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Nora Hughes

Nora Hughes graduated from Georgetown in 2011 with a major in Psychology and minors in Spanish and History. Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, she participated in the Berkley Center's Junior Year Abroad Network form Seville, Spain in the spring of 2010.

Nora Hughes on the History of Santa Cruz in Seville

March 2, 2010

One of the first things I did upon arriving in Seville was study the map, both in my home stay and as I walked the streets. I wanted to get my bearings on the city, discover a quick route to the Unversidad de Sevilla, and memorize main streets in an attempt to save myself from getting lost. I quickly learned the city’s general layout: the ancient murillo encircles a jumble of short, narrow streets with ever–changing names, while the Guadalivir river and the more modern barrios are situated outside the touristy centro. I found where the barrio of Puerto Osario met el centro, recognized why Triana considers itself unique from the rest of Seville, walked through La Macarena (whose streets, come Semana Santa, will be too crowded to pass), and fell in love with the romanticism of Santa Cruz. Situated between the Alzacar and the Catedral, Santa Cruz is full of the stereotypes of Seville and Andalusia: wailing flamenco singers, “morena” Sevillanas dancers, stylish Don Juans, white-washed houses, curving narrow streets, small churches and outdoor cafes. After a class tour, however, I found out that underneath the touristy exterior of Santa Cruz is a history full of violence and persecution against Seville’s Jewish population.

Before the mid-fourteenth century, the Jewish population of Seville lived in what is now the barrio of Santa Cruz. Under various regimes, they experienced different amounts of religious persecution and political and economic discrimination. Under Muslim rule, “gente del libro” – Jews and Christians – were allowed to practice their religion in private, maintain their social organization and regulate their communities using their own laws. After the Christian “reconquista” of Spain, Seville’s Jewish population was segregated, forced to live in the “ghetto” of Santa Cruz, behind large iron gates whose closure signaled the end of Jewish curfew. At the end of the fourteenth century, during an era of war, economic crisis, and widespread plague, the Jews of Santa Cruz were the victims of a pogram. Blaming the Seville’s Jews for the city’s social, economic, and political problems, the lower sectors of the Catholic Church attacked Santa Cruz, completely destroying the population and infrastructure of the community.

Little of this political and religious violence is evident in Santa Cruz today. The churches, most of which were once synagogues, lack any mention of the area’s Jewish history. The clean, whitewashed buildings bear no resemblance to the burned skeletons of houses that existed after the pogram. The seventy some Jewish families residing in Seville today do not live in Santa Cruz. The only evidence is in an underground parking lot, where a small display shows the remains of a Jewish cemetery.

Learning the history of Santa Cruz did not drastically change my impression of Seville or its people. In an area that has been ruled by two of the major world religions, with a population with diverse ethnic heritage, religious and ethnic conflict are no surprise. In discussions with my host family, my professors and my Spanish classmates, I have not sensed religious tension or anti-Semitism. I have also not sensed any sort of unwillingness to discuss Spain’s history or to recognize it’s Muslim and Jewish influences. Learning the unseen story of Santa Cruz, however, gave me a more nuanced perspective of the city, and showed me the importance of learning beyond guidebooks.

Nora Hughes on Gypsies in Spain

April 4, 2010

Before arriving in Spain, my only knowledge of gypsies came from Disney movies, specifically the female lead of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Esmerelda. My first week in Spain, I learned the connection between gypsies and the ever-popular flamenco dancing and noticed the abundance of “La Gitana” restaurants and cafes. After traveling and touring, I came to associate gypsies with the women that stand outside Spain’s churches, shoving rosemary branches in visitors’ faces and demanding “donations.” I had heard they were a marginalized group, but was unsure why they seemed to live so separately from the rest of Spanish society, and whether the images I’d created were reflective of the whole population.

Talking with my host mother, Maria, and doing web research gave me some insight into the complicated social and political situation of the gypsies in Spain. In Sevilla, Maria described a nearby park that had been created five years ago, after the government had to tear down buildings that had been given to the gypsies; they had destroyed the apartments, lighting wood fires in the living rooms, throwing garbage out the windows, ripping off faucets and destroying sewage systems. She described the sense of danger felt by many Spaniards when they enter Sevilla’s gypsy neighborhood – their fear of being robbed, their memories of the young boy that was mugged and killed a few years ago, their hesitance about a social group perceived as aggressive and antagonistic. She also described her neighbors growing up, a relatively well-integrated and “normal” gypsy family, but admitted that the neighbor’s parties, weddings and family celebrations were exclusively gypsy and that the children were expected to marry within the gypsy community.

Maria and the news articles both described the problems gypsy children from both “normal” and less well-integrated families face in the education system. The government mandates that all children attend primary schooling, but gypsy parents often refuse to send their children. When gypsy children do attend school, they are often socially isolated, and there have been numerous accounts of non-gypsy parents protesting the admission of gypsy children. This situation is complicated by the fact that the Spanish government’s census does not include questions about race, thus few statistics on the gypsy community exist, and by the frequent moves made by gypsies, a historically nomadic group.

The government and the Spanish people seem to be aware of the lack of integration of the gypsy people, whether they view them positively or not. In 1996, the Parliament of Andalucía declared November 22 “Día de los Gitanos de Andalucía” (Day of the Gypsies of Andalucia). Non-governmental organizations, such as the Union Romaní, work to preserve gypsy history, provide social services, aid gypsy associations and eliminate racism and marginalism. Although Spanish people do not put as much emphasis on being “politically correct” as do Americans, there have been efforts to reduce racism and stereotyping of the gypsies.

Certainly, Maria’s opinions do not reflect that of the entire nation, and her description of mistrust toward the gypsy community may stem from the racism that many gypsies try to fight against. On the other hand, organizations like Union Romaní that express a desire to work within the current government system to decrease marginalization may represent only a portion of the gypsy community. Thus, although opinions may differ as to why the gypsies are unable, or possibly unwilling, to integrate into modern Spanish society, the topic is sure to cause controversy and social tension in years to come.