Doctor Enrique Guarner remembers his arrival at Veracruz and his first contact with Mexican food culture: “We only spent a day in Veracruz and then later we went from Veracruz to Jalapa in an old car. That is where I ate spicy food for the first time. It was a real shock for me. They gave me mole and a soft drink I had never tried before called Coca Cola, which tasted like petrol. My feeling then (we’re talking about memories) was, definitively, that in the next few years I would die of hunger because I didn’t like the food I had tried on that occasion.” His father, Vicente Guarner, one of the leaders of the Antifascist Republican Military Union in Catalonia, was forced into exile in Casablanca along with his family. From there he had to flee to America when Francisco Franco ordered his deportation to Spain to be executed by firing squad. The Quanza, a Portuguese ship that travelled the route to Buenos Aires, docked in Veracruz and, as fate would have it, they moved to Mexico City. They arrived there on 19 November 1941 to stay a few days at an inn on Bucareli Street, near a roundabout where the Chinese Clock Tower stood.
The clock tower was a gift to the city from the last Chinese emperor and bears an inscription that says: “The voices of a single sentiment leave echoes”. This beautiful quote would seem to be the inspiration for the Collaborative Map of the Spanish Exile in Mexico, an initiative of the Cultural Centre of Spain in Mexico (CCEMx) under the auspices of Fred Adam (award-winning artist in VIDA 4.0 and founding member of the GPS Museum) and the Escoitar group, with the collaboration of Fundación Telefónica Mexico. The collaborative map is part of the 75 Years of Spanish Exile in Mexico Programme, commemorating the end of the Spanish Civil War and the arrival of some twenty-five thousand refugees in Mexico. It consists of a website that shows the geolocated memories of the exiles. Its sepia hues identify it as more a map of remembrance than a modern map application for day-to-day activities like looking up addresses or holiday destinations. The Map of the Exile displays the Atlantic Ocean flanked by America, Europe and Africa. Three sinuous lines snake across it Sinaia, Ipanema and Méxique, the routes by which the majority of the Veracruz exiles arrived, having set sail from the ports of Bordeaux and Sète (France). Along the path and scattered along the streets of Mexico City there are a variety of icons marking the geographic location of some of the memories narrated by the exiles, such as the documents they’ve kept from their voyage. Spoken testimonies, photographs, texts and documents gathered at workshops and work tables enrich each of these nodes that sketch the collective memory of the Spanish exile in Mexico.
Fred Adam’s work with geolocated narratives captured the attention of the team at the Cultural Centre of Spain in Mexico during his stay in 2013 to give some workshops. This led to the development of the collaborative map as “an unconventional proposal, beyond the classic homage to leading figures of the exile, to influential intellectuals”, according to the promoters. The map includes some simple tools that allow any registered user to create a geolocated node and leave a voice recording, images or text in it to thus contribute to reconstructing a pluralistic history focused on personal experience. The Digital Citizenry Laboratory programme, which is developed by CCEMx along with Fundación Telefónica in Mexico, was the framework for a series of activities in which Spanish exiles were invited to share their experiences and geolocate them using a mobile or GPS device. Fred Adam (GPS Museum), Xoan-Xil López (Escoitar) and María Cerdá Acebrón gave these workshops and work tables, which is where the documents that are part of the map’s 43 current nodes were collected.
The Collaborate Map of the Spanish Exile in Mexico continues to be developed as a project open to the participation of people interested in contributing to historical remembrance. All you have to do is write to firstname.lastname@example.org expressing interest in the project. Once you get the access codes you can create new nodes following the instructions in the video tutorials provided by the web platform. Furthermore, soon the web application will be complemented by a smartphone application allowing users to roam Mexico City and discover the map nodes while moving through the streets, following the narrations of the exiles in the same places they reference.
The extensive experience of Fred Adam and Xoan-Xil López in the development of geolocation projects give this endeavour a strength that breathes new meaning into the possibilities created by these technologies and their growing accessibility to the public. The map is no longer a mere abstraction of some data, but rather a living environment where the voices of the exiles and fragments of their experiences are waiting to be revealed. Voices that are no longer lost in the distance nor diluted within a single narrative, but rather live in shared spaces and create many individual narratives. Voices sharing a sentiment that, thanks to digital technology, continues to leave echoes.