More than 730,000 Spaniards can’t read or write, most of them older women, migrants or Roma
They are learning to write the word “historia” (history). The teacher asks how to spell it, and the students, some of whom are 68 years old, try their luck: “With an I?” “With a Y?” “In capital letters?”
Seconds later, the mystery is revealed. The word begins with a silent H – the silence of absence, the silence of a history of illiteracy that endures into the 21st century.
September 8 was International Literacy Day, and a reminder that there are still 730,000 illiterate people in Spain, of whom 67 percent are women, according to 2011 figures from the National Statistics Institute.
They survive by asking questions of everyone around them, trusting they will be told the truth. They ask about the type of milk they are buying, the name of the street they are on, which bus they need to take, and how to dial a phone number. They have no driver’s license, cannot read maps, know nothing about what’s in the contracts they are signing, do not use computers or the internet, and have never read a book.
And they all agree they share a sense of shame.