Crisis, Migration and Precariousness: The New Galician Diaspora as a Case Study

unnamed (1)On 28 February 2017, we were delighted to welcome Dr Maria Alonso Alonso to the Diaspora Studies Graduate Workshop.  Maria obtained her PhD from the University of Vigo in 2014 and is currently based at the University of St Andrews where she holds a a Xunta de Galicia International Postdoctoral Fellowship.  Her work focusses on the Galician diaspora. She has published widely in academic journals; her output also includes short stories, poetry and a novel in the Galician Language.  Her most recent book entitled Transmigrantes Fillas de Precareidade (“Transmigrants , Daughters of Precariousness”), published by Axourere in 2017, challenges an over positive image of migration in order to highlight  the feelings of vulnerability experienced by her own, younger generation.  In a stimulating paper Maria, explored the interconnected themes of crisis, migration and precariousness.

Traditionally, Galicia has been a migrant community.  As Maria observed, it is difficult to find a family unaffected by migration.  In the 19th century, Castile was a popular destination for migrants; at the time of the Spanish Civil War, Latin America, notably Argentina and Uruguay, provided a popular draw.  More recently, it has been Europe.  Factors have included poverty, political instability and unemployment.  Statistics, eloquent of a social crisis, reveal how Spanish unemployment has soared since the beginning of the millennium, rising from 8% in 2006 to 26% in 2012. The trend is most pronounced in the younger generation.  In 2015, youth unemployment (representing the  under 25s) stood at 51%; in the same year graduate unemployment stood at 30%; in Germany the comparative figure was 3%. Over the past five years, over one million Spanish citizens have emigrated; a significant number have come to the UK.  In 2015, on the basis of Spanish Government figures, 45,000 Spanish nationals were formally registered as living in the UK; most were between the ages of 25 and 35, and approximately 20% Galician.

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Maria’s family like many others were affected by migration.  This photograph includes a number of family members including her mother, aunts and uncles, and grandparents

However, as Maria argued, it is important to recognise the presence of a push and pull factor. In the late 1990s, Galicia became a host country.  Spain, which was undergoing a period of political transition, became part of the Euro zone.  It opened its borders to foreign labourers including Africans, Europeans (particularly the Swiss and Germans) and first and second generation emigrants to Latin America (the so called retornados).  Many of the new immigrants were employed in the construction and service industries; at the same time many professional Galicians emigrated to north Europe and the USA.   In many respects, the boom proved transient as images of Castellon airport and Santiago de Compostela City of Culture testify.  As much as nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, nobody ever expected the Spanish Crisis.

The New Galician Diaspora is characterised by a sense of precariousness as the title of Maria’s recent book suggests.  The Galician Government has promoted an official narrative based on a sense of Sentimentality for the home country from abroad.  Thus Galicians, in the words of Helena Miguélez-Carballeira, “are a nostalgic people…. (who) live in harmonious communion with their landscape…yearning for its beauty”.  According to this received view, emigration is not as traumatic as it might seem.  In fact, emigration is the equivalent of success.  However, this rigid agenda blots out stories of precariousness.  New narratives have developed to challenge the official line. The  stereopytoes and metaphors commonly associated with Sentimentality have been analysed and challenged in the work of Carballeira.    Since 2015, a flurry of publications have provided a critique of Sentimentality. Eloy Domínguez Serén, although comparatively unknown within Galicia, has demonstrated on the basis of his own experiences, how feelings of alienation become important in the context of migration.  The concept of Saudade, almost untranslatable into English, captures the vital angst of living abroad. Manuel Forcadela goes further.  For Forcadela, Saudade is like a form of castration.

Somewhat surprisingly there is nobody currently working on Galician Studies at the University of Edinburgh.  Maria concluded by suggested that important comparisons might be drawn between her native Galicia and Scotland, i.e. as communities existing within hegemonic powers.

This well attended paper provoked interest and debate.  Maria’s scholarly approach was enhanced by the authority of personal experience.  We look forward to welcoming Maria at future graduate workshops and research seminars.

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