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Professor Emerita Uses Family Letters to Share Her Mother’s Story

Concha Alborg, Ph.D., uses the personal narrative culled from 800 of her parents’ letters to each other to show how her family lived in the midst of the Spanish Civil War.

Concha Alborg reviews her parents' correspondence. Alborg reviews her parents' correspondence.

Published: March 11, 2020

Total reading time: 3 minutes

Concha Alborg, Ph.D., grew up with the spotlight on her father. He was a celebrity academic and his career was always the family’s first priority. For Alborg, who was born in Spain during the difficult years of Francisco Franco’s regime, this meant an early introduction to reading and writing and an opportunity to study in the United States — but for her mother, it often meant making sacrifices.

“Under Franco, it was a strict dictatorship. Women were taught to be quiet, to keep their mouths shut,” says Alborg, professor emerita of Spanish. She says this was the mother she’d always known — until she discovered 800 letters written between her mother and father while he was fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

In her latest memoir, My Mother, The Stranger: Letters From the Spanish Civil War, Alborg shares her mother’s story — a story she believes needs to be told. “In the letters, she is not at all like the mother I knew,” she says.

According to Alborg, her memoir shares the history of the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936-1939, on a personal level. Rather than recounting the story told in history books, Alborg uses her mother’s personal narrative to show how a family lived in the midst of war.

“My mother grew up under the Second Spanish Republic. It was a very liberal government,” says Alborg. But during the Spanish Civil War, Alborg’s mother — along with other women just like her — did their part to aid in the fight. “The project became much bigger than just my mother. It became a tribute to the women like her who fought against Franco and then had to live under his regime.

“If she heard a bombing in Valencia, in the morning, she would not eat breakfast because she knew she’d need to donate blood. She’d wait for the call from the hospital,” says Alborg. “Blood donations at the time were directly from the donor to the patient. They were arm-to-arm, in the room at the same time. I couldn’t believe my mother was doing this, putting herself at risk. To me, that was amazing. She is my hero.”

For Alborg, the writing process showed her a new side of her mother’s life. Because Alborg’s mother died when Alborg was in her twenties, she didn’t get the opportunity to know her as well as she would have liked. “The pleasure of getting to know my mother is what I enjoyed the most,” she says.

Writing has always been a passion for Alborg. “While I was at Saint Joseph’s, I was a scholar, a disciplined writer. I’m not a person that says ‘I have to make time to write.’ I don’t believe in making time for writing. You find time for writing.” Since retiring from her position at St. Joe’s, Alborg writes full time and has published three books: one novel and two memoirs. She also teaches a memoir writing course at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.

The memoir is available on Amazon . More information on Alborg and her writing is available on her personal website.