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Flags and Family

Written by: Don Harris

La Tienda tapas bar with US and Spanish flagsWe have a young houseguest, Ibon, who is a 16 year old student from the Basque Country. So this year the Fourth of July was an extra special day for us because of his visit. During his brief stay with us, he hopes to brush up on his English (he already speaks Basque, Spanish and French!) and get the flavor of American life. His parents, Sebastian and Mila are friends of ours who provide La Tienda with some of our finest Bonito del Norte tuna.

Ibon arrived in the last days of June, so Independence Day was his first exposure to true Americana. The Fourth of July is the most American celebration of them all – complete with parades, speeches, fireworks and hamburgers and hot dogs on the patio grill. It also marks the midway point of the Major League Baseball season, ‘America’s pastime.’

As you can imagine, our hometown Williamsburg, the historic city of the American Revolution, made every effort to celebrate its heritage. The Capitol and the Governor's Palace were the center of the political and social life of Virginia for most of the 18th century. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were students at the College of William & Mary. Patrick Henry, while serving in the legislature, launched impassioned patriotic speeches from this city.

Like most of the towns in the United States on the Fourth of July, Williamsburg was dressed up in red, white and blue: buntings, t-shirts, bands, balloons and of course the ‘Stars and Stripes.’ The American flag, affectionately called ‘Old Glory,’ was everywhere, lining the streets and buildings of Williamsburg.
Spanish friend with colonial costumed interpreters
The Fifes and Drums Corps proudly marched down Duke of Gloucester Street in their 18th century apparel. It is composed of boys and girls who begin their education in military music at age 10 and practice weekly for the next eight years, until after they have graduated from high school. Alongside them was the Color Guard from the local naval base. Local leaders made patriotic speeches and the celebration was crowned by a fireworks display of epic proportions, which drew thousands of people from hundreds of miles away.

Because Ibon was with us, my wife and I had a chance to experience the celebration through the eyes of a person from quite a different culture. Of course, Ibon has enjoyed fireworks and parades before, since they are a part of ferias at Ibon’s home in the Basque Country. What he saw as unique to our celebration was the presence of so many American flags. They were everywhere.

I think he is right. I do not remember the national Spanish flag as the centerpiece of a national event in Spain, much less displayed in front of private homes as it is in the United States. When the national ensign appears at a public celebration, it is paired with the flag of the autonomous region. The flag of Castilla-León with its checkerboard of rampant lions and solid castles; the deep red flag of Pais Vasco with its intersecting green and white crosses, or the proud flag of Asturias with the fabled cross of Covadonga emblazoned on a sky blue field are of equal or primary importance to the local people.
parade in Colonial Williamsburg
There are two national observances in Spain which I think might be roughly equivalent to the American Fourth of July. One is the Feast of Santiago, the patron saint of Spain, celebrated on July 25th; the other is El Dia de Hispanidad with the primary site of celebration at the Basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragoza. Both celebrations are anchored on the sites of saints who, in effect, become the national heroes.

Many years ago, my wife and I were in Santiago de Compostela for the Patronal Feast of Santiago (Saint James). Because July 25th fell on a Sunday, the year was the culmination of a Holy Year. We traveled to this hallowed Galician city to meet our son Jonathan, who was just arriving from a two-month walk from France across Spain along the Camino de Santiago – a route along which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have traveled over the ages. All the pilgrims have a cockle shell on their walking staff, hat or shirt as a symbol of St. James. It is the same shell that we chose for the logo of LaTienda.com.

The three of us were standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people in the Plaza de Obradoiro in front of the Cathedral. King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía were there along with dozens of cardinals and noted dignitaries. Our attention was focused on a remarkable ‘light show’ which depicted the sacking of the city by the marauding Moorish warriors of Al-Mansur: bigger than life figures on horseback flashed across the facade of the cathedral. Clearly the common denominator on that national holiday was the pilgrimage tradition of the Camino, and the commemoration of the 700 century struggle of the Christians to rid the peninsula of foreign forces from Africa and as far away as Damascus. The national flag was almost an afterthought.

On another occasion, Ruth and I witnessed the celebration of Dia de la Hispanidad in Zaragoza. Although it was a national holiday and all government buildings were closed, the focus was on the Virgin of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. All week long there was a stream of villagers from Aragón and beyond headed to the basilica. Along the way, some were dancing the jota and other local dances. Their destination was the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar where they contributed armfuls of fresh flowers to the mounting pyramid of bouquets lain at the feet of the Virgin. The King of Spain attended, as in Santiago, but again, the focus was not on the national identity represented by the monarch or the flag, it was rather on the age-old religious tradition passed on over a millennium.
fife and drum corps in Colonial Williamsburg
This is quite a different setting than our national day in America. Other than among indigenous people, we cannot draw upon thousands of years of tradition as the Spanish can. We have nothing like a friend of mine in Spain whose family first settled in his hometown more than 800 years ago! What we Americans hold in common is that we are all from somewhere else. Within my conservative little city live neighbors of many traditions: Chinese, English, Spanish, Greek, Vietnamese, Korean, Romanian, Indian and more. Our forbearers came here because they wanted to make a better life, seeking the freedom to shed the past and start anew.

Essentially, on the Fourth of July we Americans celebrate an ideal expressed on our national seal: ‘E Pluribus Unum’ – out of many, one. Our experiment in democracy has been lived out over just a relatively few centuries – and for some of us it is just a few years since we came to these shores. This is why our ‘Star Spangled Banner’ is of singular importance to us – with fifty stars on a field of blue and the thirteen stripes of the founding states.

The people of Spain and the United States have been molded by radically different experiences, and these are reflected in the form of our national celebrations. Nevertheless, we are no different when we marvel at the fireworks with our grandchildren. We are all one in our desire to love and be loved, to build solid families and prepare a good future for our children. Ruth and I are enriched every time we return to Spain and enjoy the hospitality of the many traditional families who provide to La Tienda the work of their hands. Moreover, we hope our young house guest from Spain will gain from his experience of living among Americans for a few weeks, sharing our daily life.

Su amigo,


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"Say "Kaixo" to Ibon (from one who used to live in Donostia).Regarding flags, I think only in the USA do people display their flag with such patriotic fervor. In most European countries, it is only flown on official buildings. certainly not on people's cars like we saw here after 9/11. In Europe, if you saw a car with 2 national flags sticking up from the sides, it would indicate the president or prime minister inside the car. It's a bit overdone here. (in my opinion).Agur! (Goodbye in Euzkara or Basque language)"
July 2011

"Enjoyed your article. My wife is part Basque, & on 22 July, we are going to Buffalo, Wyoming where a Basque celebration will occur. We try to get to Spain every year to see relatives & tour the country. Spain is a beautiful country with wonderful people. "
July 2011

"Thanks to Spain America was discovered. Florida, New Mexico, Texas and California have great influence of Spanish culture,pasted by Mexico.Thanks for bringing to America Spanish products. "
July 2011

"Dear Don and all: I read your article about your visitor from Pais Vasco and it brought to mind our young man from Madrid, the son of a dear friend we had met through our extended travels in Spain, who came in the fall of '87 and didn't leave until the spring of '92. He loved America so much that his mother was afraid he would never go home. Quique reveled in the celebrations of July 4th and Christmas and especially Thanksgiving which delighted him. As you say, it is heartwarming to observe our way of life and this wonderful country of ours through the eyes of someone who comes from a totally different culture. I , myself, am off to Barcelona and Mallorca on Sunday....haven't been to those two places in a while...and traveling with a dear friend who has never been. So I will get to see her reactions to my beloved Spain through her eyes and that will be special also. Thanks again for your warm and thoughtful articles. I feel like if we met, we would be instant friends and one day I will get to Williamsburg. Thank you also for the gift certificate you sent me in response to my comments. I will spend it when I return from my trip. Abrazos Barbara Roos"
July 2011

"Dear Barbara, Thanks for the thoughtful note. I look forward to visiting you when you come to Williamsburg. Our store is equidistant between Williamsburg and Jamestown in a 19th century building which originally was a farm house and then transformed into a studio for a noted English potter. Do let me know when you plan to come. In the meantime I am glad we are connecting virtually! Don"

"A Canadian friend of mine made the same observation upon visiting me in Pennsylvania. He was impressed by the presence of the American flag everywhere, especially on people's homes."
July 2011

