What Does it Mean to “Be Spanish” (Not Being Spanish for Generations)


Dear Jerry,

The fact of the matter is, I am first generation American…on my mom’s side. This means that, through the experiences of my mother, I have been aware of what it means to be ‘a foreigner’ and how it feels for people to say that you don’t have rights because ‘you’re not from here.’ At the same time, I am American because I was born on American soil, and no one can take that away from me. Therefore, it is hard for me (and I would assume for every other American) to comprehend the process it takes to become Spanish, both legally and socially.


The legal considerations

I feel very at home in Granada, however that doesn't necessarily mean I have the right to Spanish nationality. I started questioning the legality of becoming Spanish during a conversation with classmates about how being born in the country to parents with proper registration and jobs does not guarantee you citizenship. Personally, I think that the U.S. could take it a step further and allow parents who have babies there to become citizens like, for example, in Brasil. Therefore, going what is a step backwards in my mind to not even allowing the child to become legally Spanish is hard for me to comprehend. According to the Spanish National Institute of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas) there are almost half-a-million foreigners currently living here that were born in Spain*.

The process of becoming Spanish, even when you parents have followed all the rules and done all of the paperwork, can be complicated. In fact, there are another half-a-million people who are waiting for their requests to ‘legally become Spanish’ to be processed. In one case, in 2014, a three year old girl spent years waiting for the results, with her parents reapplying when they got answers like: denied due to ‘a lack of good civil conduct’…and she was THREE.


So who can become Spanish? And how to you go about doing it?

Technically, almost anyone can become Spanish, however, the legal process to get there is not as easy as you might hope and people can be denied for a plethora of reasons. Here are the main ways of ‘becoming Spanish:’

Españoles de Origen (Spanish by Origen): Are the ‘normal’ Spanish people. They either have at least one Spanish parent or at least one parent who was born in Spain (even if that parent is not Spanish). This group of Spaniards also includes those people who have no nationality and those children who have been adopted by Spanish parents.


If you don’t fill any of these requirements, don’t worry, you can still be considered Spanish if you follow one of these paths:

  1. Nacionalidad por Opción (Nationality by Choice): Is not as straightforward as it sounds. Only those people who have lived as the child of Spanish parents or who have at least one parent who was born in Spain can choose to be Spanish by Choice. This possibility expires when a person turns 20 (or two years after reaching legal maturity).
  2. Nacionalidad por Residencia (Nationality via Residency): To become Spanish because you have lived here for ‘long enough’ is usually based on a ten year period. However, this can be shortened if: you are a refugee (five years); from iberoamerican countries, etc. (2 years); married to a Spaniard for a year (one year); etc. You can only apply for this type of residency if you are of legal maturity (normally 18 unless emancipated—then you can apply from 14) or if represented by a legal authority.
  3. Nacionalidad por Carta de Naturaleza (Nationality by Naturalization): This type of Spanish nationality can be given (or not) depending on the interpretation of the circumstances by the government. In the case of acquiring Nationality by Naturalization, you must swear loyalty to the King of Spain and renounce your previous nationality.
  4. Nacionalidad por Posesión de Estado (Nationality via Possession of Status): Those people who have been married to a Spaniard and living like a Spaniard during a minimum of ten years can receive Spanish nationality, and this nationality will not be removed even if the marriage ends.


Socially becoming Spanish

Once I dived into the legal world of what it means to ‘become Spanish,’I began to understand the social implications of being Spanish (or not) as well. The whole process of acquiring Spanish nationality is complicated, and you can be set back or denied because the government doesn’t feel like your case presents the right qualities. Therefore, understanding the process of becoming Spanish has helped me understand the social reaction to foreigners who live here (which can be anywhere from total acceptance, to wariness about the situation, to rejection).

These classic Spanish-style tiles actually have a lot of Arab influence in them, however, the Arab community is not very integrated into Spanish life. These are the types of things that I question.Forms of acceptance are seen in those foreigners, like me, who appear to be from wealth countries—basically white people—, speaking languages like English or German. Forms of social wariness can be seen in people coming from Asian countries—they are all considered Chinese by the majority of Spanish people even when they have been here for multiple generations. And forms of rejections (from my perspective) can be seen with the Arab and Gitana or Romani community. Muslims have been in Spain before it was a country, so perhaps this goes back deeper into previous conflicts between the two communities, nevertheless, the social rejection is pretty clear. On the other hand, the Romani people are pretty segregated within Spanish communities and suffer exclusion in many aspects of social life.

I’ve talked before about how I feel I will never truly be Spanish. However, with this deeper analysis, I am wondering if this is my personal interpretation of the situation or if it also has to do with the opinions of others that I ‘feel’ come from the Spanish community around me. What do you think? Have you took the plunge to change your nationality? Do you want to? Let us know!



*This information comes from the beginning of 2017 and can be found here.

Other sources include:

The Ministry of Foreign Policy, the European Union, and Cooperation

The Ministry of Justice

El Diario Newspaper

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