NewsLatin AmericaTens of thousands of descendants of Spaniards request nationality due to the 'law of grandchildren'

Tens of thousands of descendants of Spaniards request nationality due to the ‘law of grandchildren’

Daniel Melchor Fernandez, a journalist in Mexico City, has requested Spanish nationality thanks to the ‘grandchildren’s law’.Monica Gonzalez Islands

Pacifico Fernandez, a not very tall, brown-haired and Catholic Cantabrian, arrived in Mexico in 1920 when he was only 24 years old. He tried his luck in the country working with cattle, something he knew well from taking care of cows since he was little and ended up putting down roots 10,000 kilometers from Abionzo, his town. After 15 years, already married and with a son, Pacifico decided to return to Spain with the bad luck of arriving a few months before the start of the Civil War, in 1936. After several years of hardship, the family decided to emigrate again and returned back to Mexico in 1939. They never set foot in Spain again. Now, more than a century later, his great-granddaughter, Daniel Melchor Fernandez, aspires to obtain a Spanish passport thanks to the so-called grandchildren law. “I found out from an ad I saw on TikTok from the Spanish government,” she says, smiling at her home in Mexico City. “The stories of migration are impressive,” says Melchor, who imagines his ancestor as a young man who arrived “desperate and alone” in a totally unknown place.

This 32-year-old journalist tells that in 2012 it was his mother who obtained Spanish nationality thanks to her family past, but he and his brothers could not apply for it because they were over 18 years of age and the law excluded them. But with the Democratic Memory law, approved in October, Melchor can now do it and tens of thousands of people who, like him, were left out by the previous law are already applying for their Spanish passport. “In reality, nationality is something very fortuitous. I think my life would have been completely different if I had done this in 2012. Probably, I would live in Spain because I wanted to study Literature there, but now I have my life here”, reflects Melchor, recently arrived from Barcelona, ​​where he has just finished a master’s degree.

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Document of entry into Mexico of Pacifico Fernandez Mantegon, great-grandfather of Daniel Melchor Fernandez.
Document of entry into Mexico of Pacifico Fernandez Mantegon, great-grandfather of Daniel Melchor Fernandez.Monica Gonzalez Islands

The Democratic Memory Law includes in its eighth additional provision the possibility of opting for Spanish nationality within a period of two years. It is designed for the children and grandchildren of political exiles, but also for the descendants of those Spaniards who left the country between 1936 and 1955, the hardest years of the war and the Franco dictatorship, regardless of the reasons. The new rule also refers to children born abroad to mothers who lost their Spanish passport when they married a foreigner. Finally, the text rescues cases such as those of Melchor, those of those children of legal age who, although their parents opted for Spanish nationality with the previous Law of Historical Memory, they could not do so because they were over 18 years of age.

Forecasts of how many people will choose this route are variable and imprecise. Sources from the Ministry of the Presidency, which led the development of the standard, estimate that there will be up to 350,000. But other sources familiar with these processes lower the figure to 100,000. In any case, the law does not provide for expenses or additional personnel to manage the nationality process, so that sooner or later, the structure of consulates and, above all, that of civil registries, which are already working to the limit, will suffer.

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Dozens of people queue to apply for nationality at the Spanish embassy in Buenos Aires (Argentina), on February 16, 2023.
Dozens of people queue to apply for nationality at the Spanish embassy in Buenos Aires (Argentina), on February 16, 2023.Valentina Fusco

“I want to recover Spanish nationality for an identity issue,” says Pilar Moura, a 29-year-old Argentine lawyer. “My grandmother and my great-grandfather never talked about the war and what they had been through because it caused them a lot of anguish and pain. But the scars looked the same. My grandmother lived her whole life thinking about Estivella, her town, in Valencia. She had those typical blue plates everywhere, photos on the walls, the way she cooked… ”, she recalls in a cafe in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires.

Moura’s grandmother came to Argentina by boat when she was eight years old. Her father, a Republican soldier, went into exile with his wife and his six children in 1939, after being defeated by Franco.

Controversy in the application

The application of this law has been peppered with some controversy and confusion in its interpretation. As worded, the first paragraph of the additional provision appears to refer only to descendants of exiles for political, ideological or religious reasons. The wording of the standard was not corrected, but a subsequent instruction from the General Directorate of Legal Security interpreted it and expanded its application. According to sources from the Ministry of Justice, the instruction interprets the intention of the legislator, which was always to expand the assumptions with which to opt for nationality and not limit them, so it should include descendants of Spanish origin, regardless of the reasons for leaving Spain. The text generated confusion in lawyers, civil registries and applicants. And a Francoist entity, the Association for Reconciliation and Historical Truth, has taken the investigation to court.

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Ignacio Nani Diaz, a computer scientist and father of two children, aspires to obtain the nationality of his grandfather Casimiro, born in the Asturian town of Lue. This Argentine still has the two large trunks with which Casimiro embarked when he was a 17-year-old teenager. Encouraged by his parents, he left Lue in search of a better future than Europe offered in 1916, during the World War. Back in Argentina, after several jobs, he managed to save to open a small store that he kept for much of his life.

Ignacio Nani Diaz carries his grandfather's documents under his arm, in line in front of the Spanish embassy in Buenos Aires.
Ignacio Nani Diaz carries his grandfather’s documents under his arm, in line in front of the Spanish embassy in Buenos Aires.Valentina Fusco

The computer scientist is hired by a Spanish company and would like to have the option of crossing the Atlantic, in the opposite direction of his grandfather, to work for a few years in Spain if he obtains nationality. He assures that the reason is also sentimental, to maintain the link with the country that he heard so many stories about. Nani Diaz was one of the first to reserve an appointment at the consulate. She tells that she did it when the law was not yet approved. “Luckily it was approved and today I am here,” she says with a smile from ear to ear.

The Spanish passport opens the doors for descendants of Spaniards to have the same rights as a Spaniard (such as voting in general elections). Although the difficult economic and political situation that several Latin American countries are going through can motivate the emigration of thousands of people, not all intend to do so. “We have already established our lives here and we are not going to leave, but we do it for our children. [quienes tambien pediran su pasaporte]to leave it as an inheritance, so that in the future, if they want, they have the possibility, ”explains Juan Benito, waiting for his turn at the consulate in Buenos Aires.


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