The New Spanish Latin Africans
Cristina Artoni - 06/06/2010
"I have chosen Barcelona in the name of the sun" Oscar says while drying the base of his trombone. He is 28 years old but looks as if he was just a little more than 20. He has been living in the Catalan capital for the past four years. He left Asunción and Paraguay behind his back after having obtained his diploma at the conservatory. He says he is always in need of new horizons: “In my country one cannot experiment further on – he narrates – I have chosen music as it has no boundaries. When I realised that I was surrounded by a limited perimeter, I decided to leave”.
We met Oscar in the street where he plays nearly everyday with his reggae group Microguagua. He should hide or at least seem nervous considering that he is an illegal immigrant since two months: “Well let’s go on and say the key word, I am a clandestine. I have become one of the many illegal immigrants. But I’m not afraid because I have found the solution to remain in Europe forever. I am getting married to my ex-girlfriend. It’s strange, I know. When we were together we had never thought of it but now that I’m in difficulty she has immediately thought of helping me out. She is kind-hearted.”
Oscar arrived from Paraguay with a resident permit to study the trombone and found the centre of his world in Europe: “I don’t want to go back to Latin America, I would feel too tight living there. I miss my family a bit but now thanks to Skype, I can see them and the nostalgia is less intense”. For Oscar, Barcelona represents the style of life he was looking for: “I have even lived in the United States for a period of time, in the New York State. But it wasn’t the place for me, I feel good here. I think that feeling at ease in a place is very important to be able to express oneself in the best way”.
We are surprised to see, Oscar, musician to be, reacting with such frivolity to his new illegal immigrant status as if things slipped down on him: “I don’t want to be negatively influenced. Coming from a poorer country with regards to Spain, I know that I have to submit myself to specific rules. They want documents? I will bring them all. They want impossible things? Ok, I will get married. But the important thing is to manage to stay where I want with my trombone and where there’s the sun”.
Habib is just following the last rays of the sun of March on the waterfront of Barceloneta. His shop is housed in a scarf carefully arranged on the ground, where he placed the trendy bags, Gucci counterfeits. Habib is the youngest of the group of colleagues who sell on the street to tourists heading to the sea. He is only 18 years old and arrived six months ago from Guinea Conakry. “From here to there, there aren’t only kilometres. In the middle, there’s a big fear of death, there are people who only think about money, there’s the cold”. Habib doesn’t really feel like chatting. His narration is monosyllabic. However, a very clear word comes out of his mouth: “nunca”. “Never”, he says he would have never imagined having to suffer so much to arrive in Europe: “With my cousin, we thought of leaving. My uncle gave us almost one thousand Euros to pay the trip. The money had to be enough for the crossing of both of us”. Habib left from Saint Louis, the famous Senegalese harbour close to the Mauritanian border: “We embarked on that small boat without reflecting much. I surely didn’t think as otherwise I would have gone back. It was overcrowded and there was a women crying somewhere in the dark. As soon as we arrived in the middle of the sea, they told us to throw our identity cards we were carrying in the water”.
Habib shuts up and he doesn’t want to continue his story. “It’s becoming windy now” he says. The others of the group finish the story while Habib approves nodding his head. The landing at the Canary Islands was really awful. The cousin was sent back to Guinea while Habib managed to stay in Europe since he was still under age. “I am here – he says – because I have responsibilities towards my family and my uncle. But if I could, I would go back. Now I have to prove that all this made sense… I have to send money to enable everyone to feel good. And if I go back, I cannot go empty handed. I had imagined a different life for me”.
In chorus, the group of hawkers working with Habib tell me that work is the problem. They explain that there is no other work if not the one that the majority of them already did on the other side of the sea: “We already used to go to sell at the market with my youngest brother. I only changed products here but I do the same thing. At least I was at home and I was respected. You are no one here. I am learning Spanish because I love to talk, I always loved it. But I still don’t manage to say a lot of things. Sooner or later, I will also speak with the Spanish. But for the time being the only ones I have to do with are policemen and it’s not a pleasure…”
During the past, one used to witness raids of the “mossos”, the urban policemen of the city against hawkers along the promenade that leads towards the sea to the Ciudat Vella area of Barcelona. On scooters, the policemen suddenly pursue the group of hawkers who try to save their merchandise. When they do not manage, the “mossos” confiscate everything.
“We constantly live with the anguish of losing the little that we have. This is what I mean when I say I imagined a different life here in Spain.” At the end, Habib asks me not to take photos of him.
“It’s windy”, he says.
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech