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More Than a Literary Movement: Susana Sanches Arins and Valentim Fagim on Reintegrationist Galician

By Words Without Borders
Translated By Jacob Rogers

WWB's March issue features writing from Galicia, an autonomous region of northwestern Spain that borders Portugal. Though the Galician language shares a common root with modern Portuguese, Galicia's position within Spain has led to a divergence between the two languages: today, Galician is generally written using Spanish orthography and is not officially recognized as a variant of Portuguese. The Reintegrationist movement, however, seeks to change this state of affairs by promoting a vision of the Galician language that is more closely tied to Portuguese. Today on WWB Daily, we speak with two Galician literary figures actively working to further Reintegrationist Galician: Susana Sanches Arins, a writer and WWB contributor, and Valentim Fagim, codirector of Através Editora, a publishing house that provides a space for Reintegrationist writers. The conversation below was translated by Jacob Rogers.


WWB: What is the origin/history of the movement toward the use of Reintegrationist Galician? What is its ultimate objective?

Valentim Fagim (VF): Before we get into any of that, it’s important for the reader to understand a key point: Portuguese was born in the Middle Ages in the Kingdom of Galiza, which encompassed what is now Galicia and northern Portugal. However, these two varieties, the Galician and the Portuguese, had very different fates. Portugal became a kingdom in its own right, whereas Galicia became a part of the Kingdom of Castile [which would eventually become the modern Spanish state] after a great deal of dynastic conflict. This evidently had sociolinguistic consequences. Whereas in Portugal people of all classes spoke the same language, in Galicia the local elite adopted Spanish, so Galician became a vernacular, disappearing from writing. There are countless stories like this all over the globe, and it’s the origin of the linguistic substitution we’re faced with now, where Galician is becoming more and more Spanish-ized.

In the nineteenth century, as in other places in Europe, certain people and groups in Galicia began to promote the local culture. Language became one of the central points of contention: who speaks our language? Most people involved in this “Galicianist” movement saw Portuguese as a model of integration and Spanish as a model of opposition. However, the military coup in 1936 shattered the Galicianist world (through death, exile, repression, defeat), and when these questions resurfaced in the sixties and seventies, there were essentially two strategies on the table. One took the view that the language of Portugal and Brazil was also that of Galicia. The other argued that Portuguese and Galician should function as two separate languages.

In the early 1980s, Galician was officially recognized by the state, which meant that one of these two strategies had to be implemented. This happened during what’s known as the “transition” from Francoism to democracy, and it’s impossible to separate the “winning” language paradigm from that particular point in time. The vast parliamentary majority was held by the Spanish nationalists [“nationalists” here does not carry the pejorative weight that it often does in the US], and so the strategy they chose was the one that would do the least for the social advancement of the Galician language. To put it more bluntly, the Galician political elite, who were Spanish nationalists, chose, to no one’s surprise, the weaker of the two strategies as a way to shake up the order of things. So the “winning” strategy was the one that said Galician should be separate from Portuguese (and, by extension, joined to Spanish).

“Our aim is to promote an international, genuine, and multifunctional variety of the language.”

At that time, Reintegrationism was organized through associations, primarily but not solely AGAL (the Associaçom Galega da Língua, or Galician Language Association). The movement used various strategies to spread awareness of this non-normative way of looking at and living in Galician, a way that links the language to Portuguese.

The primary objectives of Reintegrationism are the social advancement of the Galician language and the well-being of the Galician people. To achieve these goals, we have to flip the script on the language. Rather than a local, Spanish-ized, and “useless” variety, which is the form Galician has taken up to now, our aim is to promote an international, genuine, and multifunctional variety of the language. This would be a radical shift requiring a radical reconception of Galician. 

Susana Sanches Arins (SSA): I would add that when our institutions chose that regionalistic view of Galician after Franco’s death, they used education as an excuse: in light of the fact that Galicians were educated in Spanish orthography, they would have an easier time accepting the Galician language if it came within a Spanish—rather than Portuguese—framework.


WWB: How has this movement evolved? Who/how many are involved? Who are its principal defenders?

SSA: In the 1980s, those involved in the debate around a potential Galician language paradigm established a kind of Cain-Abel relationship in which Reintegrationism was on the losing side. Its proponents were marginalized, cast out of cultural and academic circles, and mercilessly censored. Not only did this stifle debate, it also hindered their ability to spread awareness of the movement. As a result, Reintegrationism was relegated to a marginal, minoritarian status.

