Sunday, 31 January 2010

The resentful immigrant

And now to the topic that triggered my previous post.

Over the last few years I have noticed how there has been a proliferation of blogs about Catalonia or Spain in English. That so many people from around the world move to Catalonia for whatever reason speaks volumes of what a welcoming country Catalonia is.

In every society, there is always a percentage of immigrants who are not happy with some aspect or another of their host country. I have seen it with Poles in Germany; with Asians in the UK, with Englishmen in Scotland, with Scots in London, with North Africans in France or Spain… and with many a Spanish person who emigrated to Catalonia.

Resentment towards the host community in an immigrant is a terrible thing.

I have seen it with some relatives, who after 40 years living in Catalonia still refuse to be grateful for the chance at a new life and the vast improvement in living standards and wealth they have achieved. Their resentment takes many forms: they refuse to learn the language or watch certain TV channels, or they speak in disparaging terms about their country of adoption. I have seen it also with some Spanish people (and it tends to be Spanish more than Catalan) in the UK. They resent the food, the drinking culture, the weather, the crumbling NHS. Without prompting, they will remind you that things in Spain are better (apart from jobs, obviously) and that British people are cold, smug, drunkards, unhealthy, illiterate, or whatever is the rant of the day.

I feel very sorry for people like that.

Fast forward to the start of the 21st century and globalisation of trade and labour.

Since the late 90s, a huge number of immigrants from the Americas and Europe have settled in Catalonia. Many of them have done so successfully and they are a great asset:

Tom, George, Matthew, and many others I have not heard about (more here, here and here) are valuable members of Catalan society, nouvinguts, and they have adopted their new homeland as much as their new homeland has adopted them. Everyone is a winner.

However, there is a minority of Anglo-Saxon and other northern Europeans, not to mention a few people from South America, whose new life in Catalonia does not bring them all the joy they would have hoped.

Whereas in the UK most immigrants complaint about the weather or food, in Catalonia some of these newly arrived wealthy immigrants take exception to the educational policy of the devolved Catalan administration.

They particularly object to the teaching of Catalan in schools and the use of Catalan as the vehicular language of education in Catalonia. I recommend you read my earlier entry here.

This new type of immigrant finds the fact that Catalan language is not actually dead an unpleasant discovery. The indigenous language of the host community becomes thus a little nuisance, and inconvenience. Over time, their resentment grows into something more powerful, a deep-seated prejudice against the host community.

These immigrants, albeit nominally living in Catalonia, have adopted the discursive message of the most nationalist Spanish media. In a way, they have settled in the wrong place, but this is not something new: there are many first, second and even third generation immigrant families from other areas of Spain which harbour the same narrow-minded prejudice. These blue-eyed newcomers have just joined the ranks.

There are many crackpots in the blogosphere, if you do a few searches you will find them easily.

There are the more belligerent ones who refer to the democratically elected government of Catalonia as “nationalist-socialist”. That this government coalition between an unionist party (fiercely opposed to independence) and a (nominally) pro-independence party and a federalist eco-socialist grouping is described with that slur says more about the utter ignorance and comptempt for democracy of the poster than anything else. This kind of language is used by the Spanish far-right and some elements of the Madrid-based press. That some of our supposedly intelligent immigrants have adopted this narrative reveals that under the pretence of “detachment” and objectivity (“I am a foreigner after all, no axe to grind”, etc, etc), these people are nothing more than cheer-leaders for the most repulsive side of Spanish nationalism, directly feeding from the ideology of post-Francoist Spanish nationalism.

Examples of such hatred against anything Catalan can be found in the revisionist pseudo-historicism and false intellectualism of Kalebeul (aka TerrorBoy. I call him TerrorBoy because his posts rewriting Spanish history and fake intellectualism cause me terror). The same type of material, often just without any subtlety can be found here in Life in Catalonia. Be careful with the latter because this despicable racist bastard will also edit your comments and post comments pretending to be you or someone else.

Recently, I have noted a few additions to the English language Cat-osphere.

This is a pattern we have seen before. The newly arrived claim that they were open-minded about the “issue” and that they take no sides, although they always “dislike nationalism”.

