The Iberosphere would be the continuation, in terms of cooperation and exchange, neither state nor governmental, made up of political and cultural actors, of the perpetual exchange of interests and values that constitutes Hispanidad.

The New World and its discovery introduced a distinct projection of its own that made Spain both a European and an American nation. For this reason, although we know how to distinguish Hispano-America from our own national reality, and although Spain has not the slightest aspiration to occupy any superior or special rank in the region, we can speak of Hispanidad as a unity that brings together all Ibero-Americans, including here Portuguese, Spanish (and Andorrans).

Controversies over terms such as “conquest” seem to be recent, typical of post-colonial activism or the new anti-imperialism in vogue in so many academic, intellectual and political circles. In fact, the word “conquest” raised some problems early on. As early as 1573 the Spanish Crown preferred to speak of “pacifications”. It did not want to encourage anti-Spanish propaganda, but it was also about something else, from the status of the territories that had been incorporated into the Spanish Crown since 1492 to the position of the Spaniards who settled there, and also the situation of the people who populated that gigantic area of more than 2,500,000 square kilometres in the 16th century.

Upon arrival in the Caribbean islands, the matter did not pose too many problems, except for a few demanding religious people. When the mainland was reached, the perception became more complicated. Some of those populations committed untold atrocities, of course, but the sophistication of culture, cities, communications, complex systems of power and social relations made it undeniable that the Indies, or America, was not just the territory where a good savage reigned, unable to defend himself against those Westerners who had just come from one of the most powerful and advanced kingdoms in Europe.

That is why the cautions about the use of a term like “conquest” go beyond what today would be called a matter of communication. They have consequences, and are preceded by well-known actions and disputes: from the Spanish Crown’s obsession with obtaining the best information about the new territories and their populations, to the assertion of the power of the Crown – that is, of the State – against the establishment of a new aristocracy like the one whose political power the Kings had just annulled in the peninsula. Without forgetting, of course, the debates about the legitimacy of that same conquest and the protection of the American populations from the conquerors themselves, features of the Spanish presence in the New World that distinguish it from other processes of expansion.

The political enterprise was aimed at incorporating the newly discovered continent into the Spanish Crown. As a result, the inhabitants of these territories were soon considered to be subjects of the Crown, with the same status as those born in mainland Spain. Spanish laws were introduced and a specific body of law was created, inspired by Spanish law and adapted to the new circumstances. Political and cultural institutions, such as the justice system and the viceroyalties, were brought in and created, as could not be otherwise.

And alongside the efforts of the Crown and its officials, the project was complemented by evangelisation. Evangelisation meant recognising the humanity of the peoples of the New World and giving them a dignity of their own, which the new Spanish authority had to respect.

The American continent was being incorporated into humanity by means of a religion of universal scope, which equalises all human beings in a fraternal community. As elsewhere, the arrival of Christianity at the hands of the Spaniards meant a profound change in the very status of the American populations. Practices and superstitions that were rightly considered abominable were banished. Above all, a new spiritual and political reality was established. America was being incorporated into that peculiar way of being man, characterised by equality and fraternity, whose work was the legacy of the Spaniards. It is no coincidence that these same religious, whom the Crown had the duty to protect, confronted, on more than one occasion, Spanish projects for America, whether official or private, in America: from Fray Antonio de Montesinos, with his famous sermon of 1511 in Santo Domingo in defence of the “Indians” against the greed and cruelty of the encomenderos, to the Jesuits with their “reducciones” aimed at protecting the Americans, expelled in the 18th century by an enlightened government.

At the same time, these Spaniards, confronted in their turn with a hitherto unimaginable part of humanity to which they belonged, will make a considerable effort to understand it on its own terms. Some of the American languages will be fixed and preserved on the model of Nebrija’s Grammar, published in 1492. Some of them are still alive today. American antiquities, history and traditions will be investigated, and the forms of social relations will be taken into account in order to adapt the new legislation brought from Europe to them.