It’s hard to say how many people are involved, but what I can do is name organizations and initiatives that show how much potential the movement has. As Valentim mentioned, there’s AGAL, which, since its inception in the 1980s, has been the largest Reintegrationist organization and, in my view, one of the movement’s leaders. AGAL is the founder of Através Editora, a publishing house that has provided a space in which many Reintegrationist authors can see their writing published, and helped to found Estraviz Dictionary, which is arguably the best dictionary our language has. There’s also the Academia Galega da Língua Portuguesa [Galician Academy of the Portuguese Language], or AGLP, whose aims are more institutional. Among other things, its goals are to establish links with other Portuguese-language academies and to push for Galician to be recognized by the Community of Portuguese Language Countries [also known as the Lusophone Commonwealth], an organization in which, it’s worth mentioning, Galicia is currently classed as an “associate observer.”

VF: The 1980s were a dramatic decade in several ways. The first official standard for Galician was drawn up by a team overseen by Ricardo Carvalho Calero, one of the fathers of Reintegrationism. Out of pragmatism, their proposed language model employed Spanish orthography but hewed more closely to Portuguese in terms of grammar. In the prologue to their proposal, they also claimed a common identity with Portuguese and a desire for Galician to come closer and closer until the two languages were definitively fused. This could have been the basis for a different script. If it had been successful, the Galician language, in 2021, might be usable as an international language. But, as I’ve mentioned, the Galician elite was and still is Spanish nationalist, and certain figures in the Galicianist movement, as well as the Real Academia Galega and the Instituto da Lingua Galega, aligned with this elite so that their paradigm would be the victorious one—emphasis on their.

“The government tolerates but doesn’t advocate.”

This created extreme tension, and as Susana mentioned, many people in the Galicianist movement found themselves “out of the picture.” The official norm wasn’t the one they advocated for, so many Galicianists have spent decades refusing to use it. This engendered a deadly paradox: the most active, activist users of the language didn’t use the official standard. Meanwhile, some of the people promoting this now-official paradigm were the very same Spanish nationalist elites who didn’t use Galician in the first place. Such was the abnormality of the 1980s and 90s.

Besides AGAL, a few other local Reintegrationist groups have sprung up across the country, and many have gone on to become productive social centers, like the Fundaçom Artábria in Ferrol [a small coastal city known for having one of the lowest rates of Galician speakers]. Nowadays, there are social centers in every major Galician city, and even some small towns, that help spread the word about this more all-encompassing way of living in the language. Another key institution is the AGLP, which Susana has mentioned. It instigated the Valentín Paz Andrade People’s Legislative Initiative, one of the few language-related laws that (after a successful petition campaign that garnered 17,000 signatures) was approved by every party in Galicia. The law is a normative instrument meant to strengthen the linguistic and cultural bonds between Galicia and the rest of the Lusophone world. Among other things, it promotes the teaching of Portuguese in schools and the broadcasting of Portuguese television. But little effort has been made to put it into effect. As people often say in such cases, the government tolerates but doesn’t advocate.

Then there are the Semente [Seed] schools, the only schools in Galicia that offer what most parents in the world dream of: the ability for their children to be educated entirely in their home language. These schools arose as a response to both the public and private Galician educational systems, which are high-functioning linguistic substitution machines. There are now five Semente schools in five different cities, and they continue to grow.


WWB: Does this movement enjoy widespread popular support?

VF: Before we can talk about support, we have to first ask: does the Galician language enjoy widespread popular use? As it stands, Galician is a B-language; it’s the non-hegemonic language in its geographic space. The southwestern United States is another good example of this dynamic. Many people there speak Spanish, even after multiple generations of their families have lived in the US. But the hegemonic language throughout the country is English—it’s the A-language. Children born in these families are going to learn English and become fluent in it as they grow up, and it’s entirely possible that their children won’t learn Spanish.

“I see [Reintegrationism] as much more than a literary movement.”

The rate of Galician speakers decreases with every new generation, and the code is becoming increasingly Spanish-ized. What Reintegrationism advocates for is the social hegemony of Galician, and with that hegemony would come a more authentic code. But this is like swimming against the current, right? So Reintegrationism has to show that its vision isn’t just what’s best for the language, which is a fact, but also for everyday people, regardless of the language they speak. That’s a fact, too, but it’s not so easy to change people’s mindsets. Galicians get out of bed every day with the capacity to understand the language being spoken by the presidents of Portugal and Brazil, but they’ve been taught not to see any value in that.

