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Episode 64: Un tesoro internacional (International Treasure)

By Duolingo on Thu 06 Aug 2020

There are two places Teresa Valcarce calls home: Spain and the United States. But after discovering that one of her countries never fulfilled a centuries-old promise to the other, Teresa sets out on a mission to track down a missing portrait, and restore it to its rightful home.

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Transcript

Martina: Hey listeners, a quick word on the Spanish spoken by this week's storyteller, who comes from Spain: You'll hear that the "z" is pronounced like "th" in the English word "think" instead of "s" like in Latin America. So coraSonada becomes coraZonada.

Martina: One day in April 2013, Teresa Valcarce entered the United States Capitol on a mission. This office manager and mother of three, who was born and raised in Spain, was determined to speak with a member of Congress.

Teresa: Yo necesitaba ayuda. Había descubierto que Estados Unidos le había hecho una promesa a España que nunca había cumplido.

Martina: Teresa had recently learned that back in 1783 the Continental Congress had promised to hang a portrait, colgar un retrato, of a Spaniard in the U.S. Capitol. Specifically, of Bernardo de Gálvez. He had led hispanic troops against the British during the American Revolution, and he had been instrumental in helping the colonies win the war. There was only one problem: Gálvez's portrait had never been hung.

Teresa: A mí me importa mucho el legado hispano en Estados Unidos, así que decidí pelear y finalmente colgar ese retrato.

Martina: Teresa lived in a district in Maryland represented by Congressman Chris Van Hollen. When she learned that a journalist she knew was going to interview the Congressman, Teresa asked if she could tag along. The journalist accepted, and after the interview, Teresa saw her chance.

Teresa: Yo le dije rápidamente al congresista Van Hollen: "¡Perdone! El Congreso de los Estados Unidos hizo una promesa hace 230 años, pero no la ha cumplido. ¿Usted puede ayudarme?".

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast. I'm Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and gain new perspectives on the world.

The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish, and I'll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again. We also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

A month before Teresa's mission to the U.S. Capitol, she'd gotten a news article from her mother in Spain. The article reported that 230 years earlier, the United States government had failed to fulfill a commitment to the Revolutionary War leader Bernardo de Gálvez. For Teresa, the story in the article felt personal. Gálvez had been born in Málaga, Spain, the same city where Teresa grew up.

Teresa: En el artículo había una carta de 1783 en la que el Congreso de Estados Unidos prometía colgar el retrato de Gálvez. Pero el artículo también decía que ese retrato no existía. Yo no podía creerlo.

Martina: Teresa was born in Spain, but she's also a US citizen. She loves both of her countries equally, and has always been interested in Hispanic heritage on the American continent. Which is why she found the article so troubling. If it was true, it meant that one of her countries had not fulfilled a promise to the other.

Teresa: Yo estaba segura de que la información del artículo no era correcta, así que le escribí al periodista para saber un poco más.

Martina: The article's author, Manuel Olmedo, was a historian. He had discovered a document in which America's Continental Congress agreed to honor the contributions of Spain by placing Gálvez's portrait "in the room in which Congress meets."

Teresa: Manuel me envió ese documento. Yo sabía que ese retrato existía, tenía que estar en alguna parte y yo lo iba a encontrar. Reconocer el papel de España en la independencia de Estados Unidos era muy importante para mí. Le dije a Manuel: "Yo voy a colgar ese retrato en el Capitolio".

Martina: After colonizing America and forcing the conversion of native peoples to Catholicism, Spain entered the American Revolutionary War as an ally of the United States and France in 1779.

Gálvez was the colonial governor of Louisiana, which Spain bought from France before it entered the war. At the time, there was a slavery system in Louisiana, but Spain allowed slaves to buy their freedom and that of others.

Teresa found this history fascinating. Like Gálvez, she had also crossed to the Atlantic to relocate to America.

Teresa: Yo me mudé de España a Washington en 1999. Siete años después, me hice ciudadana de Estados Unidos. Mis tres hijos nacieron en este país y aquí encontré trabajo como secretaria.

Martina: Teresa became convinced that Spain's contributions to the birth and independence of the United States had not been properly recognized.

Teresa: Yo aprendí mucho más sobre España y Estados Unidos cuando estudié el pasado y la historia conjunta de esos dos países.

Martina: Most historians agree that the turning point in the War came when Spanish troops, led by Gálvez, joined French and American forces against the British.

