Chaos in Catalonia: finding yourself where you started


Courtesy of Miriam Himes

In Catalonia, the people have been protesting in the streets for independence. The Seahawk’s Miriam Himes spoke on her experience witnessing these events.

Miriam Himes, Staff Writer

The sounds and echoes of people banging pots and pans rush through my wide-open window. It’s 10 p.m. in Tarragona, Spain and the Catalan people have begun their nightly protesting. I live away from the city center, but even people in my residence have their arms extended out of their windows, making grating banging sounds with whatever clamorous objects they have lying around in their rooms. It begins most nights around 10 p.m. and lasts for about 30 minutes. It’s basically a big “F*** YOU” to anti-independence people and an angry shout to the Spanish government, like disgruntled teenagers yelling at their parents for forcing them to stay at home.

Upon coming to Spain, I was happy to get a break from the catastrophe of the Trump administration, American politics, and the worsening social climate but found myself in an almost equally toxic environment: Catalonia.

Police brutality, violations of human rights, harsh and toxic political speech from multiple parties and platforms, protests in the streets, strikes in schools and at work; this is the atmosphere I enter into as I live as an exchange student in Tarragona, Spain, a city in Catalonia that is desperate to be free from the Spanish government.

Protesters made their own signs to show their displeasure with their current political and governmental situation.

Courtesy of Miriam Himes

Even after reading articles and articles about the fight for independence in Spain, living here and seeing the masses of people who are fighting so hard for independence here, I’m still struggling to understand why Catalonians want to be free so badly. Does it really go back to the Franco regime? Do you truly and simply just want justice for suffering that you endured so few years ago? Or is this attempted departure from Spain more centered in a nationalist, conservative movement that rejects diversity and helping the poor? Whatever your stance, it’s safe to say that emotions are running high and tensions between the people grow fiercer every day.

Last week, my American roommate attempted to go to classes during a school-wide strike. Catalonia enthusiasts created plastic barriers around the entrance of the school, allowing one small entrance into the classroom buildings. Upon approaching the entrance, my roommate was stopped and asked by a fellow classmate to not go to class: the students were protesting by not attending class. After several minutes of impassioned persuasive dialogue, my roommate made it into the campus and attended her class.

I’ve had groups of Catalonia enthusiasts interrupt my class to talk to us about protests and strikes and what we can do to participate in the fight for independence, though only speaking in Catalan. Speaking in Catalan is elitist; it excludes anyone who isn’t born and raised in Catalonia, thus rejecting immigrants and people of non-Catalonian descent. It’s a class-fueled fight masquerading as persecution identity.

So what does an American have to do with all this?

Honestly, not a lot. I’ve checked out some of the protests and been pleased when I’ve had class canceled due to voting for the referendum or because my professor is at a protest.

But in reality, it makes me miss America. The Women’s March, #blacklivesmatter protests, gun law protests, anti-KKK and anti-neonazinationalist protests; god, we are really fighting for the good stuff. We’re fighting against racism, sexual harassment, assault, Trump, white nationalists, police brutality, and more. We’re fighting for a better future that celebrates diversity and sees people from all socio-economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds in the media, in managerial positions, running companies, winning awards, and fighting for a better tomorrow. But here, for the Catalonia-independence enthusiasts — it just seems like an upper-middle class fight to keep money with the rich and leave the poor to fend for themselves.

Protests in Catalonia would take up entire streets and could get rather loud.

But while Catalonia has erupted into passionate chaos as Spain desperately tries to keep their tight fingers wrapped around her throat, I’ve been having a fairly typical study abroad experience. I’ve been acclimating to the Spanish way of life uncomfortably, the real American way. I’ve been frustrated and homesick and bitter because, surprise, Spain culture is pretty different from the American way of life.

The culture clash (and even shock in some cases) is supposed to be this good thing; it’s supposed to offer travelers, wherever they come from and to wherever they go, moments of humility and fascination. Experiencing a culture so different from your own is supposed to be a gift that inspires you and quenches your wanderlust and curiosity for unknown worlds.

I think it does to some extent. But on the other side, through the unfiltered lenses of harsh authentic experiences, we find the unromantic and the uncomfortable. Because living abroad isn’t as idyllic as everyone pretends and traveling abroad isn’t a whimsical dream of fine dining, quaint towns, and famous monuments.

Perhaps it depends on what you’re looking for or why you decided to leave your comfortable home, or even who you are as a person and how you interact with change — whatever your rhyme or reason, choosing to study abroad is a bold move.

Yes, it’s amazing. La Sagrada Familia, the Eiffel Tower, the Tower of London, Park Güell, the snowy caps of the Alps over Lake Geneva — the world is a beautiful place with so much to offer. But it’s not enough to change you.

And perhaps that was my intention in studying abroad: to feel different, to be a different person.

But people are the same everywhere. Yes, racism and sexism looks different here. Nationalism looks a little different under the Spanish sun as well. Ordering a coffee even feels different across western countries. But people, at their core, are the same.

Catalan flags raised during an on-street protest display the sense of pride and determination for independence that the people of Catalonia so desire.

I think this is the factor that has unsettled me the most. Maybe it’s because of globalization or maybe it’s just because humans are humans, rooted in our evolved primitive behaviors. Or maybe it’s just because I’m the same, even here in this new world.

No matter where you go, people still suck. The nationalists here in Spain share ideologies with those of the United States. The culture and languages are different, but people remain constant. I remain constant; depression and anxiety hid in my luggage and followed me on my amazing adventure around Europe.

Has it been worth it all? Will it be worth it for you? Yes! But it’s hard. Because I haven’t changed, just the world around me has. I can’t leave my baggage at the door; I’ve brought it with me and I have to interact with myself just as I did at UNCW. It’s disappointing. You want new places to change you. But sometimes, you don’t change, and it’s okay. You just endure and you don’t chastise yourself for feeling empty in the most beautiful place in the world.