Reintegrationism is the standard among those who favor the social advancement of the language, and the movement is growing in numbers—both in terms of sympathizers and those who actively take up its call to live in and look at the language this way.

SSA: It’s certainly a strong movement at the moment—it may not have an enormous base, but that base is an active and passionate one. Among its strengths is its presence in many civil and community initiatives: there is a plethora of social, cultural, environmental, and feminist organizations that also give visibility to this way of living in our language.

One good example is the Valentín Paz Andrade People’s Legislative Initiative (passed on March 24, 2014), which Valentim has already mentioned.


WWB: Is this primarily a literary movement, or does it seek to make a change (or a return, depending on your point of view) in all areas of society? What has its impact been on Galician literature? We understand that neither of the two largest publishers in Galicia has ever published a book written in this form of Galician. At the same time, one of the figureheads of the movement, Ricardo Carvalho Calero, was recently honored for the Día das Letras Galegas [a holiday celebrating Galician language and literature].

SSA: I see it as much more than a literary movement. To my mind, it’s a social movement whose goal is to keep the language alive. It touches on education, culture, and the more abstract notion of simply being able to feel the language as your own—not as a matter of happenstance, but as the language in which you speak, read, and listen.

I’m also of the belief that the conflict in the 1980s was extremely damaging, and that we are only starting to overcome it now, a generation or two later. One of the other consequences of that confrontation was that the literary system slammed the door in the face of Reintegrationist authors. As you say, even today, the two largest publishing houses in Galicia won’t publish books written in Portuguese orthography. The difference is that now nearly every other small and/or independent publisher will publish Reintegrationist authors, which was a rare thing not so long ago. I myself have published books with five different publishers. Back when I started out, in 2009, I would never have believed that was possible—that’s how much things have changed. Younger generations seem to be coming to Reintegrationism through grassroots movements, always full of curiosity and unburdened by preconceptions.

The decision to honor the writer Ricardo Carvalho Cavalero for the 2019 Día das Letras Galegas is evidence of the very strength I’m talking about. The Real Academia Galega was wary of honoring Carvalho Calero because he was among the most outspoken advocates of Reintegrationist ideas when that debate was going on in the 1980s, and the prestige of his academic position lent him a great deal of authority. Ultimately, they had no choice: pressure was mounting, and more and more people were recognizing the injustice that was being done in not honoring him.

“Without a community of speakers, these debates will be meaningless.”

VF: I see Reintegrationism as a social movement trying to rewrite the script for our language and change the way we view ourselves. For most Galicians under fifty, the Galician language is a peripheral part of their daily lives, much as Galicia itself is peripheral to Spain, a marginalized region. 

Reintegrationism offers another vision of the language and of Galicia itself. It would be the only place in the world where Portuguese and Spanish are, or could be, co-official languages, like French and English in Quebec or French and Dutch in Flanders. In that framework, we cease to be peripheral.

But once we’ve achieved that, how would we live in our language? What would we do with it? Galicians, whatever language we speak, have been taught to view Galician as a language of orality and informality, while Spanish dominates the rest of our daily lives. Many people will say, “That makes sense, there’s hardly anything in Galician: written texts, media, internet . . .” But a Reintegrationist can “swim” in any variety of their language, though Brazilian stands out in particular. This mindset has many advantages: it would enhance the value and prestige of the language, allowing it to be used more broadly. Ultimately, all of this would imply a new society. That’s the challenge, and that’s what motivates us.


WWB: What impact, if any, does the use of Reintegrationist Galician play in a book’s critical reception?

SSA: Though the situation is not at all what it was only a few years ago, the fact is that writing as a Reintegrationist is a near guarantee of invisibility. The normal state of affairs is for no one to talk about our work. For example, take my book seique [excerpted as “And They Say” in WWB’s March issue, translated by Kathleen March], which transcended the Reintegrationist audience and received an enthusiastic response from the broader Galician reading public. It only won an award in Galicia after its translation into Spanish had started to garner acclaim. That award was for the Best Narrative Work of 2019. But in the wake of that award? Not a single interview or review. And that’s considering that I’m already a relatively popular, well-respected writer.

But you can also look at the fact that Através Editora’s catalog isn’t included in the purchase list of the Galician Public Library because the titles are not published in ILG-RAG standard Galician. In other words, my work doesn’t appear alongside that of my contemporaries in every public library.


WWB: How does this movement compare to other autonomous regions throughout Spain/the world? Is it connected to any Galician political movements akin to the Catalan movement for independence? What is the regional government's stance on it? The Spanish government's stance? What is the view of official Portuguese organs?

