Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bilingual, like a reptile

After a few years of not listening to his music, I've rediscovered Joan Manuel Serrat. For many years - and probably still - he was at the center of the tug-of-war between Spanish and Catalan in his native Spain. He entered the Eurovision song contest in 1968, wanting to sing a version of a Spanish-language song in Catalan, but the Generalísimo Francisco Franco, then dictator of Spain, forbade it. He criminalized the mere act of speaking Catalan, deeming it to be divisive and an act of hostility against the unity of Spain. Serrat became somewhat of a poster boy for the Catalan struggle. Eventually, it got to the point where he would be criticized for whichever language he chose to sing in - if he sang in Catalan, he was seen as supporting a section of the country that was secessionist, and if he sang in Spanish, his fellow Catalans deemed him a sell-out.

In 1974 he left Spain and moved to Mexico as an exile of the Franco regime, due to his refusal to abandon Catalan. He returned the next year, when Franco died. As tied as he has been to the language of Catalonia, and as much as he sacrificed for it, he did not abandon Spanish either; he never allowed anyone to tell him in which language he should sing.

Recently I read his explanation for his linguistic to-and-fro:

Soy bilingüe, como los reptiles.Aunque me reconozco catalán, soy
mestizo; y, por mi origen, escribir y cantar en castellano es también
una manera natural de expresarme a la que no estoy dispuesto a
renunciar, de la misma forma como jamás pensé en dejar de escribir y
cantar en catalán. Si alguna vez alguien me preguntó en cual de las dos
lenguas me expresaba mejor, mi respuesta fue que siempre me expreso más
a gusto en la que me prohíben hacerlo.

I am bilingual, like reptiles. Even though I see myself as Catalan, I am a mestizo; because of my origins, to write and sing in Spanish is also a natural way of expressing myself which I am not willing to renounce, in the same way that I never thought of to stop writing and singing in Catalan. If at any time someone asked me in which of the two languages I expressed myself best, my answer was that I express myself best in the language that is forbidden to me.



A.S said...

Hey, I really enjoyed reading your blog about what it is like to be Puerto Rican. Well done!

Anonymous said...

I have always loved Serrat. So proud of his roots and passionate about the lyrics in his songs.


El Bilo said...

Saw him live at UPR 1965.... Inolvidable!