“Culture” is a slippery concept at the best of times because it refers to the complex ways in which geography, history and political circumstances intertwine to create the identity of a group of people.
Since identity is so integral to culture, Spanish culture is especially tricky. Historically there has been an ongoing struggle between the centralist identity espoused by Castile and the identities of the other regions, most notably Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Provinces (Euskadi), each asserting its own cultural identity. And since the proclamation of a new Constitution in 1978 and the establishment of seventeen Autonomous Communities, other regions are also asserting their uniqueness and historical role in Spain’s history, e.g. Andalucia, Extremadura, Valencia, Asturias…
Claims have been made for a single Spanish culture but equally persuasive voices argue for several Spanish cultures. An example of this debate arose during the 2008 Spanish election campaign when the opposition leader proposed an integration contract that would oblige all immigrants to adhere to “Spanish customs.” An immediate reaction was the strong objection by opponents who pointed out that customs differed widely in different parts of the country.
It’s interesting that when asked about Spanish culture, many people point to bullfighting and flamenco as typically Spanish. Some might add Don Quixote or Don Juan and, if opera aficionados, Carmen. Yet all, with the exception of Don Quixote, are associated primarily with Andalucía or the south of Spain. But Andalucía is no more representative of Spain than California is of the U.S.A.
In these pages, we are going to respect regional differences in Spanish culture. For example, we’ll look at how Catalan, Galician and the Basque cultures are expressed in the post Franco period. At the same time, we believe that Spanish culture is a sum of all its parts. So in addition to bullfighting, flamenco, Don Juan or Carmen, we’ll look at a wide variety of areas of Spanish culture. Some are more regional e.g. the “fallas” –celebrating the feast of St Joseph– in Valencia, or the “castells” –human castles—of Catalonia. Others are practiced in some form throughout Spain e.g. Semana Santa –Holy Week–, Carnaval –the celebrations just before Lent–, romerías –pilgrimages to local shrines.
Under the umbrella of Spanish culture, we’ll tackle diverse subjects such as “ferias” (fairs), dance, food and wine, even the fan and its secret language. We hope that our explorations will lead to a greater appreciation and enjoyment of Spanish culture.