Montse

As a social worker, Montse knows very well the challenges that immigrants face on their way to full inclusion in Spanish society. She points out that in many cases, for example in the labor market, the problems of immigrants are even greater than those of Spanish citizens. And not only considering the obstacles from the “outside”, such as bureaucracy or prejudices, but also the attitude of people. It is vital and all of us, in addition to facilitating or promoting change in the “others”, must also be willing to change and move forward.

Montse is an experienced social worker, passionate about her field. Right now she is doing an internship in the organization “Movilidad Humana” in Ferrol, giving support to immigrant women and their families. Previously, she worked in the City Council of La Coruña, Cariño and a European social project of socio-labor insertion.

‘I am a pedagogue and with my specialty I can do socio-educational intervention. In La Coruña I worked as a social support technician in primary care or the gateway to social services; what is now community social services. Also as a technician for the socio-labor insertion of people with difficulties in accessing employment for various reasons: long-term unemployed, immigrants, women who have been abused or have difficulties to rejoin the labor market after life dedicated to their family, people without training, etc.

I like community social work because you can analyze many problems and see many diverse groups’.

Despite being skilled and experienced in such a socially necessary area, Montse finds it difficult to find work in her field.

‘The problem I see is that currently there are many educational programs of social work, and sometimes we overlap and we do not know how to differentiate which are the functions of some and others’.

Working in La Coruña, Montse recognized that one of the great problems many immigrants face is that the diplomas received in the schools of their countries of origin are not recognized in Spain.

‘Certain countries have an agreement with Spain that allows the qualifications to be homologated. But in most cases it is not possible, which creates a big problem for immigrants. Because, for example, people with university studies which are not recognized in Spain can come here and they have few possibilities of integration. That is why the only option for many is to work in the field, do street trading and those things, if they cannot get their studies approved.

Apart from bureaucratic issues, Montse, sensitive to social problems, notices racism in Spanish society. The popular claim is that immigrants steal jobs from Spanish citizens. But she is aware of how absurd this opinion is.

‘We cannot say that immigrants take away our jobs, because many people do not want to do farm work. There they work for long hours, there is exploitation… The other day a “temporary worker” died of heat stroke. The owner of the farm got arrested. That is serious and those things still happen’.

Coming from north of Ferrol, in the Ortigueira area, Montse recognizes a great impact of immigrants on the local economy.

‘In my area we do a lot of fishing. Now fewer and fewer local people are dedicated to doing these jobs, and more and more immigrant people are working in these areas. Local people are looking for other training and opportunities to improve’.

With a lot of experience in social work and struggling to find work, Montse knows very well the problems that people in Galicia face. And in many cases, the challenges faced by immigrants coincide with those of local citizens.

‘Integration into Spanish society is not easy at times, not even for the natives, so how could it be for those who come from abroad. You have the feeling of always starting and coming back to follow the same paths that you have already walked over and over again, to move forward. Many times it ends with depression and other health problems. Above is the bureaucratic part that in order to work, immigrants have to apply for papers, a health card, etc.’.

Considering the social life of immigrants, Montse believes that many of them seek contact with their compatriots and prefer to remain in their social circles, not necessarily with the local community.

‘If you go to another place, you always look for affinity, associations where there are people like you, a group of equals, which usually exist. But it is what it is about, that there are associations of people where you feel the same’.

Montse recognizes the complexity of the problem of facilitating the integration of immigrants into society.

‘Sometimes politics doesn’t help as it should. For example, although some left policies seem to support greater social initiatives and say “yes, we are going to do this or that”, many times it is not done later. Not all aid can come from government and non-governmental organizations alone. There has to be a balance between facilitating integration into society with social assistance and control mechanisms so that people do not only have the option of accommodating themselves with those benefits that are never enough. We need to be willing to take matters into our own hands and become independent as much as possible from social benefits. But also from the point of view of the employer, or those who offer work, certain exploitations that disturb the way to change should be eradicated’.

Although well aware of the difficulties many Spaniards and immigrants face in their struggle for integration into society and the job market, Montse believes there are signs of improvement.

‘I believe that society changes, people change. I have to think so – if I didn’t, I wouldn’t want to work here. I believe we have to think that it is not very easy and we have to go little by little’.

The most important thing in your life

‘Right now, what I want is to work. For me the important thing is to move forward and live independently again. To be included in this society, to find my place, even if it is small, but mine. My way of thinking will coincide with the majority because we all need to have our place’.

