1. “What are your friends’ names?”
2. It was the first question of my test for Spanish citizenship.
3. I started to write my friends’ names but realised it was a trap. The Spanish administration did not want to know who my friends were. They wanted to know if my friends were Spanish or not.
4. There is an old saying: “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
5. The names could not always indicate the origin of humans or plants.
6. Take the example of Lantana camara. Its vernacular name in Spanish is banderita española (the Spanish flag).
7. Dutch navigators brought the plant from Latin America to Europe. The plant subsequently spread through Asia too. Today it is on the list of 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species.
8. Invasive Alien Species is a new science-fiction film title, isn’t it? No, it is a scientific term used by the European Commission.
9. “As invasive alien species do not respect borders, coordinated action at the European level will be more effective than individual actions at the Member State level.” (1)
10. Plants, animals and humans have travelled across the continents over centuries. The plants were pioneers in that sense. They managed to reach barely accessible territories and islands before humans.
11. Of course, the seeds of plants have taken advantage of animals and humans to spread more safely. Trade and wars were exceptionally beneficial for them.
12. “In the beginning, there were spices.”
13. This is the opening sentence of Stefan Zweig’s book Magellan: Conqueror of the Seas.
14. Its main character is no less famous than the author himself – Ferdinand Magellan.
15. Portuguese-born Fernão de Magalhães was naturalised as a Spanish subject in 1518. Since then he has been known as Fernando de Magallanes. But in Portugal he has been called a ‘traitor’ to his homeland for many years.
16. Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, ginger and saffron.
17. Europe lacked spices. Food was insipid and flavourless. The Spanish Crown set up a new challenge: to find the first western route to the Spice Islands.
18. The Spanish expedition of 1519-22 was known for achieving the first circumnavigation of the globe in the Age of Discovery.
19. Ferdinand Magellan did not survive the journey. He was killed during the Battle of Mactan in April 1521.
20. Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse.
21. Your birthplace is a question of luck. Some of us have the luck of being born in the right place at the right time, while others do not.
22. Perhaps, to remedy this situation, a phenomenon like migration tries to respond to complex social, political and economic issues affecting many societies.
23. Migrants oppose the fate given to them. Instead, they tend to chant an ode to Kairos, the Greek God of the fleeting moment.
24. They want to seize the opportune moment where time and destiny could be played in their favour.
25. Entrance of Cortez into Mexico by Louis Kurz and Alexander Allison, ca. 1892.
26. The coloured lithograph depicts one of the important episodes of Mexican-Spanish history. Besides American painters’ romanticised view of the Spanish Conquest, the conquistadors with a not-so-glorious past espoused a very different reality. These strongmen were part, in fact, of a large group of the population that suffered from hunger, poverty and the aftermath of the Reconquista in the 16th century. The vast majority of them came from Extremadura.
27. Extremadura is probably derived from the Latin name Extrēma Dūriī, which indicates its geographical position beyond the Douro river. It also refers to a borderland where harshness, aridity and scarcity were common in the history of this region.
28. It was 1933. Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (Las Hurdes: Land Without Bread) caused an uproar at the premiere screening in Spain. The pseudo-ethnological film directed by Luis Buñuel served once again as a reminder of endemic poverty and chronic underdevelopment in this much-forgotten region within the Kingdom of Spain.
29. It was 1939. Many Spaniards were on the move. Some were escaping from civil war and political repression, while others were fleeing from misery and despair.
30. I know what it is to live from pillar to post.
31. I met a ‘re-naturalised’ Spanish citizen born to Spanish Republican parents in Bolivia. He was left stateless because of his parents’ political stance. His family moved to Venezuela, where he became a Venezuelan citizen. In 2019, he was forced to quit Venezuela for the same reasons that his parents abandoned their homeland. His reintegration into Spanish citizenship marked a return to his roots.
32. So the circle comes back around.
33. Merchants, pirates, colonists, settlers, slaves and Jews.
34. When studying in France, I was perplexed by the term ‘juif assimilé’ (assimilated Jew) often used in academic texts.
35. Trained as a sociologist and political scholar, I was keen to understand to what extent assimilation or naturalisation would have influenced the citizenship process in my new adopted country.
36. “Assimilation is the process of becoming a part, or making someone become a part, of a group, country, society, etc.” (2)
37. “Naturalisation is the process of becoming or making someone a citizen of a country that they were not born in.” (3)
38. In biology, acclimatisation precedes naturalisation.
39. “Acclimatisation, any of the numerous gradual, long-term responses of an organism to changes in its environment. Such responses are more or less habitual and reversible should environmental conditions revert to an earlier state.” (4)
40. The Acclimatisation Garden of La Orotava was created in 1788. It is considered the second-oldest botanical garden in Spain.