In the background, an American utopia is sketched in which political and religious unity allows for pluralism of languages and customs. It was a genuinely Spanish project, difficult to imagine in other European countries of the time, but also profoundly Christian, in this case Catholic. The racial question, so difficult in so many places, took on a different meaning here. Although, as was inevitable, the Spaniards and those born of Spaniards – the “Creoles” – would prevail, American society would have specific features with its unprecedented mixture of “castes”. As in the case of pre-17th century Spain, this mixed society will arouse the distrust of many other Europeans. These are, to a large extent, the same people who manipulated the Spanish conquest to the point of creating what for a century has been known as the “black legend”. Moral outrage turned into a propaganda weapon barely concealed attitudes of contempt towards those who did not share their racial obsessions.

On the American side, and once the demographic and cultural cataclysm had been overcome, the development of something different and unique also began. It had been initiated by the Spaniards themselves, with an epic poem, La Araucana, in which Alonso de Ercilla celebrates the “Indian” resistance to the Spaniards. The Inca Garcilaso, born of a Spaniard and an American princess, claims in his Comentarios reales the appellation of mestizo: “I call myself a mestizo and I honour myself with it”, probably because, as he himself says, “in the Indies if they say to one of them ‘you are a mestizo’, they take it as contempt”. Guamán Poma – or Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala – wrote his Andean “chorónica” in a new Castilian, as if newly created, interspersed with Quechua, and Fernando de Alba Ixtilxóchitl, descendant of a pre-Hispanic Mexican royal house and student of classical Nahuatl, whose teacher was a disciple of Bernardino de Sahagún at the Franciscan college of Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, strove to vindicate his lineage in his written works…. The movement was reaffirmed in the 17th century, with great writers, scholars and chroniclers, including women such as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. A specific identity emerged as a result of the Spanish presence, the recovery by the Creoles themselves of their pre-Hispanic history, a patriotic pride based on a brilliant social and economic reality, with its own interests and an unparalleled social configuration. They also had their own saints and cults, such as Saint Rose of Lima, Saint Peter Claver, who dedicated his life to helping slaves brought from Africa, and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

This is how an extraordinary political unity came into being, a Spain that was both European and American, with extensions in Africa and Asia. From the very first moment, shortly after the news of Columbus’ first voyage arrived, it was conceived as a planetary-scale unity: the first in human history, in political, cultural, commercial and economic terms. Such an undertaking had never been carried out before and would never be carried out again, because no one could ever match the Hispanic originality of taking into account at the same time the awareness of unity (“Because being of one Crown the Kings of Castile and of the Indies the laws and order of government of the one and of the other must be as similar and conforming as possible”) and what the same text called “the diversity and difference of the lands and nations” (Recopilación de Indias, Recopilación de Indias, 1867). (Recopilación de Indias, book 12, title 2, law 13).

The balance was much more solid than was sometimes thought, and the Spanish Monarchy ended up being, in the 18th century, an example of integration, prosperity, order and good government, with cities that were among the richest and most cultured in the world, such as Buenos Aires, Lima and Mexico, first-rate universities and great enterprises of global reach. Spain’s success was not much to the liking of some enlightened Europeans, always obsessed with cultural homogeneity, although it fascinated others, great scientists such as Humboldt, who with his Voyage – which followed the example of other scientific expeditions sponsored by the Crown – helped to establish the image of a unified continent with an awareness of its uniqueness.

The last great political originality of that construction was to organise a planetary election, so that the whole of the Spanish population could be present at the debate and promulgation of the Constitution of 1812. It was the first Spanish Constitution, but also the first – and the last – to be endowed by Christopher Columbus. Sebastiano del Piombo (1519). the Spaniards of four continents, as detailed in Title II. The War of Independence dampened the brilliance of the attempt, but not ambition or generosity: the Spaniards were still thinking big.

The way in which Spain disappeared from the Hispanic Monarchy prevented that world from preserving the political ties that had united it until then, always under the guidance of the Crown. Today, however, much more than a memory remains of all that. The new Spain is still alive in the language, customs, mentalities and, sometimes, religion. It bequeathed us a cultural community that received its name a century ago and which today, having overcome the controversies, we remember as it deserves to be: Hispanidad.

