Barcelona is, without any question, a beautiful city. And an historic city. And that history has left wounds which are apparent today, even if they aren’t always obvious.
It was our last full day of our month long trip to Spain, October 12. Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day back home. In Barcelona and Spain it was the Day of Spain, a national holiday. The street in front of our hotel was closed, we were told, for a parade. (One more instance of a gap in translation — not a parade but a march). Of course we altered our plans for the day to hang around and watch the action.
A block from our hotel barricades were set up and police stood by as city workers scrubbed away graffiti on the sidewalk. Not sure what it was all about.
In Catalunya Square, the main square of Barcelona, a number of tents had been set up and music blared. The early crowd was obviously having a good time.
But we had heard that this was not a day the pro-independence Catalans celebrated. They would be staying home. A few years ago fights had broken out between factions — the pro-Spanish unity groups versus the pro-Catalonian independence groups. And there has been a controversial referendum on Catalan independence a few years ago. We don’t know the whole story for sure, but Franco’s legacy of represssing the Catalan language and speech still hurts here. One young man told us about his Catalan grandmother being exiled to France during the Franco years and Catalans being arrested for simply speaking their native language.
Emotions were clearly high. Complaints about Catalonia not paying enough in taxes. Signs in green — the color of the Vox right wing party — declaring no steps backwards.
Aspects of the march and rally felt like a MAGA event, but we don’t really know, except many participants carried both green Vox signs and Spanish flags. Apparently, the vote for the Catalan region to separate from Spain reflected a nearly fifty-fifty split. The issue may or may not split strictly along cultural lines.
And it does remind us that behind the historical sights, the charming cafes and beautiful buildings in almost any tourist destination, there is lies a complex set of not necessarily resolved issues.
As we walked the neighborhoods in the five days we were Barcelona, we kept noticing flags hanging from the windows—flags that supported the creation of an independent Catalonia. Despite the flashy pro Spain events of today, we know that a strong undercurrent for independence still exists.
Somehow we do have a knack for finding political demonstrations. And we do find them fascinating, often more so than the tourist sights. What does that say about us?