VF: Galician independence is not part of the Reintegrationist mission. That being said, a person who uses their language as an (inter)national code is more likely to want independence. But at its core, Reintegrationism is about fostering national awareness. Because when you write Galician using Spanish orthography (not to mention the many grammatical and lexical items from Spanish that have permeated Galician), it becomes harder to see Spain, and Spanish, as a model of opposition.

The Galician government has done a few campaigns in the business world to show the potential of Galician in Portuguese-speaking countries, but not much beyond that. Portuguese is far more present in secondary education in Extremadura [a region on Portugal’s eastern border] than it is in Galicia, and that’s considering that Extremadura is a region where the only official language is Spanish. Why might that be?

In any case, the debates we’re trying to generate around this topic have led to more and more conversations, even among people who live their lives in Spanish. The question we need to examine is whether or not it’s too late. Because without a community of speakers, these debates will be meaningless.

“Reflecting on our culture and language could change the way Galicians think about our political situation.”

SSA: There’s no debating that the Galician independence movement (which does exist) is Reintegrationist. But the two don’t align exactly: not all Reintegrationists are advocates for Galician independence. For some people, it’s primarily a linguistic and cultural movement.

At the same time, it seems evident to me that this is exactly what institutions fear about Reintegrationism: that reflecting on our culture and language could change the way Galicians think about our political situation, and that we might come to believe in Galician sovereignty. Hence the strategy of making the movement invisible and/or pretending it doesn’t exist.

Spain’s central government is neither here nor there. On the one hand, it has no control over the Galician government’s Departments of Culture and Education. On the other hand, in areas where it does have some margin for action (international relations, diplomacy), it’s simply not in the Spanish government’s interest—out of this same fear of a potential Galician sovereignty movement, I’d argue—to help foster a relationship of any kind between Galicia and Portugal.


WWB: What are the movement's strategies for achieving its aim? Referendum? Passage via regional legislative bodies?

SSA: The movement is focused on activism through education: introducing people to Reintegrationsim, telling them what it’s about, and so on. Of course, writing in Reintegrationist Galician, as I and many other writers do, is another good way to help spread awareness.

While the passage of a law would be a major victory, most of our effort right now is going into the promotion of something called binormativism, or the freedom for us to use either the Portuguese paradigm or the current one without fear of retribution.

VF: Social activism is the most visible of our strategies, in terms of both organizations with a Reintegrationist mission and Reintegrationist individuals whose daily practices create new dynamics in realms like the literary world. Teaching materials and education also play a massive role. And social media, of course, has been, and continues to be, an effective tool for spreading our message. A Twitter account like em galego [in galician], which produces language-based content, has reached a wide non-Reintegrationist audience despite having far fewer resources than other projects with institutional ties.

Another route is diplomacy, which is primarily undertaken by the AGLP in the Lusophone Commonwealth, though the efforts aren’t limited to that.

As Susana mentioned, AGAL’s goal right now is to achieve binormativism, which would allow us to include all Galician speakers without negative bias in either direction. That’s a path with great potential . . . a path that puts the social well-being of the Galician language and its people above personal interests.


Susana Sanches Arins is a Galician writer and critic born in Vilagarcía de Arousa in 1974. She has published three collections of poetry, as well as two more recent books that blur the boundaries between poetry and prose. She is one of many authors to have begun to write in Reintegrationist Galician, which envisions modern Galician with Portuguese orthography based on the historic kinship of the two languages, and as an act of resistance against the hegemony of Spanish. Her recent book seique (2015, loosely translated as Hearsay) has brought her heaps of praise from readers and critics alike, and was recently expanded for a second edition. In addition, it was translated into Spanish in 2019 and selected by the association of Madrid booksellers as their book of the year, which is not only a rare recognition for an author being translated from Galician, but even more so because Reintegrationist writing is largely published by a very small press that rarely gets the attention it deserves even in Galicia. 

Born in Vigo in 1971, Valentim Fagim has worked in various capacities to promote the Reintegrationist Galician movement, primarily through his writing. In addition to his books O Galego (im)possível, Do Ñ para o NH, and O galego é uma oportunidade, he has written articles about Reintegrationism for various publications. He is currently the codirector of Através Editora and a member of the Galician Academy of the Portuguese Language (AGLP).


Related Reading:

Built on Longing: Writing from Galicia

An Interview with WWB Poetry Contest Winner Jacob Rogers

The City and the Writer: In Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, with Yolanda Castaño

Published Apr 1, 2021   Copyright 2021 Words Without Borders

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