Catalunya USA

Letter to NYT Arts Editor

Dear New York Times Arts Editor,

I suggest that you take a second look at your article about the decline of bullfighting in Catalonia. In the interest of romanticizing a Spanish cultural anachronism, your staff writer Michael Kimmelman appropriated issues of Catalan nationalism and regional politics that have little to do with the bullfighting debate.

I am an American living in Barcelona, and I can tell you that while my Catalan friends and family are certainly anti-bullfighting, their feelings on the issue have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that bullfighting is a Spanish tradition. Lumping together animal rights issues and nationalist politics confuses the issue and belittles the nationalist (or as your writer puts it in more incendiary terms, “separatist”) movement. It is unfair to the anti-bullfighting activists and to the Catalan nationalists.

I would hardly call Catalonia a “persistently separatist-minded region of Spain.” Did Mr. Kimmelman even leave his hotel room during his visit to our city? Certainly not long enough to find any actual “separatists” to speak with. His article quotes a British travel writer and a right-wing bullfighting columnist who works for one of the most conservative newspapers in Spain. I know it’s the arts section, but come on, could you insist on at least the semblance of objectivity?

If politics are going to figure in an arts article, the writer has the responsibility to research the issues. “Research” means talking to someone who is not a British travel writer “who has lived here.” Seriously? A British travel writer? If Mr. Kimmelman needed to find someone who spoke English to interview for this piece, he could have found one of the “separatist” Catalan ministers of parliament or a protester outside the bullring. Take a look at this picture from your own slideshow:


Several signs in English. Do you think any of these rabid separatist protesters would have turned down an interview with the New York Times?

By the way, the other sign next to them, printed on a Spanish (not Catalan) flag in Spanish (not in Catalan) reads, “The great national embarrassment.” The nation in question being Spain, not Catalonia.

Instead of interviewing any of these involved parties, Mr. Kimmelman spoke with a British travel writer, and then dutifully copied down this travel writer’s bewildering comparison between the ban on bullfighting and the law requiring schools to teach lessons primarily in Catalan. He then copied down a quote from this writer calling Catalans “vain” and “insecure” about their culture. This is about as insensitive and ignorant a statement you could make about the Catalan people and their history, yet your writer chose to include it in his article without any counterpoint whatsoever.

I was ashamed to see such a quote in the New York Times. Just last week in the travel section, there was an article about Basque culture, bemoaning the fact that the dictatorships of the previous century nearly stamped out Basque language and culture. Now this week you run this drivel suggesting that Catalans are separatist Spanish-haters for teaching their children a language that existed before there was even a country called “Spain”? Do you even speak to the editors of the other sections? Or even do any research into the historical background of your articles? You could even just glance at Wikipedia:

“As in the rest of Spain, the Franco era (1939–1975) in Catalonia saw the annulment of democratic liberties, the prohibition and persecution of parties…the annulment of the statute of autonomy, the banning of many specifically Catalan institutions, and the complete suppression of the Catalan-language press…During the first years, all resistance was energetically suppressed, the prisons filled up with political prisoners, and thousands of Catalans went into exile. In addition, 4000 Catalans were executed between 1938 and 1953, among them the former president of the Generalitat.” [History of Catalonia,]

Just last week over dinner, my husband’s uncle recalled that during the dictatorship, teachers were banned from speaking Catalan in the classroom and even had to fear their own students, some of whom had parents in the Franco regime, who could potentially report any remotely Catalanist activities to their parents and cause the teacher to be incarcerated or “disappeared.” Is it any wonder that the end of the dictatorship in the 1970’s heralded an era of renewed interest in fostering Catalan culture, including the language? Without laws requiring the teaching of Catalan in schools, it is likely that the language would have been yet another casualty of the Franco regime. Is it fair to call Catalans “vain” and “insecure” about their culture in the context of their struggle to prevent its utter annihilation?

Neither bullfighting nor the Spanish language have ever been in any danger of extinction. As distasteful as bullfighting may be to Catalans and other groups all over Europe, tourism and die hard local fans of bullfighting will ensure that bullrings continue to host fights in many cities in Spain. And with six million Catalan speakers within Catalonia compared to 40 million Spanish speakers in Spain alone, the Spanish language is hardly threatened by the teaching of the local language in Catalan schools.

