Juandering Out Loud: The Spanish Civil War as a Parable of Hope For The New Year

An illustration of the author, Juan Rodriguez, standing near a flagpole flying the U.S. American flag and the Progress Pride Flag while holding a miniature flag of the Popular Front. The Popular Front was a left-wing coalition during the Second Spanish Republic that was propelled to victory in the 1936 election against the Spanish right by those who were tired of being mistreated by the government (Illustration by Bonnie Lord).

As the new year begins, I feel the need for a gentle reminder. I need to rekindle my hope after the toll that 2022 took on my soul.  

Taking a look through my playlists, through all the folk music I’ve grown fond of, an album by Chilean singer-songwriter Rolando Alarcon catches my gaze: “Canciones de la Guerra Civil Española (Songs of The Spanish Civil War).” 

The Spanish Civil War never fails to captivate me. When I read the stories of foreign volunteers who went over to fight on behalf of the Spanish Republic or against the perceived fascist threat, I get caught up in the same fervor that drew them to Iberia. 

Then, I catch a glimpse of the bigger picture and I sober up immediately. The great democracies of the time (France, the United Kingdom and the United States) either hesitated or outright refused to send arms to aid the Spanish Republic. Meanwhile, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany consistently armed the Spanish Army rebels with equipment and resources that would prove crucial to the war effort. 

Every time I think about the conflict, I get angry at the way Western powers refused to aid the Republic against the heavily equipped nationalists. I am enraged at the manner in which the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin approached their support of the struggling Republic. I am furious with the systems that complicated the Republic’s fight for its survival. 

Then, I hear Alarcon sing as 2023 comes into being. His voice drags me away from my rancor. 

“Cuando canta el gallo negro, 

Es que ya se acaba el día.

Si cantara el gallo rojo,

Otro gallo cantaría.

Ay, si es que yo miento,

Que el cantar que yo canto,

Lo borre el viento. 

Ay, que desencanto,

Si me borrara el viento

Lo que yo canto”

It might have been a doomed fight for the Republic, but it was a fight many folks were willing to partake in. They took up arms willingly. Members of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo helped to organize a proper defense of Madrid on July 17, 1936 which withstood the initial Army coup. The English writer George Orwell enlisted in one of the combat units and took a bullet through the throat fighting against the nationalists for a reason.

Despite their loss, their effort should be celebrated. It feels callous to dismiss their sacrifices just because they failed in the end. People chose to believe in a better world then. As we enter a new year, I choose to believe it now.

Optimism isn’t naivete just as pessimism isn’t wisdom. The world doesn’t change just because we recognize something as wrong, be it the hoarding of wealth or the rise in discrimination. Optimism and a dream of a better world are crucial if we want to get there. Change requires hope. 

It took some maturing for me to grasp that notion. It was easier when I was younger to make a pessimistic remark and accept that things were doomed. I could try and hope for the best, but what good would that do me when the world let me down once more? 

Embracing pessimism in its entirety kills the potential of something better. It becomes easier to justify inaction if those around you are just as numb and apathetic.

Despite my own personal struggles in the last few years, not once did I let the fire in my heart go out. There were times when I could feel the flames begin to falter, only to then have more firewood thrown at me for kindling. The resilience of the human spirit is a beautiful thing, but when it begins to waver, the need for a hopeful community becomes obvious. As a person, I’m capable of so much, but I am nonetheless limited by my own body.

So I sit and try my best to recover. All the while, my mind never stops working. I take note of what happens beyond my space. 

I bear witness to a system that robs a generation of its future; where economic interests take precedence over human concerns; where every individual is subject to the pursuit of profit at the expense of their dignity. Very quickly, I remember what it is that I want to dedicate the rest of my life to.

So I return to the fight with renewed zeal. I refuse to accept the world as it is: a great disapointment. The capitalist system that we live under was made as such by people, wealthy and powerful, sure, but still people nonetheless. It isn’t the natural order nor the will of God, for most to suffer in poverty while few thrive off their hoarded wealth.

The particular strain of capitalism we live under incentivizes profit over people. It may seem all-powerful and inescapable, but how many others thought the same of the systems in which they lived under? That which human hands shaped, human hands can shatter. 

I feel nauseous at the thought of remaining passive in the face of this capitalist system that targets and harms those born without the advantage of wealth and privilege. We exist perpetually in a state of desperation. For many, every paycheck is spent before the thought of comfort and entertainment can cross their minds. 

Our time alive is precious, worth far more than an eight-hour shift spent providing a service for which we are vastly underpaid. 

If the world is to change for the better, then it falls upon us to make use of our hands. I’ve accepted that nothing will improve if I don’t do something, anything, whatever is necessary. I have to push against the things that I’d once accepted as inevitable. I refuse to undernourish this burning desire to change the world for the better. 

So I keep my heart open. How can I fight the good fight if I don’t even have an idea of what it is I’m fighting for? How can I nourish my soul if I close off my heart to the world around me?

It’s that openness that makes me realize that I have so much to give, more than I ever thought possible. These hands of mine are just as adept with a sledgehammer as they are with a pen. I have become painfully aware of the desire burning inside that urges me to help make the world a better place. If the task ahead takes the rest of my life, then I give my life gladly. If doing so means that those who come after can bask in the warmth of the sunlight, I will tend to the hearth in the darkness.

This crusade isn’t mine alone. No matter what happens to me, there’s always going to be my friends and their friends and the many other people that nurture the same desire to make this world something greater.

Knowing that, I find it easier to fall asleep at night.

Going into the new year, I want to cultivate connections with people who share similar goals and ideas. I want to work relentlessly to contribute to my community. More than anything, I want to do good. For my family, my friends, my peers, for members of my community, I want to contribute my part to making the world a better place.

Such a world is possible. It’s not naive to believe so. 

The more power we return to the people, the more control over our own lives we regain. No politician or billionaire is more qualified than me to know what’s in my best interest. The same can be said for everyone around me. 

I don’t want much. I’m not asking for wealth and luxury. All I’m working for is the bare minimum: a world where no one struggles to get by because there’s no one to take advantage of you, where everyone’s needs are met and guaranteed through solidarity and cooperation and where there’s enough time to celebrate after the day of work. That’s the world I’m fighting for. I will forever carry my faith that it will come to pass someday. 

There’s work to be done. We’ll get nowhere if we continue to sit and watch the world fall apart. Besides, when did hope cease to require risk?

About Juan Rodriguez 23 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a junior hailing from Dallas, Texas. He is double majoring in English and Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of.

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