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Frontier of Broken Dreams

Soraya Fernández · Fotos: Fran Montes y Concejalía de Cultura de La Línea

A ‘Linense’ and a Gibraltarian talk about how the closure of the Frontier affected them and how they rebuilt their lives, in Castellón and Madrid, and in the United States, respectively.

“We left La Línea in January 1970 due to the closure of the Frontier. I was about to turn 17 and I was very frightened about having to move to an unknown place, leaving my friends behind, my studies at the Menéndez Tolosa Institute, my family and the entirety of my life behind.”

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So begins the overwhelming testimony of Matilde, one of the thousands of people who were forced to leave La Línea after the Frontier was closed in June 1969. It is one of many moving stories that have been collected by the La Línea Department of Culture, directed by Encarni Sánchez, for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Frontier, in a mission to expose what happened during this time and to prevent history from repeating itself.

In fact, the initiative has a website open to testimonies, photographs and documents of this time (50yquenoserepita.com).

The testimony of Matilde – whose surname was omitted upon the recommendation of the Department of Culture – reads like a novel, but it’s a true story.

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“We left to the train station in San Roque on a rainy, stormy Saturday night. Sections of the tracks were cut due to the storm, so they took us down another, longer road. We stopped at almost every station and didn’t arrive in Valencia until Sunday night. Since that moment, I don’t like trains,” she explains. She recalls how they arrived in Castellón at night, “crying to go home to La Línea,” and how her father found a good job while she decided to work and study.

“I found an office position at a construction company. I had a really hard time because I didn’t understand Valencian. I’d cry myself to sleep,” she recalls.

However, this story also has a sweet side. More La Línea families had decided to emigrate and were now in Castellón. “We formed our own little clan of boys and girls from our village and had a great time together.”

“I won’t forget my town”

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Matilde learned Valencian and only has praise for her host-city: “Castellón is a small city, but you can live very well there. Once the locals get to know you, they’re friends for life; but I won’t forget my village and would return on a whim.”

She says she ended up adapting and was happy at work and, on the weekends, she would hang out with her La Línea friends:

“We’d always remember our little corner in the south. We’d never met in La Línea. Some were from La Atunara, others from La Colonia and others from the centre, but we shared a very good friendship.”

Matilde got married and moved to Madrid with her husband, where they started a family.

“These days, my heart is divided. My children feel drawn to the capital, both mine and my husband’s family are in Castellon, and I still long for La Línea, every day. If luck came my way, I would buy a house down there. I think about my parents and my aunt a lot; they died suffering the pain of being so far from La Línea,” she concludes.

A Gibraltarian in the USA

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Another testimony collected by the La Línea Department of Culture is that of David Álvarez, a Gibraltarian who has been living in the USA since 1989.

“I was born in Gibraltar in 1965, where I grew up with the closed border. The year in which the Frontier finally opened, I emigrated to England and, from there, to the USA,” he explains.

He describes the air that circulated around Gibraltar “unbreathable” during the blockade that was endured by the population for over 13 years .“I remember that as well as the contrast between the panoramic views we enjoyed from the heights of the Rock and the narrowness of our streets and alleys, while we were subjected to a cruel blockade that isolated us from our natural environment.”

He confesses that “in addition to a daily feeling of living in a kind of ‘open privileged prison’ endowed with great views,” he also remembers how strange it was “not knowing Spain or even the Campo de Gibraltar .”

David left before fulfilling his desire to get to know the Campo of Gibraltar properly, and become familiar with its customs, geography and its people. Despite this, he says between 1983 and 1985, he would cross the Frontier every time he could, to stroll along La Línea’s Calle Real, “where I would sit outside a cafeteria to read the newspaper while having a coffee and smoking Ducados.”

These moments filled him “with joy” and he affirms that, when he returns to Gibraltar, he tries to go to a café in La Línea called “Okay” to “relish those daily pleasures that made me happy after that long and unnatural confinement my generation had to suffer in Gibraltar.

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