Spanish people celebrate el Día de la Hispanidad, Spain’s national holiday, but the meaning of Hispanidad is more complex than military parades and nationalistic slogans
What does it mean to be Spanish in 2019? Can someone feel Spanish without having lived in the country? What are the things that make people – and especially young people – feel like they belong?
Every October 12, people throughout Spain celebrate el Día de la Hispanidad (Spanish-speaking World Day), Spain’s national holiday, which commemorates the discovery of America by Columbus and therefore the beginning of the Spanish colonial empire.
El Día de la Hispanidad – enshrined in Spanish law in 1987 – is usually celebrated withmilitary parades throughout the country: the most important of which is held in Madrid and attended by the Royal Family and senior political figures.
According to Madrid’s Complutense University professor Marcela García Sebastiani and her counterpart David Marcilhacy of Paris’s Sorbonne University this notion of Hispanidad was one of the key components of the nation’s imagery throughout the 20th century.
Spain was especially proud of its imperial past and holidays like el Día de la Hispanidad served precisely the purpose of making the empire the foundation stone for the nation.
Especially during the Franco era, Hispanidad was the official doctrine of the regime.
Spanishness was associated with the spread of Catholic values and the ‘civilising mission’ carried out in the Americas by the conquistadores and missionaries.
But for many young people like Anamaria Larsen Payá, a 24-year-old speech therapy student,in 2019 el Día de la Hispanidad doesn’t hold any particular meaning and being Spanish is way more complex.
Born from a Spanish mother and a Danish father but raised in Italy, Larsen Payá’s family never celebrated the holiday and she believes people don’t realise the historical implications the celebration carries.
Photo: Anamaria Larsen Payá
“It’s a date that Spanish people celebrate without really understanding what it symbolises, i.e. the ‘discovery of the Americas’, but translates into the beginning of a series of atrocities carried out by the ‘discoverers’, she says. “If you ask me, el Día de la Hispanidad doesn’t hold any meaning and it’s just an excuse for people to not go to work and for nationalists to go out in the streets and make noise”.
Of a similar opinion is Clara Marzorati de la Vega, a 23-year-old Spanish-Italian pharmacist, who believes that celebrating such a holiday is “a tragedy”. “We are actually celebrating the fact that we destroyed different countries, exploited their natural resources and imposed our culture”, she says.
But if it’s not about celebrating dates such as October 12, then what does being Spanish mean? For Larsen Payá being Spanish is all about the little traditions and values her family passed onto her.
“As banal as it may sound, being Spanish means having a mother who cooks paella every Sunday,” she says.
“It means drinking beer in copious amounts and not feeling guilty about it; it means eating 12 grapes at midnight every New Year’s Eve even if I’m not in Spain.
“More than anything it means knowing the country’s history, the good and the bad.”
For both women, their identity is too complex to be summed up with nationalistic slogans. Marzorati de la Vega believes she is a mix of two cultures and even though that’s extremely enriching, it´s difficult to deal with. She says: “I feel like I’m a citizen of the world, I’m more open and used to accepting what is different but the downside is that you never feel complete, something is always missing”.
Larsen Payá believes that her identity is split between three places – Spain, Italy and Denmark – and whenever she is in one country, she never feels like she belongs there entirely.
At a time where there are separatist movements gaining ground (Cataluña) on the one side, and far-right populist parties such as Vox on the other vowing to ‘make Spain great again’, identity and politics in Spain can be really difficult to navigate, especially for a young person.
“It’s like either you are 100% proud of being Spanish or you’re almost disgusted to be defined that way. I feel Spanish and I am proud of that, but I’m not a nationalist – and certainly not a Vox voter – and I don’t fight those who don’t feel the same way”, says Marzorati de la Vega.
Photo: Clara Marzorati de la Vega
Despite the country’s tensions, the 24-year-old student believes that at the core there are traditions that make Spaniards a single nation.
“The political tensions that might be there at the moment don’t change the culture and history– the good and bad parts of it – our country has all these traditions and values that have shaped us to a unified society”, Larsen Payá said.
By Ilaria Grasso Macola