Editorial by Dan Ward
The constitutional crisis in Spain’s autonomous region of Cataluña highlights the new reality of identification in our globalized world. Although many Catalans consider themselves to be both Catalan and Spanish, speak both languages, and enjoy customs of both cultures, they are being forced by intransigent politicians to choose between them, as if one precludes the other.
Of course, many Catalans are fervently nationalistic and will not be satisfied until they are independent from Spain, but Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau claims independence is not supported by the majority of Catalans, and, as recently as July of this year, opinion polls suggested that the majority of the region’s residents did not support independence.
A significant factor in swaying opinion on the issue is membership of the European Union (EU). Whether or not they see themselves as Spanish, nearly all Catalans identify as Europeans and want to be part of the EU. However, an independent Cataluña would be refused EU membership based on Spain’s objection.
Parallels can be drawn between the decisions being made there and last year’s Brexit vote in the UK which is continuing to be contested by the many Brits who want to be British and European. And similar situations are apparent worldwide when people are required to compartmentalize themselves.
Here in the U.S., people are often compartmentalized based on race, language, creed, sexual orientation, or religion, but the reality is that most of us have many identities that defy us being placed in one particular box. Standing up for black rights by kneeling down during the national anthem does not make you less American, nor does speaking a language other than English. By the same token, worshipping Jesus, Allah, or Buddha need not conflict with allegiance to a secular country or a state.
Identifying with the heritage of your ancestors is compatible with a pragmatic approach to modern-day life, and it adds to its richness. Preserving their language and customs as your own complements your personality as an American.
In a similar way to bilinguals improving communication through their ability to switch between languages, recognizing the multitude of identities present within an individual is the route to understanding that person.
It’s likely that the crisis in Spain could have been averted if the central government would have been more amenable to the desire for increased decentralization of power. However, the heavy-handed reaction by Madrid has led to a more entrenched position. The lesson to be learned from this is that we need to accept multiple identities to avoid conflict.
In our quest to simplify, we tend to compartmentalize people and highlight the divisions between them rather than appreciate the differences. People are too complex to be classified so simply, so we need to take the time to recognize that they are composed of a myriad of identities, some of which may complement, and some of which may conflict, with our own, but the sum of which make them fascinating.