The pace of Gibraltar’s annual trek towards National Day – at the time of writing this piece – is hotting up to match the soaring temperatures of August. The celebrations will begin officially on Friday 24th August with the opening of the fair, and will culminate on 10th September, National Day itself. The Rock is already festooned in the traditional red and white colours of Gibraltar’s flag as Gibraltarians decorate their homes, their windows and balconies; bars, cafes, restaurants, yachts, offices and official buildings get in on the act, and even our iconic Moorish Castle glows in our national colours at night, writes Jackie Anderson.
The celebrations themselves are organised by the SDGG, the Self Determination for Gibraltar Group with the collaboration of Gibraltar Cultural Services. The SDGG announced the programme of events in late July and they also launched the traditional Shop Window and Patio Display competitions. While we may all love to celebrate together, we do enjoy a bit of competition and this is no more clearly evidenced that in the keen attention with which shop owners apply their powers of imagination and creativity to their window displays, delighting local shoppers if slightly bewildering visiting tourists. But then, this provides no greater an opportunity than to pause in one’s travel through Main Street to explain to a questioning tourist what the displays, the colours, the flags and the essence of “Gibraltarianess” that these portray are all about.
Of course, the issues of identity, nationality and patriotism are complex and bound up with as many negative emotions as they are with positive affirmations. As Gibraltarians, we have a habit of trying to define ourselves by what we are not. We are not Spanish for sure, although, language and custom aside, the majority of us are descended from Spaniards and count close Spanish relatives as part of our families. And we are not British, at least not in terms of solely race or ethnic or cultural identity, except in as much as many of us can lay claim to British ancestry because of the British colonial presence. But we are British (herein lies the confusion that so many non-Gibraltarians experience, perhaps) when it comes to nationality – we have chosen, emphatically, not once but twice in living memory, to be so.
There is of course, no reason, as a leading Gibraltarian academic suggested to me recently, as to why there should be any conceptual conflict between being Gibraltarian and being British. A Scot can be as British as any person from the Home Counties for example, and still have a distinct cultural and national identity. The same can be said for the Welsh, and perhaps the Cornish and maybe even Northumbrians, Cumbrians and Lancastrians, and, judging by the voting in the 2016 referendum, Londoners. Our history and our democratically elected choices are what have led us Gibraltarians to be British and we can be loud and proud about the red, white and blue as we want to be, and so, by virtue of our contribution to British history as well as to British society and by exercising our democratic rights to self-determination and national choice, we can openly enjoy fish and chip suppers and the sound of leather on willow as much as torta de patata en la playa, and still be proud Gibraltarians.
I need to give a nod to the difficulties that Gibraltar experiences as a result of political machinations at the UN, Europe, Madrid and London that are somewhat our of our control, much as our brave politicians strive on our behalf. These difficulties tend to serve to unite Gibraltarians in a form of sub-conscious self-defence and, while so doing, we use our moments of introspection to ponder on what it is that makes us what we are. This is the process that we are in the throes of as a community: we are trying to understand ourselves, explore why we do the things we do, who we are and what this means at a time when our community is open and mixed and an example to the rest of the world, a world that is closing up in the type of nationalism that segregates rather than celebrates.
It is this particular element of being Gibraltarian – the openness, the welcoming hands we extend to all peoples from all backgrounds and ethnicity and culture, the acceptance (and I am generalising as I am aware that not every Gibraltarian is quite as open-minded as I am describing the “nation” of Gibraltarians to be) – that we can be most proud of. And alongside this, is the joy of being free to express our beliefs and free to assert our democratic choices. When we wave the red and white flags on 10th September and we bedeck our streets and estate with red and white bunting and the occasional Union Jack, it is this sense of freedom to be openly Gibraltarian that perhaps we are most celebrating. As the anthem says: “May you be forever free, Gibraltar my own land.”
The Self Determination for Gibraltar Group, with the collaboration of Gibraltar Cultural Services, has once again excelled itself in organising the 2018 National Day celebrations.
Have a great National Day!