Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Sunday, 4 october 2009 | New York Times

English

Letter to NYT Arts Editor

From Jodi Neufeld Gimeno

Dear New York Times Arts Editor,

I suggest that you take a second look at your article about the decline of bullfighting in Catalonia. In the interest of romanticizing a Spanish cultural anachronism, your staff writer Michael Kimmelman appropriated issues of Catalan nationalism and regional politics that have little to do with the bullfighting debate.

I am an American living in Barcelona, and I can tell you that while my Catalan friends and family are certainly anti-bullfighting, their feelings on the issue have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that bullfighting is a Spanish tradition. Lumping together animal rights issues and nationalist politics confuses the issue and belittles the nationalist (or as your writer puts it in more incendiary terms, “separatist”) movement. It is unfair to the anti-bullfighting activists and to the Catalan nationalists.

I would hardly call Catalonia a “persistently separatist-minded region of Spain.” Did Mr. Kimmelman even leave his hotel room during his visit to our city? Certainly not long enough to find any actual “separatists” to speak with. His article quotes a British travel writer and a right-wing bullfighting columnist who works for one of the most conservative newspapers in Spain. I know it’s the arts section, but come on, could you insist on at least the semblance of objectivity?

If politics are going to figure in an arts article, the writer has the responsibility to research the issues. “Research” means talking to someone who is not a British travel writer “who has lived here.” Seriously? A British travel writer? If Mr. Kimmelman needed to find someone who spoke English to interview for this piece, he could have found one of the “separatist” Catalan ministers of parliament or a protester outside the bullring. Take a look at this picture from your own slideshow:

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/09/30/arts/20091001_MATADOR_SLIDESHOW_4.html.

Several signs in English. Do you think any of these rabid separatist protesters would have turned down an interview with the New York Times?

By the way, the other sign next to them, printed on a Spanish (not Catalan) flag in Spanish (not in Catalan) reads, “The great national embarrassment.” The nation in question being Spain, not Catalonia.

Instead of interviewing any of these involved parties, Mr. Kimmelman spoke with a British travel writer, and then dutifully copied down this travel writer’s bewildering comparison between the ban on bullfighting and the law requiring schools to teach lessons primarily in Catalan. He then copied down a quote from this writer calling Catalans “vain” and “insecure” about their culture. This is about as insensitive and ignorant a statement you could make about the Catalan people and their history, yet your writer chose to include it in his article without any counterpoint whatsoever.

I was ashamed to see such a quote in the New York Times. Just last week in the travel section, there was an article about Basque culture, bemoaning the fact that the dictatorships of the previous century nearly stamped out Basque language and culture. Now this week you run this drivel suggesting that Catalans are separatist Spanish-haters for teaching their children a language that existed before there was even a country called “Spain”? Do you even speak to the editors of the other sections? Or even do any research into the historical background of your articles? You could even just glance at Wikipedia:

“As in the rest of Spain, the Franco era (1939–1975) in Catalonia saw the annulment of democratic liberties, the prohibition and persecution of parties…the annulment of the statute of autonomy, the banning of many specifically Catalan institutions, and the complete suppression of the Catalan-language press…During the first years, all resistance was energetically suppressed, the prisons filled up with political prisoners, and thousands of Catalans went into exile. In addition, 4000 Catalans were executed between 1938 and 1953, among them the former president of the Generalitat.” [History of Catalonia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Catalonia#Franco.27s_dictatorship]

Just last week over dinner, my husband’s uncle recalled that during the dictatorship, teachers were banned from speaking Catalan in the classroom and even had to fear their own students, some of whom had parents in the Franco regime, who could potentially report any remotely Catalanist activities to their parents and cause the teacher to be incarcerated or “disappeared.” Is it any wonder that the end of the dictatorship in the 1970’s heralded an era of renewed interest in fostering Catalan culture, including the language? Without laws requiring the teaching of Catalan in schools, it is likely that the language would have been yet another casualty of the Franco regime. Is it fair to call Catalans “vain” and “insecure” about their culture in the context of their struggle to prevent its utter annihilation?

Neither bullfighting nor the Spanish language have ever been in any danger of extinction. As distasteful as bullfighting may be to Catalans and other groups all over Europe, tourism and die hard local fans of bullfighting will ensure that bullrings continue to host fights in many cities in Spain. And with six million Catalan speakers within Catalonia compared to 40 million Spanish speakers in Spain alone, the Spanish language is hardly threatened by the teaching of the local language in Catalan schools.

While the two issues are not related as your article suggests, they do have a common solution: moving to another region! No one who moves to Catalonia should be shocked or outraged by the cultural differences they encounter here. Political circumstances have put Catalonia within the modern Spanish state, but lines on a map do not imply cultural homogeneity. Just think of the cultural diversity within the United States. I am a native New Yorker, and would never move to Texas for example, because I find rodeos cruel, oppose the death penalty, and prefer to live in a place where I can get around without a car. I do not have the right, however, to move to Texas and then accuse Texans of anti-Americanism, separatist tendencies, or cultural “vanity” simply because their traditions are different from mine.

If you are Spanish and move to Catalonia, you should inform yourself of the local customs and laws and make an educated decision about whether or not you can tolerate the differences you will encounter here. And if you are a writer for the New York Times, you should study the context of your articles and present issues in a balanced light. In this article Mr. Kimmelman carelessly drags Catalans through the mud, gratuitously marginalizing their embattled cultural identity for the sake of romanticizing a brutal relic of Spanish culture. I hope the New York Times can find a more positive and constructive use for its journalistic clout in the future.

Respectfully,

Jodi Neufeld Gimeno
New York and Barcelona


You can find this reply at Letter to NYT Arts Editor


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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Col·lectiu Emma is a network of Catalans and non-Catalans living in different countries who have made it their job to track and review news reports about Catalonia in the international media. Our goal is to ensure that the world's public opinion gets a fair picture of the country's reality today and in history.

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