Amatxu is like a second mother to me. When I first visited Spain for four months, Amatxu acted as my tour guide, my hostess, my friend, my pep squad and, ultimately, a new-found family member. I last saw her face-to-face in July of 2017 and – knowing that she is always craving to visit somewhere new – I asked her,
“Where would you like to travel to next?”
Her answer was (similar to the other times that I’ve asked her that question) that she would like to visit “los Estados Unidos”. However, due to the circumstances that have surrounded her life these past few years, I knew that her long-time dream might not be able to become reality until the future.
Amatxu was born in Bilbao, Spain. She grew up in that region during the last few decades that Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator, was in power. The area, “Basque Country” and its language, Euskera, were targeted by Franco’s regime. The teaching of and communication using Euskera was banned across the region, and the locals who were encouraged to report their neighbors to the police if they were heard speaking it.
One particular story that I heard recounted through BBC News, tells of a grandmother who was reported to the police in this region during the aforementioned time period. Before releasing her, her captors shaved all of her hair off; the cruel situation led her to stop speaking Euskera for the remainder of her life, leaving her family members deprived of the ability to learn the language and to pass it on.
Amatxu grew up in an extremely conservative family and, by the time she was a young adult, Amatxu wished to acquire her driver’s license. As required by the regime, all women needed their father’s permission to travel and to obtain a license, among other things. Amatxu’s father, a traditional man, asserted that none of his daughters would be driving – period. This was just one of the many instances that caused Amatxu to be denied her right to see the world.
Later on in life, Amatxu got married and had children. By the 1980s, Franco’s death caused his weakened regime to crumble. Amatxu had been able to acquire her driver’s license and moved to Alcalá de Henares, a suburb of Madrid, around this time. She has lived in Alcalá for more than 30 years, and has almost as much pride for the medieval city as she does her hometown of Bilbao. In that suburb – which is filled to the brim with UNESCO World Heritage sites that she so enjoys bragging about – she has raised her two children as a single mother for the majority their lives.
Bad fortune has necessitated the need for Amatxu to “girar la tortilla” many times over. Three separate motor accidents have left her with pain and chronic health issues that have kept her from working a full-time job for more than 20 years. Additionally, ever since the recession began in 2008, her home country of Spain has been in economic turmoil. With a current unemployment rate of 24%, well-paying jobs are near non-existent. Amatxu’s son is one of the countless Spaniards who fell on hard times, not being able to find consistent work until March of this year. He has two children, a five-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy; Amatxu used part of her own unlimited income to help support his family while he was unemployed for a total of two years.
Despite the hardship that my “second mom” from Bilbao has faced, I aspire to one day give her the opportunity to see America for herself.