A Foreigner And One Of Us

Aug 25, 2015 | Book Reviews, Issue 1 - August 2015, Issue 1 Reviews

By Teresa Cantero

Lo Dieron Todo- Susana Falcón

Editorial Atrapasueños -2015

The idea for the book began with a television program. Throughout 2006 and 2007, journalists Julián Martín (known as Juliqui) and Susana Falcón interviewed several women who had participated in the famed uprisings in the Spanish town of Marinaleda in the 1980s and 1990s. They discussed the importance of writing a book about these accounts and remembered how one of the women had told them, “I gave it all.” Susana believed that one sentence captured the essence of the movement. “It reflects everything,” she explains. “It tells you what they did, not only about the hunger strikes, but also about their heroism and how family and children were not their only responsibility, and that if they had to leave it all behind, they would.”

Susana tells the story of the lives of these women, whom she describes as authors of their own brand of feminism, in her recently published book Lo Dieron Todo: Las Luchas de Marinaleda (They Gave It All: The Fights of Marinaleda). In this town of fewer than 3,000 inhabitants, it was women who were often at the forefront of the movement for social and political change. “They had no idea what feminism was, but they took that path. And they said, ‘I am not staying behind,’ or ‘my husband never told me not to go, but if he had, I would have told him I’m going and you stay here, I am going anyway,’” explains Susana.

Located in the southern region of Andalusia—one of the poorest in Spain—Marinaleda is a remote village with a fascinating history of sociopolitical struggle by agricultural laborers. From about 1980 through the mid-1990s, hundreds of the town’s residents took part in campaigns including engaging in hunger strikes and occupying underutilized land on a vast estate owned by a duke. They eventually won the right to the land, where they established a cooperative farm that sells its products internationally. The town, which some describe as a “socialist utopia,” boasts very low unemployment, a subsidized and self-building housing program, and a political system in which community members make decisions through a local assembly.

In They Gave It All, Susana describes the journey from impoverished child to adult activist taken by these women of Marinaleda, including Mari La Pagueña, who grew from a 14-year-old girl forced to abandon school and find work into one of the protestors occupying the duke’s estate. She also highlights the region’s poverty—a catalyst for the movement—through the tale of Anita la Pulga and her embarrassment at having to beg for food, as well as her sadness when her father sold the family puppy for a few pieces of bread. Susana has very special memories of Anita. “Everybody knows Anita la Pulga, a laborer without any education, with a miserable childhood, who was very poor. Television reporters from around the world have come here, and they always interviewed her, because she was wonderful.” Sadly, Anita, who died five years ago, will never have the opportunity to see her story in print. However, her tale is kept alive by those who met her and through the various interviews she gave.

Susana’s excitement is evident when she discusses the book’s launch event, which was held in April of this year “where the hunger strikes took place, at the union house, the village house, where they still hold meetings, a very symbolic place.” When asked whether she plans to write a sequel with more stories, she doesn’t reject the idea, but appears to have no specific plans to do so. “There were 80 women who came to Seville for a week of protests, but many more participated in the whole movement,” Susana says. “I would have liked to have conducted more than 10 interviews, but they are all very hesitant to talk even though, at the book’s launch, to my surprise they all talked.

Susana, who currently directs Radio-Televisión Marinaleda, knows the townspeople from the years when she worked there as a teacher. She has lived in Spain for 35 years, having left her native Argentina during that country’s military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. After spending some time in Nicaragua and elsewhere, she returned to Andalusia in 2005. “When I came back, people would stop me all the time to kiss me and to hug me. It was a flood of affection. I told Juliqui ‘I cannot deal with this anymore, this is too much love. Why do people love me so much? Is it not a big deal that I have worked here.’” Juliqui replied, “It is because you are a foreigner and yet one of us.”

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