The Afrodiaspora in Spanish Culture


Miguel Angle Rosales head shot
A Q&A with 2022 William Allan Neilson Professor Miguel Angel Rosales


KahnTact: What are your primary goals for your Neilson Professorship this spring?

Miguel Angel Rosales: As a filmmaker it is not always easy to find spaces where my more conceptual and theoretical work can be developed. Being the Neilson Professor at Smith College this semester offers me a unique opportunity and environment to continue moving forward with my research. Furthermore, being able to share my work through the lectures with the students and academic community here is a privilege.

I hope that in my time here I will also be able to collaborate with other departments in addition to the Spanish and Portuguese department and the Kahn Liberal Arts institute, who are hosting me. 

KahnTact: What are some messages that you hope your audience might come away with from your spring lectures?

MAR: I want to go deeper into the question of how the colonial Spanish past and Black people´s presence in Spanish History is fundamental in understanding the present. By underlining the complexity of racial, social and symbolic relationships in the Iberian peninsula´s history, I hope audiences will reflect on how these colonial processes are directly connected to the cultural diversity in contemporary Spain and how they are articulated or not! I would also like to invite audiences to think through this history via sources beyond literary or historical archives. In my work I am interested in opening questions and thought around possibility, more than drawing definite conclusions.

KahnTact: What are some examples of Afrodiasporic impacts on modern Spain that are typically not acknowledged or recognized?

MAR: There has been an ongoing process of homogenization around Spain´s cultural, religious and ethnic diversity. This has created an intrinsic framework whereby any trace of the African nations and their people´s presence in Spanish culture or society has been systematically denied and erased. That continues to be apparent in the way most researchers in Spain approach their work around the subject. The cultural impact of Afro-Spanish communities in religion and the relationship with the spiritual world of Andalusia, their contribution to language, their presence in famous painters' studios, such as Velazquez or Murillo, and where I think it is most visible: in their foundational role in flamenco expressivity, are all very far from being recognized. I think there must be a real change of paradigm in order to acknowledge the Afrodiasporic population as historical subjects with agency who played a significant role in Spanish history.

KahnTact: Is erasure of Spain's Afrodiasporic history actively continuing today? Is this erasure systemic and unconcsious?

MAR: Yes, absolutely continuing. It´s both systemic and unconscious. There is the frame of impossibility that I mentioned above but also a conscious denial from cultural, political and educational institutions that are unable to look at Spanish colonial History with a critical gaze. Deformed imaginaries about “Africa” have been created over the centuries whereby influence from the continent continues to be perceived as “contamination”. It is embarrassing for me to have to accept that in Spain, generally speaking, African cultures are still being read through a colonial gaze.

KahnTact: Are there organized efforts to offset or correct this historic erasure of Afrodiasporic influence on Spanish culture and identity?

MAR: I don´t feel any real efforts are being made from educational and cultural institutions, with maybe some small exceptions in certain cultural spaces such as specific museums or theaters.

The majority of educational materials in schools or even higher education continue to use terminology such as “reconquista” or “descubrimiento” when referring to Spain´s colonial past, this National-Catholic language is never contested. Subsequently students are taught a whitewashed version of the country´s history.

Over the last few years different groups of Afro-Spaniards across the country´s main cities have been doing a lot of work to raise awareness around these issues. Nevertheless, for the new African population coming to Spain there is nothing institutionally that allows them to link their own history to that of Spain.