41. The first one was created by King Fernando VI in Madrid in 1755.
42. Madrid is home to kings of Spain from Carlos III to Felipe VI, with brief interludes.
43. Madrid is not a primary home for exotic plants.
44. This city was a hostile environment for these plants back then.
45. Plants from Latin America and the Philippines were exposed to severe winter conditions in mainland Spain.
46. They were unable to cope with change. These plants found the heart of the Spanish Empire too cold for them. They died.
47. I met a re-naturalised Spanish citizen from Venezuela. She came to Spain because she could not access cancer treatment in her native country. She did not want to die.
48. There is an extreme scarcity of medical resources in Venezuela.
49. She said to me: “If you want to go to see a doctor, you should be able to pay in dollars.”
50. Many of the Venezuelan doctors were trained in the USA.
51. Venezuela was one of the most prosperous countries in the 20th century.
52. What happened to Simón Bolívar’s republic?
53. Dark gold.
54. No light.
55. No water.
56. No food.
57. Absolute power.
58. “Flee the country where a lone man holds all power: It is a nation of slaves.”(5)
59. We often think of plants as immobile.
60. Movement should not be limited to the use of legs.
61. Plants cannot always escape or travel like humans or animals. For this reason, they developed different mechanisms and strategies to fend off a plethora of natural phenomena, human and animal aggressions.
62. Seeds, for example?
63. “Seeds are among the most precious and easily transported cultural artifacts.”(6)
64. Humans transported them by boat.
65. Sometimes seeds travelled incognito too.
66. Have a look at plants that are growing at European ports and harbours.
67. Where are they from?
68. They come from everywhere.
69. The ocean serves as an important liaison between Spain and its former colonies. Plants and humans travelled by sea back and forth. Canarians have a special bond with the Americas, the region they have emigrated to over centuries.
70. In the 20th century, Spaniards had to flee their home when the dictator Franco came to power. Many Canarians went to Venezuela to start a new life and leave the past behind.
71. Some remained Spanish citizens until their death, but others opted for Venezuelan citizenship.
72. Today their descendants have to emigrate to Spain for the same reason. Many of these Venezuelans must pass through the naturalisation process as any other foreigners in Spain because they cannot demonstrate their Spanish origins.
73. Dispersal of seeds is crucial for the survival of plant species.
74. Diaspora played the same role for many nations.
75. Have you noticed that the etymological origin of the word diaspora, in Greek, means seed dispersal?
76. Take a stroll in a botanical garden.
77. You see plants and trees coming from four corners of the world.
78. Strelitzia reginae, Persea americana, Citrus x limon, Ficus carica, Musa x paradisiaca, Artocarpus altilis.
79. Most of the plants and trees you encounter in botanical gardens in Europe are the fruits of scientific expeditions of the 18th century.
80. The Enlightenment movement shaped the fundamental role of the botanical garden and its functions and goals as a scientific institution.
81. Scientists worked hand in hand with artists.
82. Both parties took part in the scientific endeavour.
83. They collected seeds and plants. They painted them. They sent them back to Europe.
84. Too often, plants and seeds did not survive a long transatlantic journey; neither did all participants of these overseas scientific expeditions.
85. Between 1783 and 1808, José Celestino Mutis led Spain’s most extended expedition to the New World.
86. Colombia was part of a Spanish colony known as the Kingdom of New Granada. Its flora became Mutis’s life-long work.
87. Nowadays, the natural wonders of Colombia are within our grasp. If you buy a bouquet of roses, there is a high chance that it will come from Colombia.
88. Colombia became one of the world’s major flower suppliers in the 20th century.
89. Colombians have become one of the largest diaspora groups in present-day Spain.
90. Political and economic instability in Latin America provoked several migration waves from this region to Europe and the United States in the early 2000s.
91. I met a couple from Colombia. They came to the Canary Islands to seek work and offer a better life to their children.
92. They have stayed without documents in Spain for many years.
93. The woman is considered to be as strong as a mountain by her family. Thanks to her hard work, she regularised her situation and obtained a residence card for her husband. She was the first to obtain Spanish citizenship in her family. Her husband and children followed in her footsteps.
94. In the Canary Islands, she realised her dream: to see the ocean. In her native Colombia, the sea is often ‘reserved’ for foreign tourists.
95. Much more visual material from Mutis’s botanical expedition to the Kingdom of New Granada is owned by the Royal Botanical Garden archive in Madrid.
96. Botanical illustrations had to enliven scientific books.
97. Even more importantly, these images had to speak for themselves.
98. They were a new lingua franca.
99. Botanical illustrations transformed the Spanish empire.