Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Rosalía De Castro and Galician Migrants: The Construction of a Diaspora Myth 1

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Rosalía De Castro and Galician Migrants: The Construction of a Diaspora Myth 1

Article excerpt

Galician mass migration, a major theme in the poetic and narrative works of the Galician writer Rosalía de Castro, has merited some scholarly attention (Moure Rojas 1986). In this article we focus on the interaction dynamics between Rosalía de Castro and Galician migrants in the Americas. This endeavour involves three interrelated variables: 1) how Galician migrants in the Americas responded to Rosalía's works;2 2) how memory of her influenced and helped define the shared imaginary of Galician migrants; and 3) how, from the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the various institutional, political and cultural agents of Galician immigrant communities in the Americas (mainly located in Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay and Brazil) elaborated and reinterpreted what may be labelled the 'Rosalían myth'. This myth became a good example of transnational circulation of a shared symbol and, moreover, sustained an emerging diasporic imagined community. This ran parallel to the reception and interpretation of Rosalía's legacy in Galicia and Spain, yet the meanings ascribed to their work on both shores of the Atlantic were far from similar.

I

Neither Rosalía de Castro nor her husband Manuel Murguía (1833-1923), historian and chief ideologue of nineteenth-century Galician regionalism, ever set foot in the Americas. She had no first-hand experience of overseas migration, in contrast with other great writers of the Galician literary Renaissance, known as the Rexurdimento. Manoel Curros Enríquez, for example, spent the latter years of his life (from 1894 to his death in 1908) in Havana, Cuba, as a journalist for the Galician immigrant community (Núñez Seixas 1998: 140-51).

Nonetheless, Rosalía was an insightful observer of the phenomenon of migration. She could empathize with the locals from her native district of Padrón (south-east of A Coruña province) who left for Cuba, or others who left to harvest in Castile. Evidence of this is easily found in many of her best-known poems: 'Prá A Habana!', included in the 1880 original edition of Follas Novas, and 'Castellanos de Castilla, tratai ben aos galegos'. Her melancholy yet contentious lyricism combined individual longing for home with collective social outcry, especially in voicing radical rejection of what she intuitively considered the causes of mass migration.3 To Rosalía, it was poverty and misery that drove peasants to other places, as though carried away on the wings of false expectations by some deus ex machina or fatalistic destiny. Perhaps her outlook was influenced by the migration context of the Tambre and Ulla valleys, which became pioneering hubs for overseas migration after the rural textile industry crisis of the mid-nineteenth century. Rosalía foresaw a dark fate for the young men who set out for Havana and lamented a Galicia bereft of its active working population: 'sen homes quedas/ que te poidan traballar' (see Rodríguez 1988: 287-93 and Manoel María 1989). This echoed the neo-Malthusian wave that was washing through Europe at that time, which interpreted migration solely as a collective disgrace, rather than as an individual or family strategy. In some of her Spanish tales ('El cadiceño', 1866). Rosalía ironically described the behaviour of returned migrants at the village fairs around her home town of Padrón (Castro 1980, III: 493-504).

Rosalía de Castro was not the only Rexurdimento writer to display sensitivity on the topic of migration; some of her contemporaries were in close contact with migrants. Curros Enríquez, for example, expressed deep literary concern for the universal questions and characteristic themes of migratory processes everywhere (the loneliness of those who leave, the longing of those who remain, socioeconomic causes of exodus, disillusionment in the New World, etc.). However, these were also explicitly political issues to Curros Enriquez, a man of anticlerical tendency with a political and journalistic commitment to Spanish Republicanism and Galician liberal regionalism. …

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