May 4th, 2018

In the US, ribbons equal cancer. You sell them, you make facebook graphics of them, you tattoo them, and you talk about them; rarely do you wear them. Different colors represent different diagnoses, and though everyone identifies pink quickly as breast cancer, it is common knowledge that there are many ribbons. In Barcelona, there is only one color. One yellow ribbon, with heavy significance, and extreme pervasiveness. Yellow ribbons can be seen hung on buildings, pinned on shirts, painted on the streets, and practically everywhere. When I first arrived to Barcelona, my previous experiences only allowed me to identify ribbons in one way.

Today, after wondering what the ribbons represented since I first noticed one yesterday, I finally asked my mentor, Carlota, what the significance was. For context, these mentors are basically liaisons between us, the students, and the school. They take us on excursions, to meals, and answer any questions that might come up. She explained to me that the yellow ribbon signifies support of freeing the political prisoners. I accepted the answer and thanked her, still not knowing exactly what this meant. I did not know who the political prisoners were, or what they were in prison for, but it still feels a bit too early to dive in to everyone’s deepest political sentiments. Maybe next week.

What I find most intriguing about the display of the yellow ribbons is that I truly cannot picture an equivalent movement happening in the states. I cannot picture employees going to work, wearing (or not wearing) small ribbons on their chest that openly tell how that person feels about a particular issue. One might say that the U.S. equivalent to this could be bumper stickers: the classic “Dump Trump”, or the infamous “Hillary for Prison 2016”. But there is something distinct about wearing this indicator on your body. It seems to reflect a certain level of tolerance for the opinions of others and openness of dialogue that the U.S. just hasn’t reached yet.  

May 16th, 2018

Sitting in the park that’s about a 15 minute walk from our apartment, and kicking myself for what little reflection I’ve done on this trip. Today marks two weeks here, and though I have eaten my bodyweight in tapas, and will definitely not have luggage under 50 lbs when I leave, my heart is full. I have gained amazing friends, and knowledge of a world outside of my own. Perhaps most surprising, coming from an American perspective in which political disagreement commonly turns violent, has been the peaceful nature of what seems to be political turmoil tearing a nation apart.

I’ve had eye opening conversations, on both sides. On Friday the 11th, my roommates and I joined our roommate Isabel for dinner with her friend Christina, who grew up and currently goes to school in Madrid. After a decent amount of getting-to-know-you conversation, I felt comfortable enough to ask her take on the current situation. She explained a part of the history that I was not previously aware of: over a decade ago, Catalonia was pushing for more autonomy in their school curriculum, and the Spanish government finally gave in. According to Christina, part of the reason that this is such a hot button issue right now is because many of the proponents of independence are a result of this school system that emphasized Catalonian nationalism. She also explained that the political prisoners are imprisoned for organizing the referendum on independence in Catalonia. The Spanish Constitution states that referendums must be voted on by the entire country, not just a region, therefore the vote was unconstitutional.

Additionally, Christina’s personal sentiment is that it is unfair that, as a Spanish citizen, that she feels so isolated from a part of her country. In Catalonia, their primary language is Catalan and Spanish is their second language. She said she cannot study in Catalonia, or even go into a restaurant, without struggling with the language barrier. I had never thought of it in this context before; I can imagine being uncomfortable if California spoke a different language than the rest of the U.S.  

May 18th, 2018

Today our professor took us on a walking tour of the Barcelona beach. Our class was focused around how the area transformed for the 1992 Olympics. As we walked, one of my classmates and I were staying close to our professor, asking him questions about various monuments and buildings. I had been thinking about asking him about his take on Catalonian independence for awhile. He has already given us a bit of insight into his personal views, commenting that he does not think Catalonia could survive as an independent state. But I was very curious as to his views on the entire situation, being that he is not originally from Spain. He is Dutch, and his wife is Spanish, so I figured he might give a more unbiased take on the question. It finally felt like the perfect time to ask him today, so I took my chance.

My professor, Stephan, explained that the charge against the political prisoners is not that they organized this unconstitutional referendum. The grounds for arrest were that public funds had been used for the vote to take place. Many are outraged because, according to Stephan, corruption of funds takes place in the Spanish government very often. Many politicians go unpunished, but these politicians were targeted because of their political agenda. Though Stephan does not desire independence for Catalonia, he, too, is against these injustices perpetrated by the Spanish government, revealing just how multifaceted of an issue it is.

Yet again, I gained insight and perspective into this issue that I came to Spain with very little knowledge of. This kind of information is stuff that the New York Times and CNN just don’t give you. After witnessing the non-violent nature of the conflict in Spain and Catalonia, and talking so openly with people with differing opinions, returning to a country where families often stay away from the topic of politics is quite jarring. I had practical strangers talking candidly with me about their political sentiments. People willingly and unabashedly wore pieces of ribbon on their daily clothes calling for major government action. It was unlike anything I had ever witnessed before.

One major takeaway from my recent travel experiences is that the way things are now is not how things always have to be. It may sound simple, but I think that it’s easy to get caught up in daily life, and make excuses for illogical practices. Politics can ruin friendships, or familial relationships, or alter your view of someone, and “that’s just how it is”. But that’s not how it has to be, because people in other places are doing it differently. Political views do not have to be polarizing, taboo topics of conversations. Open, reciprocal dialogue is possible. It’s achievable and it’s important and it only took me traveling halfway across the world to figure that out.