Dust, Sweat and Iron: An Introduction

Alcazar stained glassOn a recent trip to Spain, I passed a used car lot on the way from the airport to my hotel in Madrid’s Sanchinarro district. A proud billboard above the lot proclaimed it to be a “Centro de Vehiculos Semi-Nuevos”…Uh-oh. Since when is a used car lot a “Semi-New Vehicle Center?” Maybe since American used cars became “certified pre-owned vehicles”.

The young American tourists and Summer-abroad students I met in Spain seemed to take the growing Americanization for granted, while the young Spaniards seemed unaware of it as such. If you don’t think America is an empire, just leave the country and look around.

So Spain colonized my native state of California, and now California is recolonizing Spain in the form of Hollywood and “The OC”.

As a former empire, Spain has already dealt with a lot of the issues the US faces today, and now grapples with the same fears of globalization and uber-capitalism that affect the US and the EU. Yet when I meet young Americans just back from Spain, France or Italy, all I hear is how bad our coffee is in comparison. And that’s the tiny minority of people who are actually getting out of the US and “seeing the world”.

We need to think a little bit harder about America in a global historical context.

Language is a good window on how people think. When you study another language, you see how linguistic conventions and idioms have co-evolved with the culture. And then you begin to examine your own culture through the words you use.

A Spanish friend of mine and I have begun just such an exercise by translating one another’s writing. The effort has a lot to teach us not only about language and culture, but cognition as well. Recent research explores the cognitive-protective effects of bilingualism. When I am taking dictation in Spanish or struggling to translate a phrase, I swear I can feel the glucose squeezing into stuffy, dimly-lit gyri, airing my whole brain out.

So, this blog is an attempt at a bicultural, bilingual examination of life on two continents and the effects of each upon the other.

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