Yes, we are children of Spain. All the peoples of Hispanic heritage, from California to Chile, from Florida to the southern tip of Argentina. Recognizing this cultural legacy as part of our identity would be something so obvious that it would not be up for discussion in any other part of the world. Yet in Latin America, we like drama and demagogy.
That is why the best soap operas come out of here, and that is why in our countries recognizing the truism that we are children of Spain implies turning on the beacons of controversy, provoking the collapse of leftists, progressives, and various good guys, who hysterically denounce any reminder of our Spanish heritage, while exalting the indigenous heritage to the point of absurdity. Why? The answer has to do, as always, with dirty politics.
When our countries became independent from Spain at the beginning of the 19th century, they did not cut ties with the victorious and glorious (yes, glorious) Spanish empire of the Golden Century, of the Tercios, of Lepanto, and of Cortés; but with the failed, backward and disastrous Spain of Charles IV, the one that had become the duckling of France, the one humiliated at Trafalgar, the one of the centralist, authoritarian and corrupt government of a Madrid bent on copying (and badly) the bad habits of the Parisian bureaucracy.
At that time, under those circumstances, and especially in the midst of the inevitable bitterness of war, it was understandable that the new countries looked with disdain at the pestilent face of the failed and poor Spain against which they were fighting. While in France and the United States they saw the face of a successful future to aspire to.
Five to 10 years after the war, Latin America had to redefine its relationship with the mother country in terms of friendship, as the United States had done a few decades earlier with England. However, the anti-Spanish animosity, which must have been a mere phase in the infancy of our republics, became a pillar of their identity, and as it consolidated over time, it gradually corrupted and poisoned the rest of the social and political structure of Latin American countries.
Why didn’t this happen?
Because the Creoles, who took political, military, and economic control of Latin America, quickly realized that the anti-Spanish discourse was a very useful rhetorical tool to exercise their power, for several reasons:
- It allowed them to identify Spain with all the evils from which the new republic had to differentiate itself. Demonstrating that they were “different” and “better” than the Spanish was a way to justify the bloody wars of independence… and the multitude of outrages that the Creoles committed afterwards.
- It gave them a virulent prejudice that they could hurl against their political enemies. For decades, accusing rivals of wanting to “submit to Spain” or “imitating the defects of the Spanish” has been a successful political weapon. We even saw it in action a few weeks ago, when the Mexican political class condemned VOX‘s visit to Mexico City.
- It allowed them to have an all-purpose pretext to justify the disastrous results of the independent regimes. According to them, if Mexico, Argentina or Colombia were mired in poverty and violence, it was not because of their ruthless and corrupt governments, but because of “the ballast of the colonial era” (by the way, in several countries since the middle of the 20th century, the new pretext is the “imperialism” of the United States.)
- It allowed them to magnify to the point of disfigurement the wonders of the indigenous civilizations, turning them into bronze and ink, disguising themselves as vigilantes while they assaulted and robbed the real Indians with a greed and effectiveness that even the most aggressive encomenderos would have envied, frustrated by the protections that the Crown issued in favor of the original peoples.
That is why it is no coincidence that even at the end of the 20th century in Mexico there were indigenous peoples and peasants who defended themselves in the courts, proving ownership of their lands based on titles issued by the kings of Spain. Yes, after almost two centuries of independence, the flesh and blood indigenous people still resorted to the Iberian authority as a shield against the voracity of the Creoles.
The consequences of this phenomenon
The rejection of what is Spanish has very deep consequences in Latin American nations. This hatred has poisoned their identity, because it implies hating and erasing a large part of who we are: we speak Spanish, we are mostly Catholic, our traditions, food, and clothing (even many that are sold as indigenous) are deeply Spanish. To reject outright what is Spanish is to reject ourselves.
The result of that poison is a Latin America that is chronically corrupt, undisciplined, and low in self-esteem. We condemn ourselves, sometimes silently, as defeated Indians or evil Spaniards. We self-sabotage our own shared future in a subconscious attempt to punish our sins and cling to the warm blanket of resentment, which blames and justifies us for the past of conquest, which we have turned into ballast, condemnation, and destiny.
Understanding this is the first indispensable step to overcome the vicious circle in which the region has been trapped. Our history is that of the Aztecs and the Tarascans, the Incas, and the Mayas, but also of the Visigoths and the Celts. The legacy of Netzahualcoyotl belongs to us, but also that of Alfonso X, the Cid, Rome, and Charlemagne.
19th century Spain was a horrendous thing: poor and backward, from which thousands of Spaniards escaped to independent America. When my great-grandparents left Cantabria, some 150 years ago, turbulent independent Mexico was a space of opportunity, that’s how bad things were on the peninsula, but it wasn’t always that way.
The heritage of Spain is much more than the indefensible failure of Charles III, it is the triumph of Cervantes, of Charles I, of Isabella and Ferdinand, of Don Pelayo, of the nation that bequeathed us language, religion, and identity. To deny it is to deny ourselves.
Yes, we are children of Spain, and we should bless God for that.