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Spain, La Madre Patria

Sandra Foyt

My Argentine grandparents spoke often and fondly of their visits to Spain; traveling to “la Madre Patria” was like going home to them.

A popular sobriquet for Spain in Latin America, “la Madre Patria” supposedly holds no ideological meaning, but how do you untangle religious symbolism when it’s such a big part of culture and identity?

Abuela was not especially devout, and yet she always had prayer cards in her purse to share with loved ones. She didn’t go to church on Sundays, but she made regular pilgrimages to Buenos Aires’ Basilica of Luján, home to the patron saint of Argentina. She even carried me there as a baby, on a transatlantic trip that I repeated with my children.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that when I too made the pilgrimage to la Madre Patria, on a visit to Spain’s Costa Brava region, my tours often began at churches.

At the center of the ancient citadel city of Girona, I followed a trail of rose petals from a recent wedding along the 89 steps leading to the Catedral de Girona, renowned for the moral tales found in its12th century marble sculptures.

Next door, at the Church of Sant Feliu, a plaque tells of an annual celebration, on October 29th and continuing until All Saints Day, that brings the townsfolk of Girona to cover the floor of the Chapel of St. Narcissus with blessed cotton, in hopes that the saint will relieve ear pain.

Nearby, in the Call, the Jewish quarter of Girona, exhibits in some of Girona’s oldest medieval buildings of The Museum of the History of the Jews, educate the faithful and the curious about the cabala and the turbulent relationship between Christians and Jews in Catalonia. But they also invite the public to attend cross-cultural music, theater, and dance events.

On a daytrip to Vall de Núria in the Pyrenees, we passed massive sculptures representing the Stations of the Cross across a mountain landscape that in winter is dotted with passing skiers.

Sandra Foyt

And in the chapel dedicated to Saint Gil, we saw a family writing notes that would be added to the stack found at the foot of a wooden stature of the Virgin, presumably expressing gratitude. It seems that in Catelonia, a remedy for infertility is for a wife to pray before the cross while placing her head in a pot as her husband rings St. Gil’s bell. Judging by the stack of thank you notes this is a very popular and effective cure!

What these religious centers share is a thriving sense that worship is a breathing, living part of daily life. When the cathedral bells ring, citizens can’t help but hear those bells even if they don’t use them to set their watches and plan their days.

Likewise, Latin Americans might not be thinking of the religious connotation behind “la Madre Patria,” but that doesn’t mean that religious meaning isn’t at the heart of the nickname.

Sandra Foyt

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Good roots or bad roots????

  2. la madre patria o el padre que nos chingo

  3. :/ one of many roots.

  4. I agree, the churches and cathedrals in Spain are gorgeous. But my cousin pointed out that Spain is the grandmother land because our great-grandparents did not come straight to the U.S., they went to Puerto Rico.

  5. My great-great abuelos came from Terenife, Isla Canaria to PR and I hope to go there one day. I’ve been to Spain & they always seem to know I’m Boricua. I got that “mancha de platano” :-)

  6. *Tenerife

  7. mmm. nop.

  8. My great grand parents where from Tenerife in the Canaries and Asturias in the North of Spain. However much you BLers hate Spain, you all would still be practicing human sacrifice and living in jungle huts if it wasn’t for Spain’s discovery of the New World. Que viva Espan~a!

  9. And the Spanish among other Europeans colonists were responsible for an unspoken genocide of the Americas!

    Mario, for someone who always is crying about communist regime and etc and etc, you sure do have compassion towards humanity.

  10. On a side of note, my great grandparents who were from Galacia…………

  11. If you don’t like Spain please stop speaking spanish, eating pork, olive oil, bread, and most of all change your freaking names already. Also, clean your gene pool. Indians and Africans don’t tend to have curly hair.

  12. Oh and no Chorizo for you.

  13. The American says:

    Sandra, what a lovely article. Thanks for sharing your family’s history and the special meaning it holds to you.

    I do need to address some of the comments by others below for the sake of justice.