Hispanidad goes far beyond any character trait, beyond any cultural peculiarity. It is, in fact, a way of being Western: the way in which Hispanics make the West their own and reinvent it from their own perspective. There are very few countries that present, incorporated into their own national idea, a dimension like this, properly global. And if the work of Spaniards on both sides of the Atlantic anchored the American continent in the West, it also gave Spanish culture and the Spanish nation a peculiar character. Now we are beginning to experience it anew thanks to the incorporation into Spanish society of Americans who are as Spanish as those born here. It has always been present, in fact. For a Spaniard, Hispanidad reflects the American nature of his own country. A nature that is not limited to what we call Ibero-America, and which is also present in the United States of North America, where the Spanish presence is still perceived in names, in customs, in local traditions. There, too, it has been renewed by the presence of Hispanics or Latinos who, integrated into their new country, have not entirely renounced their own cultural identity.

The European nature of our country is beyond doubt. It goes much further and deeper than the Europeanist consensus of the elites of recent decades would lead one to believe. We have never ceased to be Europe and have been, in fact, as much or more than any other European country. However, at the precise moment when the Spanish State was being constituted and the Spanish Nation was opening up, the New World introduced a different projection of its own, which turned Spain into a European and American nation at the same time.

For this reason, although we know how to distinguish Hispanic America from our own national reality, and although Spain does not have the slightest aspiration to occupy any superior or special rank in the region, we can speak of Hispanidad as a unity that brings together all Ibero-Americans, including here the Portuguese, Spaniards (and Andorrans). The formula in which this community of nations was institutionalised in the 1990s – the Ibero-American Summits of Heads of State and Government – has been a good instrument of dialogue while Latin America maintained a certain capacity to bring together voices and interests. Today they continue to be useful as a meeting place, although the new situation of political fragmentation in Latin America has made them less operational. And this fragmentation is related to a resurgence of movements, sometimes neo-communist, that have found in the identity claim against Spain a source of propagandistic legitimation.

To a large extent, this new wave of the already well-known indigenism, this time post-modern and neo-communist, is an attack on the Westernness of Ibero-America. In the new geostrategic scenario, Ibero-America, with a good part of its constituent countries in the midst of an economic and institutional crisis, runs the risk of moving away from the values on which it is founded and launching a new experiment. If this were to happen, it would produce a drift with unforeseeable consequences.

It is at this point that Hispanidad deserves to be rescued, on both sides of the Atlantic, and where its natural extension, the Iberosphere, takes on its full meaning. The Iberosphere is the continuation, in terms of cooperation and exchange, neither state nor governmental, made up of political and cultural actors, of the perpetual exchange of interests and values that constitutes Hispanidad. It is about developing common positions in favour of economic freedom and democracy. It is also about not giving in to the attacks on freedom in America and Spain, and about vindicating the spirit that unites us, Hispanidad, as the inspiration and foundation of a common position. We must support and promote, here and there, the movements and individuals who are willing to lead this new commitment to the space of freedom that is the West, of which Hispanidad is a living and original formula. It is a question of underpinning Latin America’s anchorage in the West and, in our own country, of helping to ensure that Spain does not lose its unity and its commitment to freedom.

To this end, we have many elements on which we can draw: the Crown – whose prestige and position rescue it from any temptation of interventionist intrusion; the importance of investments and common interests; the presence of Spaniards in Ibero-American countries and of Ibero-Americans in Spain, where they are called upon to play a major political role… In short, Hispanidad, which calls on us to participate as active agents in the new momentum of the Iberosphere.

It would be a paradox if Spain, which in its time merged with the New World to create the new Western entity that is Hispanidad, were now to forget its nature or, worse still, if it were to contribute to destroying this same cultural space and common interests. Iberosphere also means cultivating the bond of union aimed at preventing this suicidal movement from continuing to poison our society, our community and our way of being. The memory of an extraordinary past and the presence of a present that continues and renews it is at the heart of the commemoration of this date, which is both a national and an Ibero-American holiday. There is much to celebrate this Twelfth of October.

On This Day

1108 Reconquista: The Christian troops of Alfonso VI are defeated in the Battle of Uclés (Cuenca) by the Almoravids of Granada, Valencia and Murcia, led by Yusuf ibn Tasufin.
1860 Pianist and composer Isaac Albéniz (d. 1909) is born in Campodrón (Gerona).

History of Spain

Communism: Now and Then