For our very first Author in Focus feature we had the pleasure of asking Mónica Jato - author of the forthcoming Brill monograph El éxodo español de 1939, to be featured as the 61st volume of our series Foro Hispánico come November 28th - some questions about her experience in academia and her work.
How have you experienced the balance of teaching and researching?
“There are days when maintaining the balance is practically impossible. Even so, many of my lectures and seminars establish close links with the main topics of my research. Last year, for example, I taught a course on the Spanish exile culture of 1939, relating to the subject matter of the monograph recently published by Brill. The opportunity to have a dialogue with students on topics which, in the course of writing a book, you have thought about for a long time, often on your own, is one of the most rewarding experiences: the themes come alive and become the subject of debates and heated discussions. It is a two-way learning process.”
Speaking of your monograph, could you explain the origins of your interest in place and displacement?
“The interest in these issues emerges from my own immigrant experience, and from realizing the great affective contradictions that every spatial displacement entails: on the one hand, the obsessive need to recreate the lost places, even if imperfectly, and, on the other, the feeling of nostalgia, which is always a double-edged sword that seems deceptively to cut physical distances but can also cause the isolation of an individual or even a community. From this personal interest, I have approached the refugee crises that traverse the history of the 20th century and unfortunately continue to mark that of the 21st century.”
Despite these crises, do you find the reconstruction of a lost home possible?
“This is not an easy question to answer since ‘home’ is a very complex word to define, one that is emotionally loaded. We certainly all know what it means but affectively it connotes something very different for each of us. In my studies on Spanish Republican exile, I have been able to show how some refugees integrated quite well into their host societies, accommodating that idea of the lost home to the new one that they had found, while others couldn’t do anything else but recreate the community they left behind. An extreme case is that of Spanish refugees in Mexico who came to establish their own network of primary and secondary schools, educating their children in an incurable nostalgia and instilling the idea of an impending return.”
How does the intense focus of “place” in today’s politics play a role in the ongoing refugee crises?
“It is evident that lately we are experiencing the most negative side of the definition of place as a manifestation of xenophobic and racist attitudes. The tendency to reinforce borders and protect the nation-space from the threat of the foreign other poses a serious problem to the wellbeing of society. In this sense, I have learned a great deal from the experiences of the second generation of exiles (those who were born to exiled parents in the host countries) because, through their border status, they have transcended these essentialist notions of place.”
In your forthcoming book, you write about an exodus in 1939—of course, there was no internet in those times. Does access to the internet change the fundamental experience of today’s exile?
“There is no doubt that the internet provides a sense of a virtual or imagined community of connected people, despite the physical distances that seem to partially neutralize the devastating effects of life in exile. It seems therefore that the internet alters or adds a different dimension to the definition of place: the home page is now the home place. However, the feeling of illusory proximity provided by the internet does not completely solve the at times troubled integration of refugees and immigrants into their new environments. And sometimes, as we well know, the internet is rather a source of solitude than of authentic encounters.”
Finally, what has been your experience publishing with Brill?
“For me, publishing with Brill means working with Masja Horn. The moment she replied to my first email, I knew this was the publisher I wanted to work with. I didn’t bother to contact any others. Her professionalism guided me at each step of the publication process and the truth is that everything was very simple, and, dare I say, fun. The topics proposed by the Hispanic Forum series were the perfect match for the subject of my book, so everything happened in a very natural, very organic way.”
To learn more about Mónica Jato’s monograph, El éxodo español de 1939, click here.
About the Author:
Mónica Jato, Ph.D. (1999), Michigan State University, Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies, University of Birmingham has published widely on the Spanish exile of 1939, including El lenguaje bíblico en la poesía de los exilios españoles de 1939 (2004) .
Text: Clovis Jaillet, Editorial Assistant, Brill Literature & Cultural Studies program.