Meet Yaya, my new “adopted” grandmother. Yaya and I have shared many afternoons together, cooking, taking care of the hens, and talking. I have learned much about her incredible life, and have felt inspired to share her story.
Yaya grew up during an extremely difficult time in Spain. She was born during the Spanish Civil war, and lived throughout the Franco's Nationalistic dictatorship. In her early childhood, when Yaya was just six years old, her mother passed away from an illness. Then, when Yaya was eight, her father was killed because he opposed Franco. With both parents dead, Yaya had to rely on her two older siblings for food and protection. While her older two siblings went to work during the day, Yaya stayed home with her dog and worked in their garden. Every morning, Yaya would help make breakfast for her siblings. And every night, Yaya would have a meal prepared from the vegetables in the garden. From not much food, she was able to sustain her older siblings and herself.
When Yaya was 11, she studied at a school nearby for one year. However, realizing that her work was needed in the house, she decided to sacrifice her schooling for her family. Her older sister, instead, taught Yaya. From a very young age, Yaya realized that her self-sacrifice was a gift of Love that she was able to perform no matter what.
When Yaya was in her early twenties, she married another young man from her village. They had grown up together as friends, and both knew what sacrifice and Love meant. Both understood that these were needed for the success of a family. A few years after getting married, with two children and pregnant with the third, the couple moved to Barcelona to look for better jobs. Yaya and her husband wanted their children to have better lives, and better educations, and knew that it would be easier to find better sustaining jobs in the city.
While in Barcelona, Yaya worked for three households. At six every morning, Yaya would wake up, make breakfast, and help the two oldest children get ready for school. At seven, she would take her youngest with her out to the first house to clean and cook breakfast. After spending a couple of hours at the first house, she would move on to the next house, cleaning and cooking meals for the rest of the day. When I questioned her about the families she worked for, she said that they were very kind. She would often sit with them to eat meals, and she did not feel disrespected at all. These families greatly appreciated her hard work, and honored her as a part of their households.
Once the children grew up and became independent, Yaya maintained an active lifestyle full of hard work. She and her husband moved to Reus, where she started raising hens and gardening. She kept up the same work hours as before, waking up at six and starting work bright and early. Whenever her children needed her help with anything, she was ready and willing to show her love and sacrifice her time for them.
A year ago, she lost her husband to cancer. Leading up to his death, she took great care of him, sacrificing many of her hours to help him. Once he passed away, it became very hard for her to live alone. However, Yaya decided to spend her time helping her children instead of feeling sorry for herself. Now, she still gets up at six every day, ready for her work. She has two properties where she raises hens, and she helps out with the cooking (lucky me) for one of her sons’ family. When I asked her why she still gets up so early, she said “To work! Clearly,” surprised that I would even ask her that. It has been this attitude which has helped her do so many things. Yaya’s persistent, self-sacrificing, and optimistic attitude has enabled her to work extremely hard and to never ever give up. She rejoices in the challenges of each day because she is strong.
Despite her many years of work, she has never lost her sense of humor. A couple of days ago while we were drinking tea and eating a rice dessert (arroz con leche), she was so involved in her story that she plopped a spoonful of rice in her tea instead of on her plate! It was hilarious, and we both died from laughter. After we calmed down a little bit, she just stirred up her tea and drank it anyways. Nothing seems to slow her down.
While recounting her childhood, she still has haunting memories. “It was really hard,” she told me, with tears in her eyes. At such a young age, Yaya had to grow up and do what not many of us could ever fathom doing. She lost both of her parents and had to take over many of their responsibilities for her older siblings. But, even through all of her hardships, Yaya has maintained a positive attitude. By first encounter, you would have never been able to guess her history, despite the fact that she saves and uses everything. A child at heart, she welcomes all around her with Love. Whenever I see here, she brightens up, smiles, and proceeds to tell me about her day. I have cherished her stories, and honor her as a model of hard work.
“The two things Spain has to offer are the literature and the food,” an older man told me in his strong, Spanish accent. I have yet to read enough Spanish literature to comment on its worth, but Spain certainly has much to offer with its food. In Spain, or at least in Catalonia, people highly value bread and olive oil. In working as an Au pair for a family, I have had to prepare the children’s snack every morning. Each day, the host mom tells me to make the same snack for her children: a baguette with olive oil and sausage sandwich meat. Every afternoon, on the way home from school, the mom buys two fresh baguettes on the way home.
Instead of salad dressing, Spaniards eat their salads with olive oil, salt, and on occasion, vinegar. Whereas many Americans eat bread and butter for breakfast, my family does not even buy butter. Instead, my family eats bread with a chocolate spread similar to Nutella for breakfast. And, instead of using butter on bread for little sandwiches, called tapas, my family uses olive oil. A very common tapa which my family eats is a baguette with thinly sliced tomatoes, olive oil, and smoked ham.
My host mom, Maria, owns a restaurant in the neighboring town, Salou. Many days while the children are at school, I accompany her to the restaurant and spend my time either reading at the restaurant, or walking around the town. At lunch, the cooks prepare me a free meal. So far, I have eaten many dishes with rice, pasta, and salad. Recently, however, the cooks treated me to Paella – a well-known Spanish dish which includes rice and a mix of seafood.