"Being Luso American ,proud of my American birthplace and Iberian heritage i find it hard to understand the need to display the flag in every house or store....I have traveled through out the five continents, only one country besides the U.S. displays as many flags as we do and it is China!!!!! "
July 2011

"another time when many spanish flags were pominantly displayed around the country was during the world cup in 2010."
July 2011

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Banderas y la Familia

La Tienda tapas bar with US and Spanish flagsTenemos un joven invitado en casa procedente del País Vasco. Se llama Ibon y tiene dieciséis años. Por este motivo el pasado Cuatro de Julio fue una celebración extraordinaria para nosotros. Durante su breve estancia con nosotros Ibon desea mejorar su inglés (¡ya habla vasco, español y francés!) y experimentar algo de la forma de vida americana. Sus padres, Sebastián y Mila son amigos nuestros y suministran la más alta calidad de Bonito del Norte a La Tienda.

Ibon llegó el último día de junio, así que el día de la Independencia fue su primera vivencia de celebración a la americana. El Cuatro de Julio es la fiesta americana por excelencia, colmada de cabalgatas, discursos, fuegos artificiales y hamburguesas y perritos calientes en la parrilla del patio de casa. Marca el punto intermedio en la temporada de la liga principal de béisbol, una pasión americana.

Como pueden imaginarse, nuestra ciudad Williamsburg, la histórica ciudad de la Revolución Americana, puso gran empeño en las celebraciones que conmemoran su historia. El Capitolio y el Palacio del Gobernador fueron el centro de la vida política y social de la Virginia del siglo XVIII. George Washington y Thomas Jefferson se formaron en la universidad de William & Mary y Patrick Henry durante su legislatura lanzó apasionadas y patrióticas arengas desde esta ciudad.

Como muchas otras ciudades de Estados Unidos durante la celebración del Cuatro de Julio, Williamsburg se vio envuelta en los colores rojo, blanco y azul: banderines, camisetas, bandas, globos y cómo no las “Barras y Estrellas”. La bandera americana, con afecto llamada la “Vieja Gloria” colgaba por todas partes, engalanando las calles y edificios de Williamsburg.
Spanish friend with colonial costumed interpreters
La Banda de Flautines y Tambores marchó con orgullo por la calle del Duque de Gloucester ataviada con ropas del siglo XVIII. Está compuesto por los alumnos noveles de la escuela de música militar de diez años de edad que practican semanalmente durante ocho años hasta que se gradúan en la Escuela Secundaria. Junto a ellos desfiló la Guardia de Color de la base naval de la zona. Los dirigentes locales pronunciaron discursos patrióticos y la celebración fue rematada por una fiesta de fuegos artificiales de grandiosas proporciones que atrajo a curiosos en 150 kilómetros a la redonda.

Puesto que Ibon se encontraba con nosotros, mi esposa y yo tuvimos la oportunidad de vivir la celebración a través de los ojos de un extranjero. Por supuesto, Ibon ya había visto cabalgatas y fuegos artificiales anteriormente, son parte de las celebraciones en la feria de su pueblo en el País Vasco. Lo que le llamó la atención como algo especial de nuestra fiesta fue ver tantas banderas americanas. Las había por todos lados.

Creo que tiene razón. No recuerdo haber visto la bandera nacional española como centro de las celebraciones nacionales en España, y mucho menos colgando delante de las casas particulares como ocurre en Estados Unidos. Cuando la enseña nacional aparece en una celebración lo hace junto con la bandera de la región autónoma. La bandera de Castilla-León cuyo paño divido en cuatro muestra leones rampantes y sólidos castillos; la bandera del País Vasco de fondo rojo oscuro con dos cruces sobrepuestas en verde y blanco o la orgullosa bandera de Asturias con la aclamada Cruz de Covadonga sobre fondo azul son de tanta relevancia o más para sus ciudadanos.
parade in Colonial Williamsburg
Existen en España dos festividades que a grosso modo se me antojan equivalentes a la fiesta americana del Cuatro de Julio. Una de ellas es la festividad de Santiago, patrón de España, que se conmemora el 25 de julio; la otra es el Día de la Hispanidad, celebrada con mayor intensidad en la Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar en Zaragoza. Ambas festividades están ligadas a lugares de santos, que, de hecho, se convirtieron en héroes nacionales.

