Rubia Barcia, José

Ferrol, 1914 – California, 1997. Writer and lecturer exiled in Cuba and the US.
(Image from https://www.gf.org/fellows/all-fellows/jose-rubia-barcia/)

As a child, José Rubia Barcia stood out as an excellent student. Thanks to his grades in high school he was awarded a state grant to study a university degree in a Spanish institution of his choice. At the age of 17, he moved to Granada to study Philosophy. In this city, he became involved in politics, started to write for several local magazines, took part in the university theatre group ‘La carreta’, which can be considered as a precursor of Federico García Lorca’s group ‘La Barraca’, became in fact acquainted with Lorca (who also acted in La carreta), and finished a PhD in Arabic Studies. Rubia Barcia enjoyed and contributed to the thriving cultural and policial life of the Spanish Second Republic, whose project he saw as a historical opportunity to fully modernise the country.

During the Spanish Civil War, Rubia Barcia became fully involved in the defense of the Republic. He fought at the front, became director of the magazine Armas y Letras and was put in charge of the correspondence with the Soviet Union. When the war ended, he crossed the French border and was sent to a concentration camp in Saint Laurent de Cerdans where he almost died because of the cold. He managed to escape and in Paris got in touch with one of his uncles who lived in Cuba, in Havana. Thanks to the economic aid he received from this uncle, Rubia Barcia was able to travel to the island, where he stayed from 1939 to 1943, until he was invited by the also exile and prestigious Hispanist Américo Castro to work as a Language Assistant at Princeton University in New Jersey.

In the US he was under FBI surveillance and encountered continuous difficulties to stay legally in the country, as he was suspected of being a communist agent (because of his ties with the Spanish Republic). In 1945, the immigration authorities began a deportation process against him. He was imprisoned in Seattle and almost returned to Spain. A year earlier, he had met the film director Luis Buñuel in New York, who convinced him to work together for Warner Bros in Hollywood, where for two years they mostly worked dubbing American films into Spanish. Buñuel was also under close surveillance by the FBI.

Rubia Barcia’s struggles with the American authorities came to an end ten years later, thanks to the support he received from the University of California, where he had been hired as Teaching Assistant in 1947. At this institution, Rubia Barcia developed a prolific academic career in Hispanic Studies, publishing extensively on authors such as Unamuno and Valle-Inclán, supervising countless PhD thesis and becoming Head of Department of Spanish and Portuguese in 1963. He published regularly in pro-Republican newpapers such as España Libre, where he expressed strong criticism against Franco and US support to his regime. These articles were gathered in the volume Prosas de razón y hiel. Desde el Exilio: desmitificando al franquismo y ensoñando una España mejor (Venezuela, 1976). He had also published the theatre play Tres en Uno. Auto sacramental a la antigua usanza (1940) during his stay in Cuba. In the US, he wrote the volume of surrealist prose poetry Umbral de sueños (1961), with illustrations by the also Galician exile Eugenio Granell. After the end of the dictatorship, he published a poetry collection in Galician, A aza enraizada. Cantigas de Bendicer (1981) He retired in UCLA in 1985 and passed away in California in 1997 (Sources: Eva Ocampo Vigo and Esperanza Piñeiro de San Miguel, Xosé Rubia Barcia. Un intelectual ferrolán no exilio (1995), José Manuel González Herrán, José Rubia Barcia: Unha vida contada (2014)).