The Hispanic – a major world culture

Spanish is the language of the Hispanic civilization, one of the greatest cultural groups in the world. Originating in northern Spain after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Spanish or Castilian language rapidly spread through the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages. Spanish imperial expansion in the 16th and 17th centuries caused the Spanish language to spread even further; to Northern and Western parts of Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, vast areas of North America, and the Philippines. The first book completely written in Spanish dated from around the year 1190, “the Cantar de Mio Cid”. However, the first written text that uses Spanish language is dated on the 13th June 964, the so called “Codex 46”.


Cantar de Mio Cid
Unknown. Page from ‘Cantar de Mio Cid’. Early Iberian romance language. Composed sometime between 1195-1207


Together with its influence in international politics and trade and commerce, the growing prestige of Spanish in the cultural terrain makes it a highly desired language. Spain is the fifth world book producer in titles. Ten Spanish-language authors have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is the language of reputed Latin American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez (the author most quoted after Shakespeare and Descartes), Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Fuentes. Furthermore, it is the mother tongue of Oscar-winning Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar; of unique painters Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso, the muralists of Mexico, the Nueva Troba Cubana. Spanish is the language of LiberationTheology1 and Spanish Mysticism2; the language of passion and soccer; of Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazolla, of tango, the Peruvian cajón,3 flamenco and the Spanish guitar. (Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image)


In May 1606 Pedro Fernández de Quirós (1565-1614), leading an expedition that departed from Peru, reached the Vanuatu archipelago and landed on a large island which he took to be part of the southern continent. He named it La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo (The Southern Land of the Holy Spirit). The island is still called Espiritu Santo. In the 19th century some Australian Catholics claimed that Quirós had in fact discovered Australia, in advance of the Protestants Abel Tasman and James Cook. The Archbishop of Sydney from 1884 to 1911, Francis Cardinal Moran, asserted this to be a fact, and it was taught in Catholic schools for many years. 

Early Map of Australia

Was Quirós’ Espíritu Santo in north Queensland rather than in Vanuatu?
This 1753 map (above) seems to support such possibility.


Spanish was the language of the Armada, the Conquistadors, the first Southern Seas explorers who desperately looked for the “missing” continent of Australia, Insurgents who fought for the Independence from Spain, Revolutionaries who tried to resist Capitalism in Latin America, Spanish Republicans in Mexico, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Cuban refugees in Miami, Chicanos in La frontera/border land between the U.S.A. and Mexico, Chileans in Australia, Chabacanos in the Philippines, Latinos in Los Angeles and Sephardic Jews. It is also the language learned by the Nobel Peace Prize Guatemalian Rigoberta Menchú Tum and the Zapatistas in Chiapas, as well as many other indigenous peoples throughout Latin America. Not only is Spanish the language of the Prince of Asturias’ Prizes, sponsored by the Spanish Crown, but it is also one of the official languages of United Nations and many major international organizations. Spanish is the language of hispanophiles worldwide.

Students find Hispanic cultural icons very appealing because of their seamless integration with popular American culture. Pop music singers such as Jennifer Lopez or Ricky Martin are recognised worldwide. For many, Latino music and dance, Mexican food, Spanish tapas, and soccer are good entry points to the Hispanic culture. Getting to know and experience the many flavours of this vibrant culture is what drives many students to seek exchange opportunities and spend a few months in a Spanish-speaking country.


English School. 'English ships and the Spanish Armada, August 1588' 16th century
English School. ‘English ships and the Spanish Armada, August 1588’ 16th century


Most Australians are familiar with a myriad names, event and institutions related to the cultures of Spain and Latin America:

Painters: Goya, Velázquez, Picasso, Dalí, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Michelena, Botero, Guayasamín…

Writers: Federico García Lorca, Miguel de Cervantes, Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, José Enrique Rodó, Juan Zorrilla, Juan Carlos Onetti, Mario Benedetti, César Vallejo, Andrés Bello…

Singers and Musicians: Jennifer López, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, Enrique Iglesias, Carlos Gardel, Cristina Aguilera, Jorge Drexler. Joaquín Rodrigo, Isaac Albéniz Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Juan Diego Florez, Miguel Fleta…

Public buildings: Sagrada Familia Barcelona cathedral, Pre-Columbian Inca and Azteca religious buildings, Macchu Pichu, Teotihuacan, Bilbao Guggenheim Museum…

The movies: Buñuel, Almodóvar, Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Pilar Miró, Amenábar, Gael García Bernal, Salma Hayek…

Popular culture: Bullfighting, Mexican mariachis, Spanish flamenco, Catalan human towers, Rioplatense tango, Colombian salsa, San Fermines, Tomatina, carnaval, Mexican Hat Dance, La Bamba, Candombe uruguayo, Señor de los Milagros procesión, …

Sports: Maradona, Rafael Nadal, Raúl, Sergio García, Severiano Ballesteros, Daniel Pedrosa, Distéfano, Guillermo Vilas, Alex Crivillé, Fernando Alonso…

Food: Paella, tortilla, tacos, ron, tequila, chile con carne, frijoles, sangría, tapas, guacamole, Cebiche…

Fashion Designers: Balenciaga, Adolfo Domínguez, Roberto Verino, Vittorio y Lucchino, Amaya Arzuaga, Carolina Herrera

Others: Chupa-chups, Lladró…




Singers and musicians

Acción Cultural Española

Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) is a Spanish agency for culture belonging to the public enterprise sector. Following the strategic guidelines of the office of the Secretary of State for Culture of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, its aims are to promote Spain’s cultures and plural art-historical legacy and heritage both in Spain and overseas, to support the competiveness and internationalisation of the creative and cultural sector, and to foster Spain’s presence at particularly significant events and international and universal expositions. More information…


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1. “Liberation theology is a Christian response to the conditions of poverty in Roman Catholic theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described as “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor.”
Berryman, Phillip (1987), Liberation Theology: essential facts about the revolutionary movement in Latin America and beyond, Temple University Press quoted in “Liberation theology” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/11/2014
2. “The Spanish Mystics are major figures in the Catholic Reformation of 16th and 17th century Spain. The goal of this movement was to reform the Church structurally and to renew it spiritually. The Spanish Mystics attempted to express in words their experience of a mystical communion with Christ.”
“Spanish Mystics,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/11/2014
3. “A cajón (Spanish pronunciation: [kaˈxon] (Ka-hon), “crate”, “drawer”, or “box with a hole in it”) is nominally a six sided, box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru, played by slapping the front or rear faces (generally thin plywood) with the hands, fingers, or sometimes various implements such as brushes, mallets, or sticks. Many variants on the basic design are in use, ranging from improvised to professionally manufactured instruments.”
“Cajón” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/11/2014