Over five centuries have passed since the harrowing acts of the Spanish Inquisition, when thousands of Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or face torture and execution, had they not fled.
In 2015 the Spanish government implemented a law that sought to make reparations for this dark time in their history. If you could prove your lineage from the affected Jewish population of the time, you could be granted Spanish citizenship while maintaining your current citizenship — a notion that sounded great on paper, but was extremely difficult to accomplish.
I come from a deeply traditional Sephardic family on my father’s side and the cultural importance of the traditions we practice has been ingrained in me. It was this that drove me to apply for Spanish citizenship through this new law. I had four years in which to apply (and complete the application), so I began immediately. The process was intense and confusing. I had unknowingly leapt headfirst into a bureaucratic spiral, quintessentially Kafkaesque at every turn with no foreseeable end in sight. Aside from the mountains of paperwork I needed to submit to prove my Sephardic lineage, I was also required to take a Spanish language test (a minimum of level A2 proficiency) and a Spanish socio-cultural history exam.
In early 2017 I figured I would stand a better chance at learning the language as well as completing the other parts of my application by living in Spain itself, so I packed up and moved to Madrid for six months. Aside from the annual use of Ladino at my family’s Pesach seder, I knew almost no Spanish. I was starting at square one. I had five months in which to reach the required level before the language test. I enrolled in a language school and attended classes every day, immersing myself in the sights and sounds of Spanish life in the process. Two months after taking the required exams and moving back home, I received my results. I had passed, to my relief, and could finally move on to the final phase of my application.
It was at this point that I sought the help of a law firm in Barcelona as the submission instructions frankly proved too confusing to do alone. The penultimate step in proceedings was an in-person meeting with a Spanish notary, which took place in Barcelona last year. The notary is assigned to meticulously inspect your documents and provide his stamp of approval. After the notary meeting, I waited six months to hear my status — approved! Lastly, I had to submit one final criminal record clearance and unabridged birth certificate (both translated, of course, I had had to do this more times than I care to say).
The process was testing, from both the Spanish and South African bureaucracies, but after a tumultuous four-year journey, my application was finalised. In September of this year, I pledged an oath to the king and queen of Spain and received my passport shortly after.
I am just one of an estimated 4000 applicants that have actually received their Spanish citizenship by these means, though it has been reported that over 127 000 applications have been submitted since the inception of the law. Unfortunately, the opportunity to apply expired on the 1st October of this year but we can only hope that the law comes into play again. I do hope, however, that if the Spanish lawmakers were to reinstate the law, that they would revise the application process and make it more accessible for people to apply. The countless hurdles and red tape definitely deterred and proved too cumbersome to many would-be applicants, not to mention the financial strain it would cause.
As a Sephardic Jew, this citizenship represents something significant to me. It is a solidified connection to my ancestry and a nod to those who came before me as well as a small triumph in itself at overcoming this long-winded and grueling process. This law, though short and convoluted, marked a massive step forward in Spain’s acknowledging its historic atrocities and a start in the way of reparations. It by no means rights the wrongs of the past, but it is progress nonetheless.
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