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Women of the world: networks and local associations

This week, meet 16 women who are first generation immigrants living in Barcelona. Part Three: Here, they discuss how they use their networks and associations as routes through which to relocate, integrate and remake home in this city. (Español, English translation)

8 June 2015
Women of Barcelona

International migrants are often members of global networks before they have embarked on their journeys. Often these are informal contacts, who form a vital nexus in the early days of relocation. Many immigrant women will rely on such connections in order to make the transition from one country to another, seeking out the assistance of relatives and friends, or the friends of friends, in order to find stepping stones into their new lives and contexts or to find work and accommodation. In turn, many of these women will, over time and once they are more settled, engage in community work, with local associations and diasporic networks. At times, this may be to provide new immigrants with information. At others, it will be to showcase home cultures, foods and ethnicity or, indeed, to confirm the hybrid identity of the transnational. Some of these networks are informal. Some arise organically, through contacts at their childrens’ schools and via language classes. Others, supported financially by communities, religious trusts or the city council, have a more formal structure with clear aims. Yet others seek to create understanding of diversity in neighbourhoods, as in the densely multi-ethnic Raval in Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella, through initiatives such as Tot Raval. Without exception, though, women use their networks and associations as routes through which to relocate, integrate and remake home in this city.

Parvati Nair

(Parvati Nair has directed and worked on the Women of the World: Home and Work in Barcelona project for the United Nations University Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility.)

Lingling

Image of Lingling, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

"The Fort Pienc Traders Association is Catalan, for example, most of its members are Catalans and the City Council wants to integrate the Chinese traders in the neighbourhood.

"There’s a girl called Begoña who speaks very good Chinese. She helps the Association attract Chinese members so that they can integrate better into the neighbourhood.

"There’s the Asia Festival in Casa Asia, for example, when the Chinese can have a stand to display their food, cuisine or art. There are also various Chinese schools in Barcelona that sometimes organise activities.

"Regarding integration, because of language problems, first generation migrants perhaps don’t communicate much with Catalan society, but their children go to Catalan school and speak the language so don’t have any problems communicating with people here."

Because of language problems, first generation migrants perhaps don’t communicate much with Catalan society. But their children go to Catalan school.

Image of Lingling, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

Nilza

Image of Nilza, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

"Things I’ve made mine is a question... The main thing is I haven’t stopped being me. I’ve matured, improved in some ways, perhaps become worse in others, but I feel very Catalan. I live among Catalans, but I don’t feel strange or out of place.

"What have I made mine? Maybe I don’t like some of the food, but I don’t feel like I’m not at home. The people I mix with, Bernat’s friends, have welcomed me like any other person. I get along with some more than others, some feel more like family than others, but generally, or out of respect for Bernat, because I’m part of his life, they’ve accepted me as one of their own and I can feel that, the fact that I don’t miss anything…They ask me if I miss my family and I do, because they’re not here physically. I talk to them on the phone, but not to the extent that it hurts, because I feel at home here. If you feel at home, then you’re part of the group here; you’re with your family.

"So what have I made mine? Everything. By feeling like one of the others and remaining myself, with my dignity, what I am... I’ve integrated and they’ve accepted me. I don’t know how to put it, but life, your experiences, everyday things begin to change, shape and mould you. You mature and get hardened, but the essence remains and you make all this yours based on your surroundings, where it sticks with you more, so I wouldn’t say just one thing… No."

So what have I made mine? Everything. By feeling like one of the others and remaining myself.

Image of Nilza, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

Nora

Image of Nora, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

"The entire farewell was really tough. I was working at a place and they told me I had the chance to go to Spain. But as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay here or not, I asked if they could hold my job for me and they said yes. But then they told me no, so I got my payout, but it was the time of hyperinflation and the money was worth nothing.

"So I came here to Spain literally with one hand behind me and the other in front. I didn’t have any money, so they had to send me 500 dollars. I remember it was that amount because you had to have a minimum to be able to cross the border. They could ask you why you were coming into the country and I entered as a tourist, so I had to have that minimum amount to be able to say that the money was for my holidays here. Fortunately, they didn’t ask me and I was very nervous on the trip.

"I went to live with some friends who had a ceramics workshop and started working with them, but I’ve never been an artisan. I did the same thing in Argentina that I ended up doing here: working as an accountant and doing some theatre, which I got paid for sometimes with the others in the group, but I never saw the money.

"I was very frustrated when I arrived because of what had happened to me in Argentina at a personal and country level. I started working with those friends of mine when I arrived here, but as I knew nothing of craftsmanship, the truth is I felt really bad compared to the other people they had hired. I wasn’t up to it, but they paid my salary although there were in financial difficulties. I had to live with them and it was a very ugly situation."

I came here to Spain literally with one hand behind me and the other in front. I didn’t have any money.

Image of Nora, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

Stéphanie

Image of Stephanie, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

"My relationship with Catalonia basically dates far back, because my grandfather met a Catalan family in a train about 55 years ago and after one of those conversations you have on trains, the two families began a relationship that led to my mother doing an exchange with the other family’s daughter. The relationship between the two families continued, so I also came with my parents to a town in the Empordà and I’m now friends with a girl my age. We have children of the same age and the lives of our two families continued in line with our friendship. It dates far back.

"I had something drawing me here to Barcelona, so I thought: “If I have to leave for a year, it’s best to go to a city I’m already familiar with and know some people”, so I chose to come here. That’s why I had friends, and also because I met a boy, which is so typical: Erasmus, a boy… But it was also because of that other person and the fact that I knew people here. I came to spend a year in Barcelona and after nine months I was sharing a flat with some students. Everything was in Catalan at university. In fact, we did the exchanges before with this Catalan family because I had to speak Spanish, but in the end it was really Catalan, so I feel a lot more Catalan than Spanish. I never speak Spanish."

I had something drawing me here to Barcelona. And also I met a boy, which is so typical.

Image of Stephanie, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

How do we work after coronavirus?

The pandemic has profoundly changed our working lives. Millions have lost their jobs; others have had no choice but to continue working at great risk to their health. Many more have shouldered extra unpaid labour such as childcare.

Work has also been redefined. Some workers are defined as 'essential' – but most of them are among the lowest-paid in our societies.

Could this be an opportunity?

Amid the crisis, there has been a rise in interest in radical ideas, from four-day weeks to universal basic income.

Join us on 5pm UK time on 20 August as we discuss whether the pandemic might finally be a moment for challenging our reliance on work.

In conversation:

Sarah Jaffe, journalist and author of 'Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone', due to be published next year.

Amelia Horgan, academic and author of 'Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism', also due to be published next year.

Chair: Alice Martin, advisory board member of Autonomy, a think tank dedicated to the future of work.

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