Andalucía is the southernmost and most populous of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions. Bordering the Atlantic and the Mediterranean sea, it includes the provinces of Almería, Cádiz, Cordoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Sevilla. Though tourists flock to the Andalucian coasts for the stereotypical sun and Sangria, the region also offer a variety of cultural, historical and natural attractions for even the most discerning traveller, such as ancient Phoenician, Roman, Visigoth, and Moorish remains, medieval fortifications and its famous White Villages. Andalucia contains many of Spain’s most visited tourist sites, with Granada’s Alhambra taking the national lead last year with more than 2.4 million visitors per year. With such accolades, one would think that Andalucia would be on top of its game. Yet, the region is suffering from a poor public image. The Andalucians have become Spain’s laughing stock. However, it is time for change. The people of the south are tired of being laughed at!
The Andalucian writer Tomás Gutiérrez Forero whose latest book is titled ‘En defensa de la lengua andaluza’ (‘in the defence of the Andalucian language’), is an avid defender of the Andalucian language and identity. In a recent talk he did in Ronda he spoke of the marginazation of the Andalucian people and the need to defend the Andalucian nation. “We cannot permit that Andalucian is the language of humor”, says the writer. “It is an indignity, which we should not tolerate. We should not be embarrassed about how we speak. We ought to rediscover our own dignity so we can rid ourselves of the cultural stigma.”
Though the Andalucian language goes back thousands of years, the Spanish have come to ridicule the regions way of speaking, even claiming that their language does not exist. The general perception is that Andalucian is poorly spoken Spanish or Castellano.
Spanish media tend to promote the stereotype of the dumb or uneducated Andalucian, where the ‘village idiot’ speaks ‘Andalu’, while the clever one speaks Castellano, the lawyer speaks Castellano, while the delinquent speaks Andalu’, and the lord of the manor speaks Castellano, while the servants speak Andalu’. Local commerce is also affected by this poor image, as items produced in Andalucia will not receive the same prices as items produced further north. For this reason, cork grown in Andalucia will be sold to and re-labelled as product from northern Spain and Andalucian olive oil will be sold off to Italy and then resold as ‘genuine’ Tuscan olive oil. Coming from a northern country where hardly anything eatable grow the majority of the year, Andalucia has lots to celebrate in the fabulous local produce we can get here, fresh, basically all throughout the year.
Many cultural phenomena seen internationally as distinctively Spanish are largely or entirely Andalusian in origin and Andalucians will claim that many of its inventions have been ‘stolen’ by the Spain. Though Flamenco music and bull fighting were invented or originated here in Andalucia, Spain has adapted them as their own and ‘sold’ them as Spanish inventions. Though Picasso was born in Andalucía (Malaga to be precise) the artists have long been promoted and thus known to a Spanish artist. But whose fault is that? Clearly, everybody wants to take credit for their famous native brothers and sisters.
All in all, it seems we are dealing with a regional identity crisis, and when it comes to public image, be it others’ perception of one or ones own self image, nobody but we ourselves can change it. So, the only ones who can rid Andalucia of the laughing stock image are the Andalucians themselves.
Andalucia is of course not the only southern region to suffer a poor image. Think of Italy, where a successful businessperson from Milano is unlikely to admit that they are from the same country, let alone the same planet, as somebody from Napoli. Yet, some southern states have managed to get beyond the ‘lazy and dumb Southerner’ image. Take the United States, where the industries and economy of i.e. California and Texas have become their pride and ultimate ‘revenge’. Hence, one way out of a poor public image is to beat them with your own success.
Many regions, particularly those with powerful neighbours, suffer from a ‘little brother’ syndrome. Take Canada with its powerful neighbour in the south. Who used to know anything about Canada? How could ‘little Canada’ compete with the powerful USA? Canada realized that a public image lift was needed and started a movement called ‘Proudly Canadian’. The popular movement not only helped Canadians with their own poor self-image, but also gave a healthy boost to tourism and sales of Canadian goods nationally and internationally. People really were proud to be Canadians! Could Andalucia do something similar and promote ‘Proudly made in Andalucia’ autonomous goods? Clearly, Andalucian olive oil is every bit as good as Tuscan olive oil. (with my personal regrets to my olive oil-producing family in Chianti…) Andalucian oil, wine, cork, ham and cheese, to mention some, are not only world class, but also remarkably unique. Why does the Andalucian olive oil company ‘1881’ from the small and rather forgotten town of Osuna sell its product to five different world regions while most other regional producers sell their oil bulk and at bottom prices, because it is ‘merely’ Andalucian? There is no reason why Andalucia could not be able to promote and sell more successfully. It is largely a question of investing in proper marketing and branding.
If Spain has stolen our native brothers and autonomous inventions, it is time Andalucia reclaims them. Like the 1980’s movement ‘Take back the night’, where women and men walked out to reclaim the streets after too many women had been attacked at night. Adalucia can create a movement to take back what belongs to them. Clearly the region is part of Spain, so for instance an Andalucian dish like Gazpacho soup will also be a Spanish dish. But there is nothing standing in the way for Andalucia to reclaim its lost products and ancestors.
Why is it that all over the world one can buy dozens of annual calendars, almanacs and coffee table books with images of Tuscany and Province, while even here in Andalucía I cannot buy a single calendar of Andalucian nature? Our landscapes are certainly as lovely, sculptural and painteresque as those of France or Italy. The only thing we are lacking is the ability or will to market Andalucia to the world.
The Spanish may be laughing at Andalucia, but be assured, the rest of the world is not laughing at you! The world loves Andalucia, as witnessed by the millions of annual visitors and the thousands of foreigners who choose to leave their country and make the region their permanent home. My husband and I, who belong to this latter group, are nothing but in awe of our new home region. We have never experienced people of such kindness and generosity as the Andalucians. And though I may be pushing my luck in assuming I am already accepted as a native sister, I can certainly say that I am proudly ‘Andalu’!