First Interviews and New Discoveries

June 9, 2013

Greetings from Cádiz!  This stunning, coastal town is located in Andalucía in the south of Spain.   It is absolutely breathtaking, and I am thrilled to be here.  I arrived on Wednesday evening, 24 hours late, due to an unfortunate passport-related error on my part.  All things considered, I am very lucky to have only been delayed a day.  Upon arrival, Megan, Professor Cate-Arries, and Mike met me at the train station, and then moved me into my homestay with a hospitable 70 year-old woman and her husband.  That evening, “Team Cádiz” had a little evening “pow wow” to discuss what was to come in the days ahead.  I asked Professor Cate-Arries what Megan and I should tell people when they asked us about our research, because (as we learned in our Seminar) even though many people are starting to explore la memoria histórica (the historical memory) of the Franco era, it is still a topic that one needs to be careful when talking about, because you never know on what side of the conflict different people were (or even are) on.  It is still an extremely sensitive topic, as Megan encountered first-hand last year during the W&M Summer Session in Cádiz.  Megan and a few of her classmates were instructed to go out on the street and ask people about their experiences during the Franco era.  Those that were questioned got very upset and angry, and were completely unwilling to talk to them about it.  In order to avoid upsetting anyone, offending anyone, or stirring up bad feelings, we all decided to be vague and tell those that asked (including our host parents) that we are researching family memories and experiences in Spain throughout the generations, especially related to the 30s and 40s.  We agreed that it would be best to keep the “Franco-and-memoria-histórica-talk” limited to people Professor Cate-Arries had already established relationships with.

Our research “officially” began the following afternoon with an interview with José Emilio Galiardo, a man whose grandfather was imprisoned for many years during the Franco era.  However, Megan and I had a very interesting (and very relevant) educational experience with our host mom that morning.  We accompanied her and her friend on their daily paseo to the beach.  They decided to take us to El Castillo de San Sebastián, which opened sometime in the past year.  The Castillo is located at the very end of a long walkway that juts out into the gorgeous, blue-green Atlantic.  Although the setting was very picturesque and peaceful to us, our host mom explained that that was not always the case.  She told us that the different buildings surrounding us had a variety of functions, ranging from prison cells to torture chambers to places where prisoners were shot and killed.  She pointed out a tiny space in the ground where more than 40 people were shoved together for hours, perhaps even days, at a time.  She explained that they had to urinate and defecate on themselves and that the whole thing was worse than we could possibly imagine, just like Nazi Germany.  She also said something that fits perfectly with an aspect of our research, objects of remembrance.  While demonstrating various objects, that to us were indiscriminate, she said, “Aquí, cada cosita tiene una historia de sufrimiento.” (Here, every little thing has a story of suffering). For me, the juxtaposition was striking.  This gorgeous place, surrounded by the sea, was the place we had chosen for our peaceful morning walk.  As foreigners, this is all we were able to see, but for the locals, this was also a place that served as a daily reminder of the terrible atrocities that occurred all throughout Spain during los años del franquismo (the Franco years).  In addition to this sobering realization, Megan and I were surprised to hear our host mom voluntarily speak to us so candidly about that awful time in her country’s history.

That very informative morning was followed by a beautiful interview with the man I mentioned previously, José Emilio Galiardo, whose grandfather was imprisoned for years by the franquistas.  In order to make him feel most comfortable, Megan, Mike, and I left for the majority of the interview so he could speak comfortably to Professor Cate-Arries about his beloved grandfather.  We came back towards the end of the interview, and even in the little section that we witnessed, I was very moved by how emotional this man got when talking about his grandfather and the injustices that he (and the rest of the family) suffered because of the repressión franquista.  Megan and I will be listening to the audio recording and watching the video of the interview soon, and I am really looking forward to it.

Yesterday, Professor Cate-Arries, Megan, Mike, and I met with Carlos Perales, an official of the Deputación de Cádiz.  He told us about many different groups throughout the country, especially in Andalucía, that are exploring and researching historical memory.  He explained the work that he has done personally, and it is very impressive.  He seemed very happy to have a group of Americans so deeply interested in his country’s past, specifically related to exposing the truth about the Franco era in an international, global manner.  As Professor Cate-Arries informed us, this point of view is a common one amongst the Spaniards who are working diligently with la memoria histórica.  It makes me feel even more proud to be involved in this project, as it is something that I truly and deeply care about.

As you can see, we are at the very beginning stages of our research.  We have many interviews set up for the coming weeks ahead, and I am so excited to meet all these people and hear their incredible, tragic stories.  We will need to travel more than Professor Cate-Arries had expected in order to meet up with some of these people, so we will be renting a car to get around.  Additionally, this weekend, Megan and I have been working primarily on transcribing the interviews we have done so far.  So far, we have completed the one with Carlos Perales…and it is much harder and takes a lot more time than either of us were anticipating. It was an hour-long interview, which we split between the two of us, and has taken both Megan and myself over 8 hours to transcribe our 30-minute segments.  It is hard work!  I think part of what makes it so challenging is the acento gaditano, the accent of people in Cádiz.  Neither Megan nor I are especially accustomed to the accent, and it makes it a lot harder to understand (especially because we are just listening to the audio, and not able to see their mouths move).

So, I imagine that this research will be a very challenging, but even more rewarding, experience.  I have already learned so much, and am so excited to share it with the William and Mary community, my family and friends, and hopefully (someday) the world!  I am also so grateful to have Megan and Mike here, who are both much more experienced with photography (and mike with videography and everything else technology) than I am.  I have taken some lovely, amateur pictures, and they have taken some truly beautiful, professional-quality, photographs.  With all of “Team Cádiz” working together, and with the different strengths each of us brings along with us, we are sure to create a beautiful, research project.  I am honored to be involved in this.

¡Hasta la próxima! (Until next time!)