Luis

Although Luis has already celebrated his 76th birthday, he is considered to be one of the most active citizens of Ferrol. While not windsurfing, he can be found engaging in various outdoor activities, sharing the ideas with the youth or spending time with his grandchildren. Since always, Luis’ life has been full of ideas which not only turned into reality but are still being practiced nowadays.  

‘Our family is lucky. When I was a little boy my father won in a lottery 187 500 pesetas (1 100 Eur). It was a lot of money at that time and with this money he opened a small stationery store. Somehow, that was the beginning of our life. Together with my brother we would carry 50 packs of paper up the staircase working all day long. After several years, our family took another, bigger place in Ferrol and we were increasing quickly, making good money. It was Papelería Ferrolana, in front of Corte Inglés’. 

Luis was one of seven siblings. The numerous family used to spend every summer in the beautiful village of Riaño, in the foothills of the Picos de Europa. Unfortunately due to the construction of a dam and a reservoir in the 1980s, the village disappeared underwater and only remained in photos and beautiful memories of Luis and his family.

‘We had the best time of our youth there. Unfortunately, the government decided to build a reservoir and our beloved town was covered by the water, which made a strong impact on us, because even when we were older, we were going there from time to time to visit it. Later a new town was built, with the same name, but for us it is not the same’.

Until the age of 25, Luis helped his family by working in the shop. After some time however, as his passion towards sports was developing, he decided to start selling sport articles. He found the right place and eventually equipped it with tennis, archery, golf or even windsurfing articles. Right from the beginning, Luis’ head was full of ideas which he was constantly bringing to life one step at the time.

‘Once upon a time I was walking around and I saw a nice field. There were only horses there and it was a pity because it would be a great place to play golf. I looked for the owner and asked him to rent us the field. We were 16 friends. We agreed on the price with the owner. We rented it with our friends and worked on it every day to prepare the field. At the beginning we had only one hole. Then we made more, up to 18 holes. Then there were more and more people and we needed another place. We moved to another place and it is still in use – Club de golf Campomar.

One day I took a fishing net and went to a school and asked the Physical Education teacher if I could make a golf class for the students. I put a net and a piece of artificial grass in the gym, gave kids golf clubs and balls and they were hitting the balls towards the net. Everyone wanted to try. Also the teacher. The next teacher said he wanted to become a member of the golf club’.

Luis remembers the time when one of his friends gave him a windsurfing board for the very first time. Back then he could not have expected that this sport would become a major passion and his main activity in the future. Together with the friends, they tried to make use of that strange, new board but nobody succeeded. Finally, a little frustrated but curious, Luis went to a library and found a book about the windsurf technique.

‘There was one sentence explaining how to position the sail against the wind, thanks to which I managed to start surfing. We bought more boards but we didn’t have enough space to put them in the shop. We found a little house by the water and rented it. That’s how we started our windsurfing association Club Ferrolvento Windsurf. I still teach windsurfing nowadays’.

A Sport shop, golf club and windsurfing club were merely the beginning. Just like any other initiative, Luis’ story with cars started in a similar way. One day together with a friend of his, two boys decided to open a car association called Escudería Automovilística Ferrol. They cooperated with one of the dealers and eventually would open their own office at the age of 20. 

‘We decided to make a race. In order to do that, we had to prepare the streets in Ferrol, talk with the town hall and police and get all the permissions. The race’s tour went along the wall of the Arsenal – from the Post Office (Correos) to the harbour and back. During the first race we had eight or nine cars. It was spectacular, people were cheering. The races are organized every year and each year they are getting better. This year we will have the 51st edition of the races – 51° Rallye de Ferrol 2020’.

What are the lessons that Luis have learned throughout all those activities? Looking back, the main advice Luis would like to give to the people is to live intensely, write and make photos to catch the moment, though he mainly regrets that the authorities and organizations do not provide young people with enough activities. Sometimes he goes to the Caranza beach on a sunny day and notices it is empty because children stay home. ‘But it is not only about sports’ he explains.  

‘For example there is an excellent movement of making urban gardens on unused lands, by groups of people. People plant fruit and vegetables together. And we have a lot of land that is left uncared. About 5 years ago in Caranza a group of local people made such an urban garden but after a year or two it disappeared. It’s a pity because with the current situation in the world (in general and with covid) if each person could grow fruit and vegetables by the house, it would be great.’

Luis’ family maintained an entrepreneurial spirit. One of his daughters has a flower shop in Canido, another one has a company that issues licences to drive ships for sailors and his son has a company which repairs buildings. His oldest grandson is 22 and has a company with drones, making videos, photos and reportages. 

