Spanish professor does research in Spain

Galen Yorba-Gray has been a Spanish language and literature professor in the LJML department since 2005. Last fall, he took the semester off on a sabbatical to do research in Spain. He is back this semester teaching several Spanish courses at PLNU.

Yorba-Gray hasn’t always been fluent in speaking Spanish, but he grew up frequently hearing the language. He officially caught what he calls the “learn Spanish bug” while working in a restaurant when he was 28 years old and was very determined to learn the language. Later on, he became a bilingual pastor and used Spanish in ministry. He then went to school to further his Spanish language knowledge. “You might say I followed my vida loca passion,” says Yorba-Gray.

The Point Weekly spoke to him about his sabbatical in Spain and the research he is conducting.

The Point Weekly: What parts of Spain did you visit during your sabbatical?

Yorba-Gray: Most of the month (October of his sabbatical) was spent in Córdoba, which is in the south region of Spain, called Andalusia. My wife and I rented an apartment there. I also was able to visit Barcelona and the area surrounding, as well as Madrid.

PW: What was the purpose of going to Spain?

Y-G: I went to Spain specifically to research because I’m writing a book about Juan de Mena and his well-known epic, “The Labyrinth of Fortune,or in Spanish, “El Laberinto de Fortuna”. He was a fifteenth century poet from Córdoba.

I was able to gather research at libraries. Mostly at the University of Córdoba library and a catholic library. I also collected research at used bookstores around town.

PW: What fascinates you about this poem?

Y-G: My book specifically covers the Judeo-Christian background of this nation-founding poem. His most famous epic was a fundamental poem for Spain as a country. Essentially, the poem was pro-national; it helped Spain become a nation.

I see parallels in the nation-building process of Spain and the Kingdom of God. During the time the poem was written in Spain, the church and the country were one. The intersection of the politics, theology and poetry fascinates me. The idea was that Spain would become a world power and mirror the Kingdom of God on Earth. Many philosophical and spiritual ideas inspired the conquest of the New World.

PW: Why did you decide to write a book?

Y-G: I decided to write a book because I’m within retirement range, and one starts thinking about legacy. I want to contribute something substantial to my field and hopefully encourage Christian educators who speak Spanish to fully engage the scholarship even if they aren’t native speakers. Besides, it’s a lot of fun, and research is like a great mystery waiting to be solved, stretching you every step of the way.

PW: Are there other contributors to your book?

Y-G: David McKeithen, a Spanish major, who graduated in December, is my research partner for my book. While I was in Spain, he did research in San Diego. Last year, his honors project was about the same poem, and was the base foundation for one of my chapters. Now, he has added a significant amount of work to his project and it will become an entire chapter of my book. He wrote about prosthetic discourse, or prophecy, in the poem. The poet makes many predictions about how great Spain will be, and this is David’s focus.

PW: What comes next in terms of completing your book?

Y-G: Well, this is my first book. Previously, I have only ever done articles. From here, I need to complete a handful of the chapters. I’m about three-fourths of the way done. From there, I will need to seek out a publisher.

PW: What did you enjoy about the people and culture of Spain?

Y-G: I loved living there and getting the feel of people. The Spanish was spoken very fast, and it was interesting to hear the southern-Spain accent. I got to see Spain in between the lines. Through living in Córdoba, I picked up the city’s vibe and ethos. However, I experienced culture shock a little when traveling by train.

PW: Why would you encourage people to visit Spain or students to study abroad there?

Y-G: The laid back life-style. Life takes place on the streets, in cafes, and in the plazas. Also, culture and history is all around you, from ancient ruins to modern Spanish culture.