    To Mario & Jorge,

    “Hate” was defined by the actions of the Spaniards who did not consider America’s Natives humans, but sub-human, without a soul – contrary to what the Christian Scriptures say- that every human being is created in the image of God.

    Mari-o Ramirez, Do not confuse the word hatred for dislike, and do not confuse bloggers’ critical judgment as hate when it is the truth.

    Hate was defined by the Spaniards’ genocidal acts when they took infants from their mother’s wombs and smashed infants’ skulls against rocks and stones.

    Hate was defined by the Spaniards’ when they mercilessly and forcibly raped the Native women of the Americas (or forcibly impregnating with the intent and design to outbreed the local population, which is recognized by the International Criminal Court of the UN as rape as a form of genocide).

    Hate is when the Spaniards’ forced children, young Native girls (ages 9-14) into sexual slavery violating the moral laws of human integrity, being the Spanish pedophiles they were.

    Hate is when the Spaniards tortured and murdered the Native men, women, and children, and then fed them to the dogs like your chorizo-like pork sausage.

    It is a matter of historical and documented fact that these atrocities were forms of genocidal acts that were committed by the Spanish against the Native American populations of North, Central and South America. It is not a matter to ever take likely.

    The Germans apologized for the Holocaust, the Turks have yet to apologize to the Armenians, but if the Spanish Government and nation is truly “Christian” in any sense of the meaning, then it will officially recognize and apologize for its historical complicity in one of the most gruesome and heinous crimes against humanity history has testified to.

    I do not care if you are Spanish, but once you begin insulting Natives, expect to hear word GENOCIDE ringing the alarm because it will be an argument that you cannot defend in your lifetime.

    Jorge de Armas , perhaps, you should begin with cleaning up your mother country’s financial mess.

    We may have Spanish surnames, but as a Mexican American of Native descent, I descend from one of the six Pristine Civilizations in the world, but you Spaniard, do not. My Olmec-Mayan-Toltec-Mexican Civilization is ancient, and studied in universities and prestigious institutions worldwide. I owe my existence to it, not to you. Catholicism is not a “Spanish” religion, it is a Semitic-Middle Eastern religion, and, I’m perfectly fine with it.

    I eat olive oil and bread because I love REAL Mediterranean food, and you should know better than to suggest that Spain has reign of these commodities, because the best olive oil come from Italy and East of the Adriatic (last time I checked, your Spain is nowhere near that).

    Don’t even get me started on the economic bankrupt third world Southwestern European country called, Spain, (Spanish people are so impoverished, they’re committing suicide and moving to wealthier and educated countries of Northern Europe).

    And if you want to bring up the illegal immigration of Mexicans to the US, go ahead. But be forewarned, my family on both sides of the borders are highly educated Mexicans and Mexican Americans with prestigious positions in government and educational institutions. We’re wealthy (land wealthy), influential, and hate the prejudice people of your low class ilk spew. Oh, and yeah, we are very proud of our ancient history and culture because we have a very strong sense of who we are, and we know what we are, and we sure do not call ourselves Latino or Hispanic, so no thank you, we already have an honorific title being the distant descendants of Moctezuma II’s grandchildren.

    Mario Ramirez,

    Where did you receive your education? Did you graduate post-secondary school? (I seriously doubt it). Spaniards “discovering” a continent that was already inhabited is oxymoronic. Any well reasoned and educated individual will tell you, Spaniards did not discover shit, rather, they exploited the natural resources and human labor of the American continent. It is far more likely that the advanced Chinese or Icelandic/Vikings landed on this continent hundreds of years before your people (there’s evidence to support this theory). Hell, the Arabs ruled Spaniards for 800 years and contributed to the Enlightenment period in Western Europe, you should thank them for bringing the value of education to your un-enlightened Spanish society. And how did your ancestors express gratitude got for it? The Inquisition!

    But it only took less than 500 years for Mexico’s Indians to win independence from the rather culturally, primitive Spain. So who’s really inferior, here?

    If you don’t like what you read, stay off this website.

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