Mexico pays tribute to the architectural legacy of Spanish exiles


Mexico is paying tribute to the architectural legacy of Spanish exiles who fled the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime with an exhibition that opened this week at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

“Exile expelled many people from my country, also many architects,” Spanish Ambassador to Mexico Juan Lopez-Doriga said at the opening on Tuesday of “80 años ... Presencia del exilio español en la arquitectura mexicana” (80 years ... Presence of Spanish Exiles in Mexican Architecture).

Accompanied by academics and exiles’ children, the ambassador said that this year marks the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship carrying Republican exiles, who found a second home in Mexico.

Mexico was the country that took in the largest number of well-known Spanish architects - nearly two dozen - divided into three generations: those who had established careers in Spain, those who were starting to emerge and those who graduated during the war.

The exhibition pays homage to their contributions with panels that honor the architects, many of whom finished their careers in Mexico and never returned to Spain.

But, above all, the exhibition revolves around the works that these Spanish architects developed in Mexico and marked the construction techniques of a country that was achieving modernization.

One of the greatest symbols of exile architecture is the Sports Palace in Mexico City, inaugurated in 1968, with an unmistakable dome fortified with concrete shells designed by Felix Candela, one of the most renowned Spanish architects.

Among those attending the presentation was Maya Segarra, an academic and daughter of architect Enrique Segarra, who graduated in 1934 in Spain, won the National Architecture Prize in 1935 and went into exile in Mexico in 1938.

“The refugees arrived in Mexico and were integrated into this country, where they learned a lot, it was a country that was going through great modernization and political, social, architectural and urban changes,” Segarra said.

She added that the architectural legacy of the exiled Spaniards in Mexico was a “testimony that magnificent and fruitful encounters can exist between two countries.”

The exhibition also has a section dedicated to the children of exiles who had successful architectural careers in the Latin American country.

Among them is Aida Perez, who arrived in Mexico with her parents in 1942, when she was only 3 and ended up working as an architect for the Mexican president.

“As you can see, (the Spanish legacy) is very important, Candela is one of the most famous architects in the world and, fortunately, he was here,” Perez, born in 1938 in Barcelona, told EFE.

The architect, who attended a school for exiles called Colegio Madrid and later studied at the UNAM’s School of Architecture, said the exhibition was “wonderful.”

“My parents - lucky them - adapted well. My mother saw the pier full of people when she was going to disembark; so much joy, marimbas and all that. The country conquered her,” she said excitedly about the arrival of her family in Mexico.

Ernesto Casanova, president of the Spanish Athenaeum of Mexico, said that the Latin American country was “one of the most important nations in the history of Spanish exile,” noting that fleeing one’s country “is painful and traumatic for those who live it.”

“We must transmit to the new generations a message that all these events should not be repeated, now when there are resurgent voices throughout the world that proclaim hatred and intolerance,” Casanova said.

Just last month, the 80th anniversary of the Spanish exile was on the agenda during Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s official visit to Mexico.

After meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Sanchez visited El Colegio de Mexico, an academic institution founded in 1938 by President Lazaro Cardenas to welcome Republican intellectuals and artists who fled the Civil War.

Artists and scientists from many disciplines, such as poet Leon Felipe; philosopher Jose Gaos; physician Isaac Costero; neurologist Gonzalo Rodriguez Lafora; anthropologists Pedro Carrasco and Angel Palerm; and politician Jose Giral, who was president of the Republican government in exile, joined the academic institution.

In 2001, the work of El Colegio de Mexico was recognized with the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences for strengthening ties between Mexico and Spain.

In a lecture, Sanchez asked “forgiveness” from exiles of the Spanish Civil War and Franco dictatorship, and he thanked Mexico for taking in the thousands of Spaniards escaping from their country.

“The Mexican solidarity of those war times is admirable,” Sanchez said, thanking Mexico for giving a second “homeland” to those who escaped Spain.

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla.