Opposite ends of the earth: How Spanish culture is making waves in New Zealand

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Opposite ends of the earth: How Spanish culture is making waves in New Zealand
A still from the movie “También la lluvia” which is drawing audiences in NZ.

A Spanish film festival touring New Zealand, is revealing just how much Kiwis love Spanish culture. Nina Green takes a look.


The presence of Spanish culture is being toured across New Zealand for the 17th annual Latin American and Spain Film Festival.

The non-profit festival visits 12 cities across New Zealand between September 5th to December 7th and aims to connect locals the rich and unique cultures of Spain and Latin America.

The festival screens films from 11 participating countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay. The Spanish film this year is “También la lluvia” or “Even the Rain”. Directed by Icíar Bollaín, this 2010 historical drama highlights the real-life water wars that took place in Bolivia in 2000.

A Cultural Connection

The presence of a 3 month-long film festival prompts the question: Are there tangible traces of Spanish culture in New Zealand?

Geographically, Spain is the exact opposite side of the globe from New Zealand, yet there is significant cultural expression scattered across different aspects of the country.

Maria Ble-Herrero, a Senior Tutor of Spanish at the University of Waikato, is working in collaboration with the university to host the Hamilton leg of the festival this year and sat down with The Local to share her own experience.  

Originally from Cordoba, Spain, Maria officially moved to New Zealand in 1991. She now lives in Hamilton, a city located in New Zealand’s North Island.

She first got involved with the film festival in 2013 when she saw on an advertisement that it came to many cities, but not her own. She contacted the Spanish Embassy to see what could be done. Maria then agreed to take on the responsibility of putting the festival together in her city.

As well as working at the University, she also teaches Spanish to children in the community on Mondays through the Waikato Hispano Latino Cultural Group, a non-profit Spanish and Latino organization, where she is on the executive board of trustees.

When asked if there was much interest for learning Spanish in such a geographically isolated nation she said:

“Yes there is a lot of interest in Spanish culture here! When I first came to New Zealand I put up posters at a small cafe offering private Spanish lessons, and in my first week I had 5 people book times to speak with me.”

“I have a lot of kiwi and international students who are either getting ready for a trip to Spain or South America, want to move to a Spanish speaking country, or they’re just drawn to the way it sounds and want to learn a beautiful language”, she explains.  

Embracing Change

While the Pacific is very different from Europe, Maria enjoys being a dual citizen of both Spain and New Zealand, saying adjusting was hard at first but now she feels lucky to live in another beautiful country.  

She goes on to say, “you can never expect to find the same things you do in Spain here in New Zealand. It’s the same anywhere you go, and that’s the beauty of traveling; I find it’s good to embrace the new things everywhere you go”.  

Maria emphasizes that even though she lives far away from home doesn’t mean she’s had to change or became less involved in her culture.

“Through my job, I’m in touch with my language almost everyday. It’s not just the language though, it’s the culture that comes with it. There are meanings behind the words we speak and they bring cultural significance”.

Maria also has two children, both of whom have grown up speaking Spanish and celebrating the cultures of both countries.

Changing Times

Maria says that when she first came to New Zealand over 20 years ago, she couldn’t find very much Spanish or European influence. But, in the last decade or so, things have changed drastically as European culture is adopted more and more.

“Now we have a little more Spanish cuisine here. Years ago you couldn’t get chorizo or jamón anywhere but now it’s more common and easy to find. Every year I miss Spain less and less in that way, because I can get more things from home here”.  

New Zealand and Spain’s Relations

The Local interviewed Fernando Curcio Ruigómez, Ambassador of Spain to New Zealand to further explore the connection between the two nations.

According to the Ambassador, “there are around 2,000 Spanish citizens registered in the Spanish Consulate as residents in New Zealand. In the last couple of years we have witnessed a regular increase of around 200 new residents per year”.

Spain is a substantial nation, with large cultural reach. With a population of 46.6 million people, it is ten times the size of New Zealand and almost 20,000 km away; yet that doesn’t stop citizens from becoming expats in the Pacific.

Kiwi’s and Spaniards alike are eligible for a two-way working holiday scheme that gives young citizens between the ages of 18-30 the opportunity to live, study and work in New Zealand and Spain.

Ambassador Ruigómez explains “It is one of the biggest successes of our bilateral relationship. We only have 200 visas per year and we receive 200 applications only in the first five minutes once the application system starts. I hope that we can convince New Zealand of the need to increase this quota, as I am sure that many more Spaniards would love to use that opportunity”.  

He goes on to say “We are witnessing also an increase in the number of New Zealand youngsters taking advantage of working holiday visas to travel to Spain and stay there for a longer period and make the most of their experience in our country.”

New Zealand and Spain also share many common values, especially when it comes to international peace and security and in international trade. Both countries have made substantial contributions to multilateral peace support operations including, most recently, in Afghanistan.

Messages to Spaniards Considering a Big Move   

Maria emphasizes that for Spaniards to make the big move they must “come with an openness to a completely different culture. It’s literally day and night; when people are waking up in Spain, we’re going to bed”.

“It can be hard for some Spaniards to adjust because in a way they didn’t want to leave their country but they had to because of job scarcity or money troubles. They’ll find New Zealand is a friendly and beautiful country but quite different to Spain”

She says when she first got here, “It was shocking to be so far away, 26 hours by plane. But then I fell in love with this country and it started to feel like home”.

She recalls a time where she was going through Customs at the airport and after showing her New Zealand passport, the officer said “welcome home” and that brought tears to her eyes because she had just “left home but was also coming home”.

“When you’re far from home you’re challenged and you may have an identity crisis, but that’s when you find yourself," she says. "I am proud of my Spanish roots but I am also proud to be a New Zealander."

Guest contributor Nina Green works in PR in Auckland, New Zealand. 



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