with some interesting perspectives and nuances on the shared history, and how both countries have become allies, concerned with the same big issues.
The evening ended with a lively discussion between students and the Consul. Some interesting data that surfaced: Spain was the biggest foreign investor in the world during the 90’s; in the last 10 years, more than 10% of people in Spain have been born outside the country; 13% of electricity consumed in Spain is generated by wind power and Spanish companies are building windmills in the US; and most of the Italian labeled olive oil is in fact Spanish.
The Consul, as the person in charge of spreading Spanish culture in the Northeastern US, reminded everybody that the Education Office of Spain is offering more than 1,000 positions as English teaching assistants in Spain, paid by the Spanish government (www.mepsyd.es/exterior/usa/en/programs/us_assistants/default.shtml).
For all the SSC students present the Consul had something to say: Go travel, study abroad, see the world and then come back and do whatever you have to do.¦