Spanish professor Joaquin Gomez was born in 1955 in Seville, Spain. He did not realize until later in life that he had been living under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco since he was born.
Gomez first realized the extent of power the Spanish government had over its citizens in a singular incident. Once, while boarding a public bus, he began to whistle a tune. "I didn't realize what song I was whistling," he said. "But a policeman came up to me and told me that I should not be doing it." The policeman told Gomez that he was whistling "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem and a tribute to liberty.
From that moment, Gomez said that he "became involved in everything I could do to promote democracy and protest the dictatorship, although what you could do was very limited."
"We had elections, but it was always a 'yes' or 'yes' choice," he said. Gatherings of more than a certain number of people were forbidden, and "if you had liberal views about anything you could end up in jail."
Franco, the leader of the Spanish dictatorship that Gomez grew up under, was an ally to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Though the totalitarian governments of Germany and Italy had been defeated and expelled during World War II, Spain was still stuck with one. "It destroyed the country and there was no help from outside. People didn't even know what was going on outside of Spain," Gomez said.
According to Gomez, when the dictatorship in Spain did end in 1975, "people were ready to embrace democracy."
Gomez first came to the United States with his then-wife who had studied medicine in Spain. At the time it was extremely difficult to find a residence in Spain, so they came to the U.S. where she found a residence in Maryland. Gomez had taught English while in Spain and decided to continue teaching when he came to the U.S. He received his master's degree at the University of Maryland and his Ph.D. at the Catholic University of America. Gomez later moved to the Rochester area when his wife was hired at Strong Memorial Hospital.
According to Gomez, "The way of life in Spain is totally different than in the United States; it is much harder to get together with people here, and you need a car to go anywhere." Gomez said that the streets of Spain were always full of people you might know, "but if you go into downtown Rochester in the winter, you won't see one person."
The most striking difference for Gomez was the meals and conventional dining schedules here in the United States. He still misses the taste of a certain type of fish, similar to flounder, that he could only get in the southern part of Spain.
Teaching is something that Gomez said he truly enjoys. "To see the students actually learn and enjoy the learning process makes it all worthwhile," he said. He added that he loves Geneseo because "it is open minded, the students are great and the department is supportive." He said that if he could change anything, he would "take away the snow in April."
Gomez said he visits Spain as much as possible, but still misses the family he left behind and the food of his home country. He added, however, that "half of my life has happened here and a lot of me has developed here in America," so he does not want to leave. "Although I was born in Spain and I have a strong foreign accent when I speak, part of me is American, and those things are not what determine if you really love a country."