Years ago people in Galicia were very very poor. They had no money and many people went to South America, on big ships crowded with people carrying only their personal belongings. They arrived in countries like Argentina with their mind to work. They worked so much and they earned money. Sometimes they were opening shops, little factories… Many of them came back years after and with that money they built splendor houses with palm trees in front’.

Indeed years ago the Spanish habitants were emigrating in search of jobs in America. Nevertheless, Luis’ feelings about government directives towards migration issues nowadays are rather mixed. He admits not knowing anyone from Latin America here in Ferrol.

‘I like when young people come because here, in Galicia, the population is getting old and young people are necessary. But there is one thing that I don’t like about immigrants. They come to Spain or other countries and don´t work. And the government gives money to these people – to eat, to sleep. I would prefer that the government makes contracts to these people – for instance you are going to work 2 hours or 4 hours for the community and take the money. Because otherwise one receives the money and does nothing. 

If you work, you get the money, if not – not. Because if a country invites people and gives them money without working, crowds of people will come. Once a friend of mine said “I want to work”. He went to a factory and asked how much he would be earning there. And he refused the offer because the unemployment money that he was receiving was higher than the salary offered in that factory’.

On the other hand, many people who come to Spain cannot work due to the lack of the work permission. Luis admits that what for sure needs some change is the waiting time. He also notices the problem regarding minimum wage and grey economy. 

‘Let’s say I own a company and pay you 500 EUR. But another person comes and says “I’ll do the same work for 200 EUR”, some companies would accept it. Many people come to Spain to pick fruit. They work very hard and they don’t have insurance nor a future pension. If they have an accident, nobody will take care of them. I believe that if someone works, it must be absolutely legal. In many places it’s impossible. One problem that I see with people who come in small boats mostly from Africa, is that they are not professional workers. They are healthy and have no money. But what can they all do in a little place in Spain? Nothing.

They know that in Spain they will be taken care of, they´ll get money and accommodation. It is a big social and political problem. The solution could be to have control points on the border which ask: “Do you come here to work? What’s your profession? Do you have a job here?” If not – it’s impossible to accommodate them’.

The idea Luis has is to build a centralized system that could connect employers and the government with potential employees. He also sees a big potential in the public land in Spain which nobody takes care of. Lots of lands might be rented to the immigrants who could later work and sell the produced crops.

‘Another thing that the government must do is to go to poor countries and help. For example, years ago one company went to Africa and helped to construct houses. Also, it is easy to provide access to water – just put a machine working with solar power and getting the water from underground. If we help the people where they live, they won’t need to leave their homes’.

What is the most important thing in your life?

I think that personally the most important thing is my family.

On a global level – the most important thing would be seeing that everybody has something to eat, to sleep, to work, to think. Humans are the worst species of the planet if we compare with the animals. Because the animals only kill to eat. And people kill for money and other things. I think that the animals are better than us. 

Countries in war have a terrible situation: people dying, shooting, lacking food, destroying houses. Years ago we had such a situation in Spain – during Franco times. Many people died and it was terrible.

Sarath

Having spent the last few years in Europe, Sarath has got a deep insight into the Western culture, so different from the one that he grew up in. Even though he loves the deep relationships between people, strong family bonds and kindness of the people in India, he also appreciates some of the aspects of the Western lifestyle, such as the independence of the individual, care about the physical health and the tranquility of life.

Sarath graduated in mechanical engineering in his home country- India. He wanted to pursue his studies abroad so the moment he found out about getting accepted to his Master course in France and Germany, he immediately agreed to come to Europe.

‘Although I did not know the language, I chose France. After two years of studying at Master level, once again I applied for the PhD in Europe- this time in Spain. Without doing any research at all, I simply agreed to come to A Coruna and Ferrol. I guess I just thought it would be fun!’.

Studying in India cannot compare to studying in Europe. Sarath admits that back in his home country he did not have a single pause during the four years of intense university life. Despite his commitment, he started college without any clear idea nor a vision for the future. Sarath always kept on improvising and going with the flow.

‘I come from the South of India, Kerala. Every summer I visit my family who still lives there. They would love to come to see Europe one day, but honestly I cannot imagine what a cultural shock would it be for them! India is the only place they have ever been to. For more than 50 years, my parents have lived according to certain values, ideas and prejudices. My younger sister is 25 years old, is married and has a child. In India, 90% of marriages are arranged’. 

There is a matrimonial website, similar to ‘Tinder’ of India which instead of young people, engages mostly their parents. The parents look for a person to marry for their child according to the necessary data such as: horoscope, skin colour, caste, religion, appearance etc. For Sarath, this phenomenon may be the evidence of hidden racism. 