Hace ya muchos años mi esposa y yo estuvimos en Santiago de Compostela para las Fiestas Patronales de Santiago. Puesto que el 25 de julio cayó ese año en domingo se celebró como la culminación de un Año Santo. Nos desplazamos a esta ciudad santa gallega para encontrarnos con nuestro hijo Jonathan, que acababa de finalizar un peregrinaje a pie que duró dos meses desde Francia y atravesando España por el Camino de Santiago-una ruta que cientos de miles de peregrinos han recorrido a lo largo de diferentes épocas.

Nos encontrábamos los tres parados codo con codo entre miles de personas en la Plaza del Obradoiro delante de la Catedral. El rey Juan Carlos y la reina Sofía se encontraban también allí junto a docenas de cardenales y otros relevantes dignatarios. Nuestra atención estaba fijada en un impresionante “espectáculo de luces” que representaba el saqueo de la ciudad por los guerreros musulmanes de Almanzor: figuras de tamaño superior al real cabalgaban velozmente de un lado a otro de la fachada de la catedral. Obviamente el denominador común de esa festividad nacional era la tradición peregrina del Camino y la conmemoración de los setecientos años de lucha de los cristianos para librar a la península de los ejércitos extranjeros venidos desde África y de lejanos lugares como Damasco. La idea de una bandera nacional vino casi como algo de último momento.

En otra ocasión Ruth y yo fuimos testigos de la celebración del Día de la Hispanidad en Zaragoza. Aunque se trataba de una fiesta nacional y todos los edificios públicos estaban cerrados, las miradas se centraban en la Virgen de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. A lo largo de toda la semana multitud de paisanos de Aragón y otras comunidades se desplazaban hasta la basílica. Por el camino algunos bailaban la jota y otras danzas regionales. Su destino era la Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar en donde depositaban enormes ramos de flores frescas sobre la gran pirámide de flores que se amontonaba a los pies de la Virgen. El rey de España asistió, al igual que en Santiago, pero de nuevo el centro de atención no fue la identidad nacional representada por el monarca o la bandera, sino la tradición religiosa heredada hace más de mil años.
fife and drum corps in Colonial Williamsburg
Es un marco totalmente distinto al de nuestro día nacional en América. No podemos conmemorar tradiciones milenarias más allá de las indígenas como hacen los españoles. No tenemos nada parecido a mi amigo español ¡cuya familia se instaló en su ciudad hace más de ochocientos años! Lo que los americanos tenemos en común es que todos provenimos de algún otro lugar. Dentro de mi pequeña y conservadora ciudad viven vecinos de tradiciones muy variopintas: china, inglesa, española, griega, vietnamita, coreana, rumana, india, etc. Nuestros antepasados vinieron hasta aquí anhelando una vida mejor y buscando libertad para poder dejar atrás el pasado y comenzar una nueva vida.

En el fondo lo que los americanos celebramos el Cuatro de Julio es el ideal expresado en nuestro sello nacional: E Pluribus Unum – De muchos, uno. Nuestro experimento de la democracia ha sobrevivido sólo unos cuantos siglos – y para algunos de nosotros sólo han pasado unos cuantos años desde que llegamos a estas costas. Es por ello que nuestra bandera tachonada de estrellas es tan importante para nosotros –cincuenta estrellas en fondo azul y trece barras de las colonias fundadoras.

Las gentes de España y los Estados Unidos han sido moldeadas por experiencias radicalmente diferentes, y esto se refleja en nuestras celebraciones nacionales. No obstante, no somos tan distintos al maravillarnos ante unos fuegos artificiales junto a nuestros nietos. Todos somos iguales en nuestro deseo de amar y ser amados, formar una sólida familia y labrar un buen futuro para nuestros hijos. Ruth y yo nos enriquecemos cada vez que volvemos a España y disfrutamos de la hospitalidad de las muchas familias tradicionales que suministran productos a La Tienda con la labor de sus manos. Por otra parte, esperamos que nuestro joven invitado de España saque provecho de unas cuantas semanas de vivencias entre americanos compartiendo nuestra vida cotidiana.

Su amigo,


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