Teresa: Por eso Bernardo de Gálvez fue importante. Conquistó el sur y ayudó al general Washington. ¡El retrato de alguien tan importante tenía que existir!

Martina: Teresa was determined to find out what had happened to the missing portrait. She called one historian after another, then she called the historians of the U.S. Capitol. She called them so many times, they gave her a nickname, "Portrait Lady." Finally, they confirmed that, yes, there was a resolution from 1783 accepting a portrait of Gálvez. But this portrait…didn't exist.

Teresa: El retrato no estaba en ningún lado. Los historiadores del Capitolio no sabían nada de él desde aquella carta de 1783. Yo me había hecho una promesa a mí misma: colgar ese retrato en el Capitolio. Pero… ¿cómo iba a colgar un retrato que no existía? Y además, ¿quién iba a escuchar a una secretaria?

Martina: Armed with all of this information, Teresa approached Congressman Chris Van Hollen in the Capitol in 2013. To her surprise, he said he would help. His office wanted all the information she had. Who was this mysterious Spaniard, Bernardo de Gálvez?

Teresa: Yo trabajé con el congresista durante seis meses y él preparó un informe con muchos detalles. Él se lo envió al Departamento de Arte de la Cámara de Representantes.

Martina: In the U.S. Capitol, the House of Representatives and the Senate each have their own art curators. Teresa knew she needed their support if she was going to secure this long overdue tribute, or homenaje, to Gálvez. But the first response she got was underwhelming.

Teresa: Los historiadores de la Cámara de Representantes me dijeron que aceptaban colgar el retrato pero solo de forma temporal. Mi última opción era el Senado.

Martina: A month after that disappointing answer from the House of Representatives, Teresa got word that the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, was coming to Washington on an official visit. Through a contact in the Spanish embassy, she secured a few minutes with him.

Teresa: Después de nuestra reunión, yo estaba casi segura de que el primer ministro español no me iba a ayudar. ¿Por qué le iba a interesar ayudarme con un retrato olvidado hace tantos años?

Martina: But the prime minister was impressed with Teresa's energy and commitment, so he promised to help. In Washington, he met with President Barack Obama and an influential senator: Bob Menéndez of New Jersey, whose grandparents came from Spain and Cuba. Teresa was invited to meet with Senator Menéndez's staff at the Capitol.

Teresa: Yo sabía que el senador Menéndez tenía el poder de colgar el retrato, así que le ofrecí toda mi ayuda.

Martina: The Senator asked Teresa to gather documents, photos, records, and letters supporting her cause, in order to meet the necessary requirements for petitioning the Senate Ethics Committee. She only had 24 hours to do this.

Teresa: Yo estaba preocupada pero me puse a trabajar. Llamé a mis contactos en universidades, asociaciones y gobiernos. Finalmente, conseguí todos los documentos. Pero… no sabía si todo eso iba a ser suficiente.

Martina: Months went by, until one day, Teresa received a call from Senator Menendez's office. The news was good: the portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez had finally been formally accepted as a gift to the United States. It would have a permanent home on the walls of the Senate!

Teresa: ¡Fue una de las alegrías más grandes de mi vida! Por fin, después de casi dos años de mucho trabajo, Estados Unidos iba a cumplir su promesa. Lloré de emoción, por España y por Estados Unidos… pero enseguida me di cuenta de algo y ¡entré en pánico!

Martina: Teresa had been so busy trying to get the attention of the U.S. government…that she'd overlooked one very important detail. The Senate expected her to provide the portrait of Gálvez. And Teresa…didn't have one.

Teresa: ¡No había ningún retrato! ¡Y yo había dado mi palabra de colgarlo en el Capitolio! ¿Qué iba a hacer?

Martina: Teresa had spent months lobbying the United States Congress…and she had finally succeeded. Yet finding a portrait and sending it to Washington would prove to be a whole different odyssey.

Teresa: Yo llamé a Manuel Olmedo, el historiador que encontró la carta original del siglo XVIII. Si alguien me podía ayudar, era él, así que le dije: "Manuel, necesito un retrato".

Martina: Luckily, Manuel was the vice president of the Historical Society of Bernardo de Gálvez, so he did know of a portrait. It had been commissioned by the King of Spain in the 18th century, but it was kept in a private collection or colección privada, in Málaga.

Teresa: El retrato era de una colección privada. Nosotros queríamos hacer una copia del original para dársela a Estados Unidos. Lo único que nos faltaba era la autorización de la dueña.

Martina: Miraculously, the owner, or dueña, of the original, accepted. Teresa quickly commissioned an artist named Carlos Monserrate, who, like Gálvez, was born in Málaga. In record time, Monserrate created an oil painting, 3 feet by 4 feet.

Teresa: El retrato era simplemente hermoso. Me parecía incluso más bonito que el original. Gálvez está mirando hacia el frente, de uniforme, con pelo blanco y una medalla en su pecho. Era lo más parecido a un retrato del siglo XVIII que podíamos ofrecerle al Capitolio. Y ahora la pregunta era… ¿cómo iba a llegar a Estados Unidos?

Martina: Teresa had to get the portrait to Washington in one piece. So more than two centuries after his first journey across the Atlantic…Bernardo de Gálvez once again made the long journey from Spain to America. But when Teresa went to pick up the package…she saw the box was damaged.

Teresa: Algo había pasado en el transporte porque la caja estaba rota. Yo tenía miedo por el retrato. Estaba muy nerviosa, así que abrí la caja y vi que el marco estaba destrozado. ¡No puedo explicar el terror que sentí! Pero poco después vi que la pintura estaba intacta. El retrato estaba bien.

Martina: Teresa rushed to have the painting reframed in time for its unveiling. On December 9th, 2014, over a year after Teresa's quest first began, it was time for the ceremony of unveiling and cutting the ribbon, or cortar la cinta. Gálvez's portrait finally had a home: the S-116 room in the Senate, which is used to receive important visitors.

Teresa: Cuando llegué al Capitolio el retrato estaba colgado en una sala de reuniones muy importante. Tenía una cinta roja para cortarla durante la ceremonia.

Martina: During the ceremony, Teresa couldn't help but notice that she was surrounded by men. Politicians, diplomats, congressmen, journalists… Two of these men would cut the red ribbon: the Spanish ambassador and Senator Menéndez. But Teresa was just happy to be there, even if it was just as a guest.

Teresa: Yo soy un pez muy pequeño en una ciudad de peces tan grandes como lo es Washington. Yo me sentía feliz solo con ver el retrato en el Senado. Lo demás no importaba.

Martina: But then, the Spanish ambassador looked Teresa in the eye, and asked her to approach the painting. He put the scissors in her right hand and told her, in front of everyone, that she should cut the ribbon.

Teresa: ¡Yo corté el lazo y me emocioné mucho! Lloré, reí y me sentí muy orgullosa. Mis tres hijos estaban conmigo y les dije: "Esto es lo que pasa cuando cumples tus promesas".

Martina: As it turned out, Teresa had done much more than keep a promise. Successfully installing a portrait of Gálvez in the U.S. Capitol had kicked off another effort: to grant him honorary citizenship, or ciudadanía honorífica.

Teresa: La ley para darle la ciudadanía honorífica a Bernardo de Gálvez fue aprobada por los miembros del congreso, demócratas y republicanos. Juntos, ellos reconocieron el papel de la comunidad hispana en la guerra de la Independencia.

Martina: Right before the new year, a bill arrived on President Obama's desk. The last thing he did before going on vacation was sign a resolution granting Bernardo de Gálvez honorary U.S. citizenship. This is something that has happened only a handful of times in U.S. history.

Teresa: Solo personas como la Madre Teresa de Calcuta o Winston Churchill han recibido la ciudadanía honorífica. ¡Esto significa que Bernardo de Gálvez es tan importante como ellos!

Martina: Soon, even the King of Spain had heard of Teresa's efforts. King Felipe VI had been planning his first visit to Washington after he inherited the crown in 2014. When the time came, in September of 2015, he asked to visit the portrait of Gálvez in the Capitol. But first, he asked to meet Teresa…

Teresa: ¡Yo hablé con el Rey de España! Él me dio las gracias y yo le dije que había sido un placer y también una obligación. Las promesas deben cumplirse, especialmente si es para honrar las relaciones entre mis dos países.

Martina: Teresa Valcarce lives in Washington DC. In December of 2019 she was awarded the Order of Civil Merit of the Kingdom of Spain, which recognizes "the civic virtue of officers in the service of the Nation."

This story was produced by Adonde Media's David Alandete.

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The Duolingo Spanish Podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. I’m the executive producer, Martina Castro. ¡Gracias por escuchar!

Credits

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Producer: David Alandete
Narrator & Protagonist: Teresa Valcarce
Script Editor: Cata May
Mixed by: Andrés Fechtenholtz
Sound Design & Mastering Engineer: Antonio Romero