So far, my food adventure in Spain has been great, although it has definitely come with a cost. Hopefully all of the bread, oil, and sugar will not add up to too much after my summer stay in Spain.
But, Spain has more to offer than just literature and food. From my first two weeks in Reus, I have discovered the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea, the tranquility in enjoying long meals, and the beauty in older buildings. I can use the bus system to get anywhere I want in town, and I have spent some of my days leisurely walking through the plazas downtown, window shopping and enjoying a tourist’s perspective of the old town. I have become enchanted with the sight of old church steeples in the background of a plaza filled with bakeries and cafes. And, I am not the only one. Many people come to the plaza to drink coffee and eat lunch, enjoying the company of friends during a long break from work. Many of the clothing stores close during the middle of the day, from around 1-5pm, so that the employees can also enjoy a longer lunch.
The only thing which makes it difficult for me to fully enjoy Reus is the discrimination of some people against any outsiders. Right now, Spain is suffering from the illegal immigration of mostly Moroccans and South Americans. Many of these people who enter illegally into Spain do not pay their share in the 30% tax rate, but have the ability to benefit from medical attention during emergencies. For this or other reasons, many Spaniards do not like outsiders. As a tall, blonde, American girl who speaks a highly accented Spanish, I have found it difficult to talk to some people. Some people immediately think I am not smart, or that I cannot understand what they are saying, just because of the way I look or dress. But there have also been people who have shown great kindness to me. My host family, for example, has made me feel as though I am a part of the family, opening me up to extended family and friends. In addition, at the gym, I have found basketball players to train with, and also to hang out with outside of practice. Hopefully by practicing my Spanish even more, I will be able to assimilate more in the culture and have more people open up their stories to me.
This past Monday afternoon, after travelling for fifteen straight hours, I landed in Barcelona. My host family met me at the airport and drove me to their house in Reus. When I arrived at their house, I was greeted by both of the grandmothers, many animals, and a very Spanish meal. The grandmothers were very kind to me, and made sure I ate as much and even more than I could handle. After I ate with the family, we all stayed seated around the table, enjoying the sobremesa, talking for a while more.
I expected that I would be submerged in the Spanish language and culture, that I would see many old, antique buildings, and that I would come back to the states with bronze skin and a broadened food palate. What I did not expect from my trip was to become fascinated with the political situations in Spain with an aftermath of Franco’s dictatorship and the present efforts of some Catalonians to separate from Spain.
So far, I have not had to do much as an Au pair. I have had to help out in the mornings and at night when they come home from school, but I have had free time in between. Maria Gonzalez, their mom, owns a seasonal restaurant which I have been staying at during the day. At the restaurant, and in the car rides, Maria has explained to me the political situation in Spain. She explained to me that there are some people in Spain who believe that since there are differences in language between regions in Spain, these regions, specifically Catalonia, should separate from Spain. If Catalonia separates from Spain and becomes its own country, Catalonia would have to start over as a new country. Catalonia would have to apply for entrance into the European Union, chose and manage a form of money, and control imports and exports, among other things. Although Catalonians would not have to pay taxes to upkeep other regions, they would still have to pay taxes to Catalonia for their new country.
Because a significant amount of people have voiced this opinion, people in Catalonia have been insecure in their future prosperity. People do not want to make big purchases in Catalonia because they do not know if their purchase will be honored by a new government. Married couples from different regions do not know if their spouses will have to apply for citizenship to stay in their country. Businesses and industries who have their bases in the Catalonia region, such as a Coca-Cola factory, have moved to other areas in Spain to avoid any future trouble. This demonstrates even more difficulties for Catalonia’s separation. Catalonia is already experiencing the affects which would result from their separation from Spain.
This apprehension and insecurity in the future of the country is a result of a form of Nationalism. Some people ignore the history of Spain as a country and believe that just because certain people in a region have different beliefs or a different culture than people in a different region, they should not be united as a country. They view diversity in these cultures as a bad thing, and they praise unity through an altogether impossible practice of a same exact culture. In addition, they fail to recognize the almost impossibility in creating a successful new country with a booming economy. The only thing which matters is the sentimentality in forming a new country with the same culture. This form of nationalism is dangerous because it fails to recognize the upcoming problems, and the importance of diversity in society for its functioning. For Catalonia to function, they need people who are diverse and can do many different things. For the whole country to function properly, people need to perform their respective roles. Catalonia, with its own unique language, is still very Spanish. Everybody in Catalonia learns Spanish along with Catalan in school, Catalonians pay taxes to Spain, and Catalonia shares the traditions and history with the other regions in Spain.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches 5th grade English and History as well as 11th grade Spanish III at a Great Hearts Academy in Glendale, AZ. In addition to teaching, she coaches JV girls basketball and is a writing tutor for The Classical Historian Online Academy. Jessica recently played basketball professionally in Tarragona, Spain, where she taught English ESL and tutored Classical Historian writing students. In 2018, she received her Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from Hillsdale College, MI.