Spanish culture—enthralling bullfights, trancelike flamenco dancing, and picaresque novels—is heavily influenced by history. Similarly, Latin American culture—relatable telenovelas, percussion-based salsa music, and spirited football (soccer) games—would not be what it is today were it not for the triumphs celebrated and hardships endured by past generations.

To truly appreciate these cultures, we need to look at the historic events that shaped life in Spain and Latin America. Let’s explore these events and the incredible works of music, film, and literature they inspired. You may very well gain a new perspective on your relationship with Spanish culture.

The Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War has been called “the opening act of World War II.” Historians cite the Spanish general election held on June 28, 1931, which resulted in the creation of a democratic government and the exile of Spanish King Alfonso XIII, as a catalyst for the conflict. Liberal parties were elected into power in 1936, much to the chagrin of Francisco Franco. He and a large group of army officers rose up in revolt to restore the Spain of old.

Following two and a half years of conflict and millions of lives lost, Franco and nationalist forces won the war on March 28, 1939. Franco ruled over Spain as a dictator for almost 40 years, controlling the population through tribalism and terror. Franco and his dictatorship died in 1975, but the impact of his regime can still be felt today, and Spanish culture is influenced by a collective desire to never allow another dictator to take power.

Spanish Culture in Film 

Spain’s painful, necessary metamorphosis from dictatorship to a republic is expressed effortlessly in Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth.” This dark fairy tale follows Ofelia, a young girl who meets a mythical, mysterious faun who promises to whisk her away from her fascist oppressors. All Ofelia must do, she is assured by her new friend, is journey through a labyrinth. “[A] labyrinth is essentially a place of transit, an ethical, moral transit to one inevitable centre,” explained del Toro. “You think of the transit of Spanish society from the 1940s to the incredible explosion of the post-Franco period. The 1980s in Spain were like the 1960s in the rest of the world!”

Pan’s Labyrinth is one of several films covered in Novelists of Post-War Spain, an online course offered in The University of Texas Permian Basin’s online Master of Arts in Spanish program. This course explores the social and literary development in Spain after the Spanish Civil War, with an emphasis placed on novels and films from the 1940s onward.

The Argentine Revolution

Looking at the Plaza de Mayo, a swatch of greenery and red bricks at the heart of Buenos Aires, you wouldn’t think that so many of Argentina’s most significant historic events took place there, but they did. This trend continues to this very day. Each and every Thursday, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo gather here wearing white scarves and brandishing signs with the names of their kidnapped children.

As part of a series of political coups—backed by the United States—the Argentine military overthrew the government of Isabel Perón, the world’s first female president, in 1976. The military dictatorship, or junta, waged what came to be known as the “Dirty War,” not against an outside force but against the Argentinian people. Dubbed “terrorists,” left-wing activists were kidnapped and killed by the thousands and came to be known as “the missing” or desaparecidos. Among the desaparecidos were pregnant women, whose children were delivered to orphanages, sold on the black market, or given to families in favor of the regime.

The junta relinquished power by agreeing to democratic elections in 1983. However, its Dirty War has forever changed the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who continue searching for the 30,000 desaparecidos.

Latin American Culture in Music and Literature

20th Century Spanish American Prose is a course offered in our online MA in Spanish program that delves into the complex relationship between Latin American countries and their dictators through the analysis of novels, songs, and films. Through this course, students gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to overcome the trauma caused by violence and oppression.

“Kiss of the Spider Woman,” written by Molina Puig in 1976, is one such novel, taking students on a trip through the minds of two Argentinian prisoners. Valentin is a political prisoner and revolutionary, while Molina is a gay window dresser. Lacking a traditional narrator, Kiss of the Spider Woman employs dialogue and stream of consciousness to depict the unlikely bond that forms between these prisoners.

Musician Rubén Blades’s song “Desapariciones” is yet another work that focuses on the disappearances that took place throughout Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, and it does so head-on. Blades sings of wives, siblings, and parents in search of lost family members, injecting minute details of their lives to drive home that real people were snatched from their homes. “Where do the disappeared go,” sings Blades in the English translation. “Look in the water and in the bushes. And why is it that they disappear? Because we’re not all the same.”

Explore Spanish and Latin American Culture at UT Permian Basin

Out of the hardships endured by Spain and Latin American countries was born a proud, vibrant culture that endures. Gaining a deeper understanding of this culture is essential for anyone wishing to work closely with Spanish-speaking communities. However, to succeed in graduate school and beyond, aspiring professionals must also learn how to look at language and literature through the lens of Spanish culture, and they can do so by pursuing an online MA in Spanish.

UT Permian Basin’s online MA in Spanish provides a comprehensive overview of Spanish language, literature, and culture. Throughout our program, you’ll explore Spanish teaching methodology and learn how to apply the methodological approaches to the linguistic analysis of Spanish literature, preparing you for challenges and opportunities encountered in graduate school and related professions, such as translator or ESL/bilingual teacher. Courses are entirely online and taught exclusively in Spanish, and you’ll be joined (virtually) by fellow graduate students who share your passion for Spanish linguistics. Upon graduating, you’ll be awarded a prestigious degree and have gained a specialized skill set that’ll prove invaluable in your career.

There’s an entire world to be discovered. Apply to our online MA in Spanish program to gain a new cultural perspective, expertise, and specialized knowledge that will help open the door to new opportunities in your career. Haven’t yet completed a bachelor’s degree? Consider our online Bachelor of Arts in Spanish—the only online program of its kind in the UT System!