BY CLAIRE DAVISS:
Most of the Spaniards I know were pretty happy to hear about President Obama’s reelection this week. Take my host mom, for example, who woke up early Wednesday morning to see the results and then ran into my room, jumped and cheered, “¡Ha ganado! ¡Ha ganado!” For a moment in my sleepy state, I thought she was referring to Real Madrid (whom we had been watching play the night before). Rarely does my host mom get worked up about anything other than fútbol. But her excitement was exceptional, the kind of excitement that only happens once every four, eight, sixteen years for a president who is not your own. Thus, she cheered, “He won! He won!”
Part of why Spaniards like President Obama so much is certainly because he is a Democrat. Liberal in the United States is practically conservative in Spain, a country where fire arms are prohibited, gay marriage is legal, and public healthcare is a basic expectation. On this side of the lake, Mitt Romney’s popularity was slim to begin with, but he ruined all chances of shmoozing with the Spaniards when he commented on Spain’s economic status in the first presidential election debate. Recall, “Spain spends 42% of its budget on social services. We’re now spending 40% of our budget on social services. I don’t want to go down the path to Spain.” I think my friend Laura’s response best exemplifies Spanish disgust with Romney: she told me that she didn’t want to go down the path to a country in which only the rich receive social services and that “Romney has the name of a cat,” just to put the last nail into the coffin.
The other part of why Spaniards care so much about the U.S. presidential election is because who the president is could affect Spain’s support from the international community in the midst of tough economic times. Behind Romney’s tactless statement is the true fact that Spain’s economy is suffering. As of late October, unemployment is now exceeding 25%, a percentage that is even higher among young people. Here in Salamanca, you can always tell when it is hiring day at Burger King as the line streams down the street. In Madrid, there are frequent protests, demanding attention to persistent unemployment and reversal of the recent cuts to social services, which the government has put forth in an attempt to control its growing deficit. Students are pressured to get additional degrees or certifications in foreign languages like English and German, finding that a basic degree in their fields is no longer sufficient. And when they finally finish their schooling, many are seeking work elsewhere, leaving behind their hometowns and families for England, Ireland, Germany, and the U.S.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting José, a bartender and co-owner of a small, hole-in-the-wall bar in Salamanca that features “Música Indy!” and pop-art covered walls. José told me that he had graduated from the University of Salamanca twenty years ago with a degree in Geography and History, and at the time he was not too concerned about his work prospects. Spain’s economy was growing, and for a college graduate like José, jobs would seemingly fall into his hands. When his college buddy asked him to open up a bar in Salamanca with him, for example, the decision was easy, and twenty years later he remains working in this bar. But José is ready for a change. He is tired of the bar scene, exhausted from trying to keep his bar afloat while struggling to compete with nearby bars that offer race-to-the-bottom deals for a beer. Meanwhile his son, still in the Spanish equivalent of elementary school, lives in Madrid, and every week José travels to and from the city (a 3 hour bus ride) to spend time with him. In an ideal Spain, he would move to Madrid and work as a teacher, a job that used to be easily accessible for college graduates, but today there are plenty of obstacles in his way. Teaching jobs are few and far between, and those positions that are available usually require that the prospective teachers speak English.
The United States holds a lot of economic and cultural power in the world, including in countries like Spain with histories seeping in tradition and an economy that not too long ago was holding up well on its own. In the coming months and years, the U.S. will have representation in most European Union meetings to discuss rescue plans for Spain, and as the economy pushes forward in the U.S., the English language will continue to grow in importance for job-seekers and trade-seeking countires alike. So for Spain, it does matter who has won the presidential elections, and the Spanish people retain hope. It is a kind of hope that fills the bars every night at the end of a long work day, that pushes young people to utilize their right to demonstrate long after the Occupy protesters have gone home, and that drives a bartender of twenty years to learn English so that he can take advantage of a few precious years with his son. In a way, it is the same kind of hope that many of us once proudly claimed four years ago at the aperture of a historical presidency. While that hope may have dwindled in our own country, it survives in other parts of the world, as Spain shows. Ha ganado.
Claire Daviss ’14 is in Morse College. She is currently studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.