The Role of Emigration

Thousands of Galician emigrants made the voyage to America, often in disgusting conditions.

Emigration was a phenomenon characteristic of the 19th century that had a huge impact on the Galician population. The migratory currents to industrialized urban areas did not mean that Galician labourers inhabited Galician cities; rather, the consequence was departure en masse to America. Emigration also had negative consequences for Galician, but it is worth pointing out that the emigrant communities played a central role in the budding process of recuperating Galician for public and cultural use.
Summary
  1. The Exodus to America
  2. The Consequences of Emigration for the Language
  3. The Defence of Galician by the Emigrants

1. The Exodus to America

The emphasis on the relationship between the processes of modernization and nationalization, and their effects on the ecology of linguistic diversity, leads to the unfortunate omission of other important factors. This reflection is an invitation to consider the insufficiencies, irregularities and delays in Spain and in Galicia. Modernization meant the huge mobilization of large numbers of people everywhere, which in general lead to a concentration in factory cities of many rural folk, previously dispersed over the rural areas. As everyone knows, typical modern civilization is urban and industrial. But if industrialization was slow and feeble in Spain (with the exception of some specific areas, such as the Basque Country and Catalonia), it was even more the case in Galicia, which meant that the migratory currents that originated in the rural areas, did not flow into Galician, nor even Spanish, cities that were unable to provide a means to live; rather they poured into the Americas, mostly countries of Hispanic speech: Cuba and the mouth of the River Plate area in particular.

2. The Consequences of Emigration for the Language

Emigration experienced two types of contradictory sociolinguistic affects, although they differed in importance, with a negative balance for Galician. Emigration was damaging in two ways. On the one hand, it effected the Galician speaking community exclusively, deteriorating its demographic base and the habitat in which the language was completely established (where it would become confined). On the other hand, it was an incentive for the process of linguistic assimilation already underway, as emigration to Spanish speaking countries presented the only real expectation of a social change for the Galician speaking rural masses, and this stimulated their acceptance of schooling in Castilian. However, with regard to the former point, it must be pointed out that although emigration provoked a loss of many Galician speakers who never returned to their homeland or who (in smaller quantity) returned speaking Castilian, it is also true that many returning emigrants (a large part of those who left) took up Galician as their normal language once they had come back.

3. The Defence of Galician by the Emigrants

However, emigration also had a positive effect on Galician, above all on people’s linguistic awareness. If many emigrants left as country folk but returned as Spaniards, many others became aware of their uniqueness as Galicians, in particularly their linguistic and cultural identity. The work of the Galician collectives abroad in promoting the language was very significant, especially during the culminating moments of the phenomenon, that is to say, the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries and it was even fortunate in the immediate post-civil war period, when Franco’s dictatorship silenced the public production of the language in Galicia. These are some significant examples: the most important book in Galician by Rosalía de Castro, Follas Novas (1880), was edited by La Propaganda Literaria in Havana, and the author dedicates it to the “Sociedade de Beneficencia d´os Naturales de Galicia” (Society of Assistance for Galician Natives) in the same city. The initiative to found the Real Academia Galega (1906) came from this same Caribbean capital, where Manuel Curros Enríquez, the most distinguished Galician poet of the time lived, and where he also died. The most valuable essay by Alfonso Daniel Rodríguez Castelao, Sempre en Galiza (1944) was edited by the “Editorial As Burgas do Centro Ourensán” in Buenos Aires, the city where he found refuge as an exile and where he died. The River Plate metropolis, the largest Galician city, became in the 1940s the capital of Galician culture and even in the publication of Galician books.