Fabiola Santiago

Spain’s troubles hit close to home in Miami

For those of us who love Spain — and there are scores of us in South Florida — the images coming across the Atlantic are alarming and even heartbreaking: An angry woman in Barcelona clanging a cooking pot next to a nervous man making a withdrawal at an ATM. Poignant, massive demonstrations through major cities. Masked miners in Asturias province firing homemade rockets from makeshift bazookas at the Civil Guard and burning tires along a highway to block traffic.

“Too close for comfort,” Israel Sosa, a Miami educator, tells me after seeing the photos on the Internet in the Spanish newspaper La Voz de Galicia. “That concerns me a lot.”

When we talked, the middle-school assistant principal was preparing to fly to Barcelona with his wife and 5-year-old daughter for their annual two-month visit to see relatives in Asturias and to travel to other points in Europe. This year it won’t be with the carefree anticipation of other summers, when raising a truly bilingual and multicultural daughter, enjoying family and landscapes, was the only thing on his mind.

“People have legitimate gripes against the system,” Sosa says, “but masks and bazookas, my God!”

The headlines (“Spain Goes from Boom to Bailout”) and the stories about a quarter of the people being unemployed (a number that grows to 54 percent among those age 18 to 34), about the real estate crash and the devaluation of the euro, are as dramatic as the photos. The fear is that the economic crisis could inch closer to the kind of social chaos seen in Greece.

In Miami, a city so connected to Spain via economic and cultural interests that the Spanish consulate acts more like a full-fledged embassy, the economic woes have affected the Spanish government-funded Centro Cultural Español, the vibrant Spanish Cultural Center that has been such a vital part of the arts scene the past two decades.

The center has brought first-rate traveling art shows and artists from Spain and supported the work of local artists from Cuba and other Latin American countries with commissions, space to display shows, and international connections. Its sponsorship was crucial to penniless Cuban writers, musicians and artists who came in droves to Miami in the 1990s.

But since the crisis began developing two years ago, the center has suffered steady funding cuts and has had to curtail expenses such as bringing artists and sponsoring their stays.

“It’s a delicate situation; it affects us like it affects everyone else, and it has forced us all to study new formulas for supporting the arts,” says Director Maria Palacios. “We continue with projects and we will do good work, but the model now is one of collaboration” with other cultural entities.

Despite the cuts and the prospect of more austerity, the center’s versatile space at 1490 Biscayne Blvd., with large windows that invite sidewalk strollers in, will remain open, Palacios says.

“We might not be able to pay for a plane ticket, but we still have a lot to offer: the space, the contacts, the relationships, the technical assistance and support staff with expertise willing to work — and that has value,” she says.

A project to bring a series of short Spanish plays to small audiences in the unique setting of a 150-square-foot shipping container is a finalist for funding through the annual Knight Arts Challenge.

“At this moment, we value most everyone’s support,” Palacios says, adding that people should not stop visiting Spain because that would only be counterproductive to recovery efforts. “No matter what you see, it’s still the place where people sit at outdoor cafes to talk over a beer, the kind of place where people pack theaters. The country has not stopped functioning.”

And that’s why, regardless of the instability, the Sosas are on their way to their second home in la madre patria. They also plan to visit Italy, another country reeling from the economic crisis but with a less substantial press than Spain’s, which has been covering events with extraordinary diligence.

In a community like Miami, where so many people straddle two worlds, the economic troubles in Europe are not a foreign news story. The fallout doesn’t need to reach our own economy for the bad news to strike home and feel too close for comfort.