Closing lecture. Culture is Exile. The Political Imagination of Diaspora (1936–2021)
Germán Labrador in dialogue with Rosario Peiró
The year 2019 marked eighty years since the start of Republican exile, framed in the context of a global migration crisis and with clear parallels between the new and old fields of the displaced in Europe. The memory of Iberian diaspora thus became part of a much larger history of displacement and return, a history which did not begin with the Civil War, did not end in the Transition to democracy in Spain, and does not have Spaniards as the sole protagonists. This lecture takes up this synchrony to consider new relationship modes with Republican exiles.
In contrast to events forty years ago, its normalisation is no longer considered, and, in the context of Spain’s democratic Transition period and with an outlook of European standardisation lying ahead, there was a search for the reintegration of an estranged body in a national space. As a result, initiatives such as The Spanish Exile in Mexico (Spain’s Ministry of Culture, 1983) have been documented, an initiative with good intentions but one which yielded limited results, with the world of the exile ultimately reduced to collective memory as a spectral province. At the same time, national history was remodelled under progress, blowing the bridges that diaspora created in Latin America.
Yet for exiles life remains inscribed in cities and lands through the irretrievable condition of time in each body. From migration as experience, we can assume its otherness in relation to the State. In terms of the history of the nation, exile always operates as a critical lever which is able to displace a whole paradigm, for instance Américo Castro and his experience of uprooting which gave rise to a critical — revolutionary — expression, situating the East at the heart of Spanish historiography. While the experience of displacement has always been an experience of estrangement, Castro learned to read, through stateless eyes, exiles who in truth constitute the entire national history, incorporating in his reliefs the shadow others have cast, those displaced from other times: Jews, Muslims, Berbers, Moors, and the Converted.
Concomitantly, other novelists, philosophers and artists learned to read Iberian history from exile, as a decanted summation of deportations, banishments and massacres. This ethical shift led to what we call today post-colonial history, based on the centrality of victims and the history of the defeated. In the current context of the climate crisis and global migration, the mechanisms of diasporic production have gathered speed, to the point that the vast extent of Iberian uprooting before and after 1936 becomes relative. Here, an archaeology of exile, its knowledge and study, learning centred on its forms of gazing, and remembrance, is essential in producing the paradigm our era demands, one in which Republican diaspora is part of a global history of migrant citizenship, at the centre of which is dispossession and rootlessness, and everyone’s need and right to find a home in the world.