‘People from North of India are whiter than those from the south. Society thinks that if you are more white you are more valuable. We have commercials of specifics that make your skin whiter. So if you grow up in a society like that, it is really hard for you to take it out of your head. The marriage of my sister was also arranged and she was really worried about her horoscope, according to which she should get married early. My sister didn’t know anything about these things. I was supporting her but she was scared inside. I think it has to be changed. We live in the 21st century and there is still the mindset that women have to stay in the house instead of choosing her path. It’s absurd’.

India differs a lot from the European countries. For instance, both parents hold a very strong position in the society. Even when ‘children’ grow up, get married and find a job, they are still supposed to share the same house with their parents (until they die). Because there is no social/security funding once they are retired, parents are completely dependent on their children. Sarath admits he always had to deal with a lot of pressure related to marriage and reply to countless questions from the part of his family. Nevertheless, there are still many positive aspects which could be taken over from the Indian culture.

‘I think that in India there is much more humanity left in people. By humanity I mean the kindness, the way the people understand you, the way they want to help you. It’s much more present in India than here. There are many more people who want to be with the others and get to know the others. The Western society is much more independent, you want to be alone, in your own way. The society in India is more dependent. An average middle class house normally has somebody to cook for you. Here it is seen as a very posh thing. But there- it is healthy. There are a lot of people so not everybody can have a big, dream job and stay independent. There are some people who work at your house, who you respect and you distribute the money like that. For me this is something which is not really bad’.

With his open-minded attitude, Sarath rarely had any problems with connecting to the place or people he stayed in. What he likes the most about Ferrol is the possibility of getting to know everyone in the small city. 

‘I still have 2 more years here and a research stay in Germany for 5 months. My initial plan was to go back to India after a couple of years. Right now though, I have no idea. There are many cultural differences and I keep on changing every year. In general I wanted to go back to India and perhaps teach children about the importance of sports. Because in India sports are seen like something not necessary. We don’t care about our body at all. We just live with that and that’s it. And actually, you have only one body’. 

After a couple of years spent in Europe, Sarath admits that his motivation is much different from what it used to be. Back in India, he really wanted to succeed with his studies as well as his further career, fame and money. Right now, the ‘no pasa nada’ attitude has switched his priorities to rather staying calm and simply being happy. 

‘I don’t really find myself driving for attention or money. I wanna live my life and enjoy it. Sometimes however it is also depressing. All around the world people think that you need to push yourself to achieve success. And when you change your mind – you are living good, you are nice, you have enough money to maintain yourself, you are living the moment. But then you see all the people around you on Instagram which show you that success is meant to be another thing and sometimes… it is depressing. 

I think many people can relate to this, especially young ones. C’est la vie. You cannot work all the time. You work a bit and then have a rest’.

What is the most important thing in your life?

I don’t know what is important and what is not important. Even the small things are important to me. Perhaps the most important thing would be love? It gives happiness.

Olga

Being born on the African continent as a European citizen is perhaps what has made Olga so open-minded and respectful towards different cultures. With a clear mission in her mind, she continues to learn and spread the message of respect and understanding towards the immigrants. 

After finishing her studies about special education, Olga started working in the social field. In particular, she took care of people with disabilities such as autism. Right now, she is working as an intern in the organization Movilidad Humana and would like to continue her previous work afterwards. She knows that by helping people, her life becomes fulfilled. 

‘I was born in Melilla, North Africa and my husband comes from Ferrol. Living and interacting with many cultures is a normal thing for me- I am used to Islamic, Jewish, Hindu and Christian cultures which are all present on the northern coast. We all live together and respect each other, celebrating various festivals and religions. There is no place for fights nor conflicts’.

Olga believes that many Spanish people are afraid of immigrants taking away the jobs, forgetting that usually those who escape from their country are simply looking for a better and safer life. 

‘People who want to enter Melilla or Ceuta arrive from other African countries after a very hard and long journey from their country of origin. They come desperate. And when they cannot enter, sometimes they get aggressive and try to enter at any costs. This of course is not good but somehow understable. The police officers are doing their job. Governments and politicians should act differently though.

I have no foreign friends here, only used to know a French girl once. Perhaps everyone feels better in their group, more comfortable and protected. In Ferrol there are not many events where you could meet people, there is not much movement. There is not enough promotion from the part of the city council. Maybe this could be improved?’.

