Se habla español

M. Leslie Smith '02 is Moravian's fourth Fulbright scholarship winner in as many years. She will go to the University of Madrid in Spain in the fall to explore an era that Spaniards would prefer to forget: the early years of the Franco regime.

"When I started, I didn't even know who Franco was," said Smith. She graduated with Honors in Spanish for a paper called "The Literary Portrayal of the Roles of Spanish Women in Four Post-Civil War Novels," supervised by Carmen Ferrero-Pino, assistant professor of Spanish and chair of the Foreign Language Department this year. The paper became her Fulbright application.

Smith did not come to college to study literature in any language. "I came as an accounting major," she said. "But I thought if I saw one more supply and demand curve..."

But it was her dream to be fluent in a foreign language, and she had studied Spanish in high school. "So I went into an honors Spanish III class and I couldn't understand one word this lady was saying," she admits. She had to drop it and go back, taking a solid year of grammar to bolster her fluency.

In the summer of 2000, she traveled to Mexico with a group led by instructor Flor Maria Buitrago. "I was fascinated by how I was treated as a woman," she said. "Appalled, actually." She was disturbed by the machismo of Mexican men, the feeling of being eyed and ogled, the comments made to her on the street. "I felt like: What century am I in? I'm not even a person here."

That experience, courses she took in women's studies, and her burgeoning knowledge of Spanish history combined to create the topic of her paper. She compared the protagonists of four novels written during or about the Franco regime: The Back Room (1978) by Carmen Martín Gaite, Time of the Doves (1962) by Mercè Rodoreda, Nada (1945) by Carmen Laforet and The Hive (1951) by Camilo José Cela, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1989.

But when Smith went to Salamanca, Spain, on a research trip last summer, she found Spanish women, whether rural or urban, peasant or academic, reluctant to be interviewed about the Franco years. "The fact that they wouldn't talk to me was an argument in itself," she said. She wrote her paper from the books themselves and from academic criticism, but she was able to include almost no first-hand accounts of being female during the '30s in Spain.

However, she found several references to a magazine for women called Y (in Spanish, "and") edited and published by women of the Phalange (Franco's right-wing party) from 1938 to 1945. No library in North America, including the Library of Congress, has this short-lived but influential journal. Smith's Fulbright project is to explore Y, with the eventual goal of making it available to English-speaking readers.

Of her Fulbright award, she says: "I'm excited. I'm horrified. I'm frightened. But I'm mostly excited by the person I'm going to be at the end of this nine months."


M. Leslie Smith ’02 chats with her advisor, Carmen Ferrero-Pino, assistant professor of Spanish.

Photo: Michael P. Wilson