Mrs. Josefina Lillo López, widow of Joan Valls, is 85 years old and was born in Carcelén, Albacete (Spain). She has six children —four girls sandwiched between two boys—, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, one aged 14, one 3, and another who is only a few months old. In fact, it's not entirely clear whether the third grandchild is 6 or 8 months old, because there are corrections to the notes handwritten in blue ink on the lined pages torn out of a spiral notebook whose scraggly fringes she has meticulously evened up.
Mrs. Lillo explains that she came "to my beloved Barcelona in 1941 aged 7 because of my mother's courage after she was widowed." Her letter is written in old-fashioned but clear handwriting, with paragraphs that alternate between Spanish and Catalan. She goes on: "As was common in those days, my mum and my older siblings arrived first and, after a short time, my oldest sister came down to get the two of us who had stayed in our village. The oldest soon found a job close to home. My other sister worked at the Dique Flotante tailor's shop and, as I was the youngest, I studied retail, short-hand, touch-typing, and got qualified in dressmaking. At 18 I started working at the Pedro Rodríguez shop on Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia, where I worked until I got married". She continues: "I couldn't be happier for how my life has turned out," although she admits to going through a bad patch when she was widowed and "because of the independence process."
Joefina Lillo has penned a letter addressed to “The Honourable Justice Marchena” and sent to this newspaper in which she tells her story, the story of many Catalans. She describes how her mother returned to Barcelona —which she had visited on a honeymoon trip from Albacete— when she became a widow, to "give us a better life", and that she has spent "78 years in this blessed land without forgetting my roots". Mrs. Lillo continues to address the judge directly: “Your Honour, now I am going to explain: this land has been a welcoming land, there are people who came here from all over Spain to build a better life, as it has been, even if some won’t admit it. On October 1 we went to vote for the right to decide in order to have a better life. October 1 was poorly thought through by many. We are a civilized, peaceful people and friendly towards our fellow citizens, each with our own way of expressing ourselves," and she goes on to explain that there was no violence at the polling stations in her town, but she remembers how many people were "attacked without a second glance, with no regard for their age”. In the letter, she declares herself to be “a supporter of Catalan independence" and refers to her perception of Marchena as a "pleasant person with a sense of humor", and asks him to "watch videos [from 1-O] and draw his own conclusions", taking into account that the politicians he is trying "are people of peace, democrats with all that goes along with that." Mrs. Lillo ends the letter with some useful information for the judge: "I think you already know that Esquerra Republicana won the last elections in Catalonia and the PSOE in Spain. Best of luck", she says in farewell.
The letter is representative of the Catalonia of those who have become Catalan by choice and as a result of the life they have had. Those who were born elsewhere, but have built their own future and that of Catalonia in the last decades. A Catalonia that specialists in the politics of tension and social confrontation —and those who hoped to resolve a major political conflict through the courts— refuse to see. A Catalonia built on a diversity that cannot be understood by those who encourage fracture and confrontation on grounds of identity or language, when reality shows that political boundaries are becoming increasingly fluid and that identities are complex and —above all— not comfortably monolithic. These identities require an effort for understanding, empathy, and working together.
Catalonia is lived in Catalan, in Spanish, and in many other languages, and many citizens live their lives bilingually, without exclusivity or an exclusive component to their identity. If there is a message from the results of the April 28 elections, it is that Spain will have to work to build a consensus, if the country is to progress, and that this is tied to dialogue and de-escalation. In Catalonia, the votes show perseverance and also the desire to broaden the social base with an independence message that is more aspirational than identity-based.
After the second election cycle, in May, and while waiting for the ruling of the Supreme Court, there will be time for negotiation, pacts, and consensus, for coalition governments, political agreements that help the country move forward, and there will come a time for the courage to negotiate. This is what many like Josefina Lillo have asked for: those who were born elsewhere and who built their country where they chose to.