Suszynski: An America yawning
I had dinner with my parents this week. My mom asked me what I wanted, listing things she could put together from the fridge. “How about picadillo?”
Sitting down at the table, I stared at the big pan of ground beef, cumin, tomatoes, slivered almonds, bay leaf, the faint scent of banana. A puffed pot of rice next to it.
It suddenly occurred to me that my mom has been making this meal since I was a child and yet, I had no idea where it came from. “Nana taught me,” my mom told me.
“I think Nana probably learned it in Cuba, it was a meal she picked up during their exile,” my dad said of his mom.
My grandmother escaped Spain for Cuba in 1936, right as the Spanish Civil War began. Francisco Franco was marching his fascist ideals through the country and crushing the newly founded yet shaky republic.
The more I delve into the Spanish Civil War and what led to it, what happened afterwards, I am innerved by the resemblances to our current situation.
A poet that I have mentioned previously, Antonio Machado, coined the famous term “las dos Españas:” the two Spains, in a poem. He writes (translated): “There is a Spaniard today, who wants/ to live and is starting to live,/ between one Spain dying/ and another Spain yawning./ Little Spaniard just now coming/ into the world, may God keep you./ One of those two Spains/ will freeze your heart.”
On the first day of the Republican Convention, Cuban American Maximo Alvarez stated, “My family has fled totalitarianism and communism. More than once. First my dad from Spain, then from Cuba.” It would have been more accurate to say: My family fled Nationalism in Spain only to find communism in Cuba.
Later, Former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, the partner of Donald Trump Jr., grinned through sharp teeth, with fists high in the air, saying Democrats are thwarting the American Dream and drumming up socialist ideals. The way she drew out longer vowel sounds, punctuating phrases like “Don’t. Count. On. The Democrats.” sent a chill through me, as if we have entered the popularity contest that “Fahrenheit 451” predicted. Even Melania Trump’s clothing choice was faintly dictator-like.
“Fahrenheit 451” begins with an epigraph by Juan Ramón Jiménez, a Spaniard who escaped during the civil war: “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.”
Fascism is what drove my family out of Spain. Fascism is why my grandmother never returned to live in her country. Fascism is what made her burn “Don Quixote” in the dead of night before she fled. When she finally visited many years later after my dad was born, she was still terrified of the Guardia Civil.
As I watch the convention and read news of the National Guard being deployed to yet another city where yet another Black man was shot, I think of my grandmother. When I watch a convention that is full of unchecked lies and twisted truths regarding the struggling American Dream, I think propaganda.
One of my favorite satirical depictions of the American Dream is “The Loved One” by Evelyn Waugh, who was British. Much like Guilfoyle, Waugh (and even Ray Bradbury) seemed a little preoccupied with the state of California when he visited in 1947.
Toward the beginning of the novel, Waugh draws our attention to an actress: “She was called Baby Aaronson then — splendid eyes and a fine head of black hair. So Leo made her Spanish. He had most of her nose cut off and sent her to Mexico for six weeks to learn flamenco singing. Then he handed her over to me. I named her. I made her an anti-Fascist refugee. I said she hated men because of her treatment by Franco’s Moors.”
The Republican Convention has tried on different faces, not bothering to think what it means to cut a nose off. Where there is only face, there is no value: “’I’ve nothing to say against my American colleagues … In a world of competition people are taken at their face value. Everything depends on reputation — ‘face’ as they say out East. Lose that and you lose everything,’” Sir Ambrose says in “The Loved One.”
Fascism itself means leading with only a face. Franco’s mores are not in the distant past, he was as close to now as 1975. When Franco controlled Spain, he did a lot of damage; there is a body count to prove it. And there is a body count now.
Spain was moving toward a republic, and then it split, became “two Spains.” This must not happen. Being united is something we must work at every day, just as we must work at empathy. It does not make us weak.
Langston Hughes once asked: “What happens to a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up …/ Or fester like a sore?” The last line of this poem always baffles me: “Or does it explode?” What note does Hughes end with? Is it a message of despair? Hopelessness? It can’t be. This must be the resounding baritone of fight.
Perhaps of equal importance, however, is not the fight to win, but the fight to keep from splitting like cracked mud in a desert. One America yawning, the other dying cannot be the poem of our future.
Anna Suszynski is a staff editor at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at annasuszynski or on Twitter at anna_suszynski.