Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Collective Amnesia

I have come to notice that one of the favourite pastimes of many Spaniards, especially the elderly, is to rant incoherently to their neighbours on street corners about the recent influx or as they put it, invasion, of South American and African immigrants to Spain. While I recognise that there may be reason for concern with upwards of 2000 Africans reaching the Canary Island shores in tragic circumstances each month, I am shocked at the conveniently short memories of the Spanish people whose very own grandparents, parents and uncles were until recently doing the very same.

More often than not I choose to stay quiet and make no comment. However at times this becomes too much to ask and I find myself reminding people that in the nineteenth century some 900,000 people from their very own Spanish province of Galicia emigrated to Cuba and South America. Furthermore another 1 million followed suit in the twentieth century which is certainly in the living memory of those who tend to show most upset with the turn of the emigration tide. It is for this very reason that I am most annoyed not with my own young generation but rather when I overhear the pensioners launch out on their daily diatribes as they go about their morning shopping.

I first became acutely aware of the local attitude a number of months ago while following an excellent televison mini series called "Vientos de Agua". The curious story jumped between the early life of a Spanish born father who has to emigrate to Buenos Aires in the 1930´s and the present day life of his young Argentinian born son who now ironically has to emigrate to his fathers land of birth. This was the first time since the "Sopranos" hit Irish screens five years ago that I found myself actually planning my evening around the once weekly airing. You can therefore imagine my incredible frustration when the series was pulled from channel 5 after only three episodes. The station's website later explained that they were forced to cancel the series due to bad viewing figures which they put down to the adverse reaction by many who do not wish to be reminded of their recent past given the current influx of emigrants to Spain today.

Of course I cannot dare to speak for the local reaction on the ground in the Canary islands where most of the starved and shocked illegal immigrants are found drifting off their coast. However when I look at the 1949 photo above I am most struck by the extent to which fortunes have changed. It is as recent as the 1940´s and 1950´s that 1 in every 3 inhabitants of the very same Canary Islands emigrated to Venezuela and 1 in 5 Galicians were heading for Argentina, Cuba, Switzerland and Germany.

Some have argued that this is all in the past and that we should not make decisions by looking backwards in time. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps they need not look backwards at all for they need only look northwards to the towns of AviĆ³n where half of the 4730 voters live abroad, and Concello Va do Dubra where 40% of the 7318 voters live overseas. I shall say no more.

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