While the two issues are not related as your article suggests, they do have a common solution: moving to another region! No one who moves to Catalonia should be shocked or outraged by the cultural differences they encounter here. Political circumstances have put Catalonia within the modern Spanish state, but lines on a map do not imply cultural homogeneity. Just think of the cultural diversity within the United States. I am a native New Yorker, and would never move to Texas for example, because I find rodeos cruel, oppose the death penalty, and prefer to live in a place where I can get around without a car. I do not have the right, however, to move to Texas and then accuse Texans of anti-Americanism, separatist tendencies, or cultural “vanity” simply because their traditions are different from mine.

If you are Spanish and move to Catalonia, you should inform yourself of the local customs and laws and make an educated decision about whether or not you can tolerate the differences you will encounter here. And if you are a writer for the New York Times, you should study the context of your articles and present issues in a balanced light. In this article Mr. Kimmelman carelessly drags Catalans through the mud, gratuitously marginalizing their embattled cultural identity for the sake of romanticizing a brutal relic of Spanish culture. I hope the New York Times can find a more positive and constructive use for its journalistic clout in the future.


Jodi Neufeld Gimeno
New York and Barcelona

12 replies on “Letter to NYT Arts Editor”

Thank you so much for this very explanatory, clear and informed response. I am a Catalan living in England who was as outraged as you were by this article, and I cannot thank you enough for finding the right words to set that mess right. It’s good to see people who move to Catalonia and bother to understand it and appreciate it. Not everyone feels like they should try. Thank you miss Neufeld.

Dear Jodi,

Thank you very much for your post. As a Catalan I was extremely concerned after reading the NYT article. The author is seriously failing to understand that bull’s fighting is not a cultural exquisiteness meant to be preserved but a ruthless tradition, a colossal shame for any civilized community. Catalan people as well as most Europeans care about animal rights. This is why we don’t want any bull’s torturing around.

Thank you very much!! It is a great article, it is not easy to explain about our contry and our culture. You do it in a great way. Thanks again!


Defending and teaching the Catalan language is a good thing. But no child in Catalonia can be educated in the Spanish language in any public school. Catalan kids are taught only 2 hours of Spanish in schools, and the option for parents to choose an education in Spanish does not exist in practice. Does this seem balanced or fair to you?

It is clear you don’t like bullfighting. But many Catalans do. They are no less Catalan because of this. Your suggestion that those that want an education in Spanish and/or enjoy bullfighting in Catalonia should leave for other regions is pseudo-fascist and frankly surprising for someone that claims to be a cosmopolitan New Yorker.

Diversity in Catalonia is key to the richness of its society. To imply, as you do, that residents in Catalonia should adhere to a certain cultural and social profile, is deeply flawed. During the Franco years, Barcelona was the beacon of modernity, diversity and tolerance in Spain. Madrid was a dusty, backward-looking village. These roles have largely reversed in the last two decades, and attitudes like yours only help Barcelona sink deeper. Shame.


PD: I oppose bullfighting, but respect people that do, and certainly don’t consider them any less Catalan/Spanish because of their customs.

When someone tells me they support bullfighting, I don’t consider them less Catalan/Spanish. I consider them less human.

Now, as long as that is clear, if you’d like to debate the political issues, I’m delighted to do so!

The language issue:
Funny how in cosmopolitan New York, all schools are taught in English, yet children of Chinese, Pakistani, Mexican, Ethiopian, etc etc descent all manage to learn their native languages from family and social circles, without claiming for public schooling in those languages.

Funny how I had *less* than two hours of Spanish language education per day for only five years in an English-speaking country, yet I was able to write a thesis about the novels of Gabriel García Márquez entirely in Spanish, communicate fluently when I lived in Madrid, and go on to teach Spanish myself to high school students. Do I think two hours is fair? Yup. In fact the children would be better served by switching those two hours for English classes.

