Community is a tricky thing to pin down. It is somewhat of an abstract concept that is rarely created on purpose, but something that is so important that many would search the world and even die for. It’s powerful enough to start wars over and flexible enough to include outsiders in its looser definitions. But how and why does it come about and why do we as humans strive for it so diligently?
I have come to appreciate it here in Spain as it is valued in a different way than in America. Most western attitudes are quite individualistic. You would be hard pressed to find many Americans who know their neighbors and interact with them in a very open way. Hispanics seems to have this down to an art form. Their block parties are infamous and people 3 or 4 neighborhoods away are considered close friends and welcome to join in the fiesta. But this is not typical western attitude. America does not seem to encourage public interaction either in its attitudes or the very way the cities are set up. Public places are minimal, and more often than not, people will retreat to their own private backyards for outdoor socializing. To a Spaniard, the plaza in the center of the community is their backyard; it’s where they have a distinct sense of belonging to something bigger. It’s the place where their children go to play, where they walk arm and arm with the friends during the paseo, where they come together for festivals, where they can measure their life and feel connected to others. As humans, we crave this sense of identity which drives us to find a community with like-minded people.
Even more interesting is how defensive and territorial one gets about these relations once they are found and concreted with one another. These people readily stand up and defend it against attack and are unwilling to leave these communities that they have been a part of despite better employment or opportunities afforded to moving away from them. How curious that something so intangible can be powerful enough to create something to be treasured. This, I believe, is the reason so many generations of Spaniards remain in one pueblo: community. It is the reason why one joins the military and defends one’s country: community. It is the reason there are festivals, holidays, and big, beautiful plazas to congregate in: community.