La memoria histórica right outside of Madrid

After a quick four days in Torremocha de Jarama, I still cannot believe I was there, let alone that I am now back at William and Mary. It was a whirlwind of a trip, and I am glad to be writing this because everything happened so fast that I have yet to get a chance to reflect on my experience.

My research in Spain was two-fold: oral history interviews and attending the performance of Presas de papel. I also was able to listen in on a public lecture on public memory of the Fransisco Franco dictatorship in Spain. The oral history interviews were the most profound part of my research. Even today, there is very little conversation outside of the home about what happened while Franco was in power in Spain, so I felt very blessed to be invited to share the intimate space of these stories not only in the moment their were told, but also later as I pass the stories to wider audiences here and in my final article for this study.

One teacher told me about his work to better educate young people about the memory of the Spanish Civil war and Franco’s dictatorship in the classroom. He told me that his school was one of twenty or thirty in Spain to create programs about la memoria histórica, which is what the Spanish call the history of those who faced violence and terror under Franco. He showed me a mural the students in the school had painted that looked somewhat like Guernica, Pablo Picasso’s famous anti-war painting, and included the number 114,223 which is the number of represaliados whose bodies have yet to be exhumed from the location of their execution. High schoolers painted this mural, and it still hangs on the wall right next to the entrance of the school, so everyone will see.

I interviewed a sister and a brother who opened my eyes to a completely different side of the stories we hear about the heroes who gain fame by championing their cause. The siblings were very frank with about about what families lose when those heroes dedicate themselves to what they believe in. Children lose their mothers and fathers even if they are not executed by the regime in power. People constantly remind those children that their parents were such amazing, strong and resilient people who loved deeply, but the children have trouble believing this narrative because they never got to feel that love or see that strength.

Finally, my last night in Spain, I attended the performance of Presas de papel. This rendition of the play reflected much of what the actresses and their director told me it was going to in August. The traditional theater space gave them the freedom to show life outside the prison across a wider period of time, including scenes from before the war. It also allowed for people who could not attend the original play because of the inaccessibility of its location to see the history of their families honored on the stage.

The trip overall was incredibly successful, and I am so thankful for the Charles Center and the Hispanic Studies Department for making it possible.