However, given time, we find out that what they mean is that they object to Catalan nationalism’ attempts to preserve and seek legal and social equivalence between Spanish and Catalan languages in Catalonia. They do not object very strongly however when Catalan speakers in Aragon are not even recognised officially and their language has absolutely no legal status. And they do not complain that the Spanish Constitution enforced the obligation on everybody to speak Spanish. That is the status quo, however unfair, and they don't mind that. Enforcement of language policy done by the Spanish State is alright, but if the Catalan administration tries to do anything remotely similar, than that is a breach of human rights, interventionist or some other nonsense.

They also don’t mind taking sides when it comes to supporting the current crusade coming from Spanish nationalism against the Catalan educational system.

Of course, everybody has the right to express an opinion about policy issues, including immigrants who are unlikely to become long-term residents. After all, millions of words are written about the whole Israel/Palestine conflict by people who have not ever been there and probably do not have a clue what they are talking about.

But when these new arrivals in Catalonia express an opinion on the whole issue of Catalan education system and language, they need to accept they are taking sides.

And in this debate, there seems to be only two sides.

Those in favour of the current system, the vast majority of people in Catalonia and all the political parties except two: the Spanish branch of the PP and the fringe party (soon to be extinct) Ciudadanos. These two groups barely attained 15% of the vote at the last Catalan elections, despite being given extraordinary media presence by the Spanish media.

The reasons for why the current system is as it is were outlined in my previous entry.

And I content that tinkering with that system only serves a purpose: to pander to Spanish nationalism and to create divisions in Catalan society based on language and family background. Given the fragile demographic profile of Catalonia, where around 50% of citizens, including myself, can trace our family origins (one or two generations) to Spanish-speaking areas of Spain, it is wholly irresponsible to pursue a policy of division rather than to support a policy that aims to achieve bilingualism for everybody, or at least as many people as possible, and not just for some.

Catalan language has its own word for immigrant. “Nouvingut”, literally ‘newly arrived’ is often use to describe immigrants. It is a word that does not have the negative connotation of the word immigrant. As I wrote about in my previous entry, Catalonia must be one of the countries in the world where it is easiest to integrate and feel part of the community: speak the indigenous language and you are one of us, whether your are from Almeria, Alabama or Africa.

These new immigrants have the right to challenge the Catalan educational system, like others did before them.

However, here is a novel thought: if you don’t want your children to be taught in Catalan in Catalonia, if you don’t want to learn Catalan yourself even if you are living in Catalonia, why do you live in Catalonia and not somewhere else where Catalan is not spoken?

It has always mystified me why some people put themselves through the pain of settling in Catalonia and then resenting the fact that Catalan language exists at all and is not dead in the water. The fact is there are over 160 other sovereign states in the world, covering about 99.9% of the habitable land, with all sorts of climate and job opportunities where Catalan is not spoken.

The world is huge. Enjoy it while you can.

PS: please do not bother posting a comment accusing me of being xenophobic or racist. My parents are immigrants themselves, I am an immigrant now in the UK myself, and I work with people (and often hire) from all ethnic backgrounds. I am just giving out free life counselling and advice.

1 comment:

santcugat said...

I wouldn't describe myself as resentful. My family and I are quite happy here, my kids go to a trilingual school and are now totally fluent in Catalan, Spanish and English. Naturally, I'd prefer not to have to pay an arm and a leg for that kind of education, but hey, my company pays me enough to be here that it's not really a big issue.

Our friends are a mix of Catalans and expats. Less expats now than before, since they seem to leave so quickly it's hardly worth the effort.

Immigration here is a huge contrast to what I experienced when I moved to the US. There, you were expected to bring your culture with you and enrich the community with it. Everyone was a hyphenated (German/Polish/Chinese/etc)-American. At school, children would talk about the traditions of their home countries and the school would even celebrate some of those traditions to make people feel included.

Here it's almost a matter of taking sides. Either you are Catalan or you are not.

I've found it's actually easier to be from the US than from other parts of Spain, because I can get away with so much more than some of the castillian immigrants. Every faux pas is just "oh they do it like that in America", heads nod and all is forgiven.