Born and raised in Madrid, Spain, Juan Anton Arespacochaga didn’t become interested in Spanish politics until he moved across the Atlantic Ocean.
But now the Rye Brook resident is invested and volunteers every day to try and better both the people in his native country and its world-wide reputation.
As the New York coordinator, Arespacochaga is one of the leading U.S. affiliates of Vox, a relatively new political party in Spain. There, Vox is characterized as extreme-right, or as Arespacochaga jokes, “extremely right,” and advocates for Spaniards with more traditional values. As the party grows in influence, Arespacochaga’s role is to educate people in the U.S. about Spanish politics and accomplishments while building a community for immigrants from Spain like him who found their way to New York.
A corporate banker by trade at a global Spanish bank, Arespacochaga moved to a home near Ridge Street Elementary School with his family four years ago when he was offered an international opportunity in Manhattan. With his entire family loving the States, he plans to stay for a long time, at least until his children grow up.
“I was looking for international experience. I think it’s great to see different places, meet different people, to learn different cultures,” Arespacochaga said. “It’s fantastic here, a very good experience so far. This country is amazing, the opportunities you have, the diversity. With Americans, when you fall, you just stand up stronger and try again. That’s very impressive and you can grow. I’ve grown more in four years here than the last 10 years in Spain.”
Arespacochaga came from a political family. His grandfather was the mayor of Madrid in the mid-1970s. However, he never personally took an interest in politics, largely because he didn’t feel the major parties represented him.
Triggered by Governor Andrew Cuomo signing the Reproductive Health Act that strengthened women’s rights to late-term abortions in high-risk situations, his mentality changed in January.
“I love kids, and when I saw the law about being able to abort, for me it’s an abomination,” Arespacochaga said. “A friend of mine said ‘why don’t you read about these guys, Vox.’ When I read on them, it was the first time in my life I really felt someone was representing who I am, so I contacted them.”
Since Spain transitioned to democracy and amended its constitution in 1978, the country has primarily been influenced by two parties: the People’s Party (PP) on the right and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) on the left.
More recently, an even more progressive party emerged, Podemos. And, according to Arespacochaga, meanwhile the PP started becoming more centrist.
Vox was established in 2013 as a breakaway party to represent more conservative Spaniards.
“We’re close to (President Donald Trump) in some things, and in others we’re very different,” Arespacochaga explained. “We have seen a lot of social and religious changes. We’re trying to fight for the rights of people who are more traditional.”
Arespacochaga said the Vox platform is based around centralizing the country, protecting Catholicism, controlling immigration, and promoting pro-life ideology.
Of course, Arespacochaga was first attracted to Vox because he valued their position on abortion. The party reasons that instead of spending resources on ending pregnancies, the country should focus on helping women with adoption or finances if it’s applicable.
Currently, there are several areas of Spain that strive for independence from the rest of the country, most famously Catalonia, the region where Barcelona resides. Arespacochaga and his party believe that if Spain disassembled into smaller countries, there would be an economic crisis.
“They need to come back to the center where we can be more efficient and decide things in the name of all Spaniards, instead of specific small countries,” Arespacochaga said. That would include changes such as centralized health care, common languages and communal, tax-free sharing of different regions’ wealth and resources.
While Vox isn’t a religious party, Arespacochaga said they also want to see more respect and caregiving for the Catholic community. Traditionally, Spain was a predominantly Catholic country, but as the culture has been shifting, he said he is disheartened by a lack of honor of their roots.
Like Trump, Vox supports stronger security at the borders. Their proposed immigration policy is different, and Arespacochaga said it differs from the other Spanish parties drastically.
“We need immigration because there is a lack of babies right now, so we need it to help the country grow. But we’re saying we want to choose the type of immigration that we want to have,” Arespacochaga explained.
“It does not make sense for us to get big groups of immigration from Arab countries where our cultures don’t understand each other,” he continued. “But we think it makes more sense to get those immigrants from South America, where we have a link. We speak the same language, we have the same roots, we talk about each other as brothers. We obviously need to help refugees, but why don’t we take them from Venezuela or Cuba? Why do we have to go to Iran or Syria?”
While he cares about the upcoming April election in Spain, Arespacochaga has a different agenda in the U.S. After all, there isn’t much Vox can do to directly influence politics overseas. Here, he wants to build a community and assist New York-based Spaniards, which he says comprise 60,000 people.
“There’s a lot of linkage in this area specifically,” he said. “In Port Chester everyone speaks Spanish.”
The second priority is building national media relations to combat rhetoric about the regions in Spain seeking independence. Areas like Catalonia, Arespacochaga said, have been able to bring massive national attention to their cause. However, he wants to be able to provide the other side of the issue that’s often less heard.
Lastly, but equally important, Arespacochaga said he wants to endorse Spain for the beautiful country it is, because he thinks it’s failed in promoting itself on a national level. Trying to “sell Spain,” he wants to show the U.S. that his home country has a lot to offer; the best wines and oils should be associated with it as opposed to France and Italy.
Though Arespacochaga has put countless hours into his role with Vox, it’s a volunteer position. He’s dedicated because he wants to make a difference for his country.
“Sometimes when you believe in something, you have to do something,” he said. “We thought it was the right thing to do, and now is the right moment to get involved.”