The bullfighting issue:
I’m sure there are plenty of Catalans who like bullfighting. There are plenty of South Americans in New York who enjoy cockfighting, but that doesn’t mean it should be permitted by law.

Are there plenty of places where you can watch bullfighting with little controversy and educate your children in Spanish? Yes. If you feel that strongly about it, and you are not able to lobby the government to see your point of view, then moving is a reasonable option. No one is chasing you out with a pseudo-fascist pitchfork, but it is a choice you can make if the conditions are really that deplorable for you.

Perhaps as an American, with a more federalist mindset, I am more open to the idea that different regions of a country are bound to have very different laws. The type of homogeneity among state laws that you are suggesting is just weird. In New York, for example, schools are given an allotment of “snow days” that permit the cancellation of classes for bad winter weather. If I am from Florida and move to New York, should I be outraged that my children go to school fewer days per year because of frozen roads? If as a New Yorker I move to Florida, should I demand snow days, even though the winters are mild in my new state? The Catalan language is as endemic to Catalonia as snow is to New York. Asking for school that’s not in Catalan is like asking New York to get rid of its snow days. If you don’t understand this comparison, then you don’t understand Catalonia.

(By the way, I hate snow, and it is one of the reasons I chose to move to Barcelona.)

To sum up:
I’m not suggesting anyone “adhere to a cultural profile.” There are many cultural profiles in Barcelona – Indian, Pakistani, Moroccan, Filipino, and more – and they all add something special to the cultural mix. But if any of them wanted to start publicly torturing a bull for profit, would you support them blindly simply because it’s their time-honored tradition?

The point of my letter to the Times is to show that animal rights issues are not directly connected to nationalist politics, and that to mix them so carelessly leads to exactly the kind of distracting argument that you and I are engaging in here. It’s wrong for the NYT to glorify bullfighting. It’s also wrong to make the case by means of a sensitive political situation that just confuses the issue.


“The Catalan language is as endemic to Catalonia as snow to New York”. True, but so is Spanish. Roughly 50% of people in Catalonia use Spanish as their primary language at home. Common sense suggests they should have the choice to get an education in Spanish, just like they get it in Catalan. Let me remind you that by law, there are 2 official languages in Catalonia, not just one.

The fact that you speak mainly Catalan at home (if that is the case) does not make you a better Catalan than myself, so please don’t brush me off with “you don’t understand Catalonia” just because we think differently. Again, Catalonia always was and should be an open, tolerant society, as this inward-looking of yours is very harmful in my opinion. Even Texans would probably agree to this.


The comment “you don’t understand Catalonia” is a general “you,” not you personally. Your Catalan-ness is not under attack, Daniel.

Maybe the day will come when the public will vote into office a party that will increase Spanish-language education (as they have in Euskadi). For now, we have two official languages, both taught in public schools proportionally as determined by law.

Excellent article! Shame some people favour bullfighting just based on nationalist pride, and even mix its defence with the fact that schools in Catalonia teach in Catalan (should they do it in Swahili, I wonder?). Furthermore, if bullfighting is such a Catalan tradition too, how come this tradition expresses itself solely in Spanish? Killing an animal and enjoy the sad and cruel spectacle should be banned in any civilised society!


I do not enjoy bullfighting, but it is a tradition that expresses itself not just in Spanish but also in Portuguese and French. That bullfighting were popular all around Iberia and its environs except for Catalonia seems unlikely. Why don’t be all try to be more balanced and leave our personal agendas aside.



a great answer to the “refurbished” spanish way of considering catalan affairs.

thank you

VERY GOOD ARTICLE JODI! What a good response. There is nothing much to say to this New youker journalist, as Jodi has said everything.
And a response to Daniel Nart, I see you don´t put yourself in the bull´s skin. Why on earth can a bull be tortued and killed, just because humans like it? Even if there are thouands who like it, numbers don´t count. Sensibility counts!
You are one of those who doesn´t seem to see that animals have feelings. I´ve lived on a farm so I know about animals, not like you. I´m vegetarian, so don´t tell me about the farm animals, which I´m also against, and which lots of people use as an excuse for other animal abuse, which doesn´t seem to be persecuted.
Just think twice before writing again, thanks.

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