Olga’s family lives in Andalusia. She herself believes that there is a lot of racism due to the agricultural character of that part of Spain. In her opinion, employers may not be interested in hiring a Spaniard because of the fact they have to pay for the insurance etc. It is easier for them to hire an immigrant, not give him any papers and pay in black. 

‘Instead of attacking those kinds of business practices of those who command, people attack the immigrants. Although they are working for very little money and they also take a part of this money to send to their family, to their country’.

Olga notices racism between Spanish people from different regions. It is a result of lack of understanding of different ways of acting.

‘In Galicia such opinion is not common, but from Madrid to the north people think that the Andalusians do not work, they are all day smiling, partying or lying down, sleeping. But it is not like that. We work differently, with joy, with laughter, making jokes. On the other hand, we think that the people of Madrid and the north are very serious’.

She also mentions that sometimes she is too straightforward for the Galician standards.

‘We, the Andalusians, say things and it seems that we are serious, but we are not. And here many times I have said some joke and someone has taken it seriously, not understanding the sarcasm or not understanding what I meant- I have had to explain it later. You have to measure the words a lot’.

The most important thing in life

The most important thing in my life is health. Because if you are healthy, you can do whatever you want.

Mbacke

Serigne Mbacke came to Spain 15 years ago with only three of his Senegalese friends. Right now, he works at heights, runs the Senaglese Association in Ferrol and has just become a father. The beginning was anything but easy- a new language, new customs, new challenges, but also new opportunities.

‘Through the years we managed to integrate with the others and brought more Senegalese people to Ferrol. When I first set the Senegalese Association, there were only three of us. Right now the numbers are growing and more than 100 people from Senegal help each other on different occasions. We all treat each other as one big family who celebrates together. Often people who come here have no money, nor food to survive but because of our family spirit- we always manage to deal with the problems together.

When I first came here thanks to my friends, it seemed like a new, wonderful opportunity. Although Senegal is poor- what really matters there is avoiding the war. Perhaps living in peace is the most important aspect in my home country. Politicians have stayed the same for years and certainly did not manage to bring any change in Senegal. That is the reason why we migrate to Europe- to earn the money we can later use to improve’.

Spanish and Senegalese cultures are very different. However, according to Serigne Mbacke, what really matters is to adapt and learn from the place of your stay.

‘If we come to a new place- we come in order to improve. I believe that some of the customs from Senegal should be replaced, and some of them should remain the same. We do have customs that are not good for any of us. I often compare two customs from different cultures and choose the one which I prefer. For me that is the main point of integration: to take one but leave another. Countries like Spain hold various aspects that I would love to implement in my home country, such as fixed working hours.

Senegalese culture is all about integrity. We never leave our family alone with no food, but rather share everything we have. I miss a lot of things from my home country which is why one day I am willing to return. Eventually, we live here in Spain in order to come back and improve our family and community lives back there. I have two more children in Senegal. We are thinking about developing a bigger project such as opening a local business or building houses for everyone in my homeland (it is still very common for people to live in overcrowded spaces). We really do need those changes’.

What is the most important thing/dream?

My dream would be to stop mistreating people, especially immigrants who come here and are willing to get the proper work permits and papers in order to work. Personally, I do not care if anyone calls me black or white because the color does not matter to me. But what I do not want for other people is to treat them in a different manner because they are immigrants. Many of us are struggling with their rights to work and live. 

It really bothers me a lot. At the same time, I know we can change this attitude. What we should do is very simple: to treat everyone in the same way. 

Vanessa

Vanessa puts on her colorful, african dress for islamic celebration Tabaski – Feast of the Sacrifice. Although her husband comes from Senegal, they both agreed to share various customs which varied between their countries. Indeed, as long as she can remember, Vanessa has always tried to look for similarities rather than differences. 

‘I have lived in Naron, Spain my entire life. The injustices present in our world have bothered me since always. As a small child I remember asking my parents to buy me black dolls because I really liked the black skin and used to get angry with those who looked weirdly at people with different skin colour’.

Over fourteen years ago, some Senagalese men came to Narón in search of work. They did not have any valid documentation and worked on the street selling flowers, shoes and various items. Vanessa would always walk down the street and stopped to chat with them or buy their products. 

‘I wanted to engage into conversation with them on the contrary of what other people did. This is how actually I met my husband. Together with other Senagalese boys he lived in the neighborhood and I would always meet them on the street, in cafes or at a supermarket. They treated me as a friend, asked for advice or even invited me to their house (as a way to say ‘thank you’).’

Vanessa and her husband were friends for 2 years. They slowly started to fall in love with each other. However, as Vanessa admits, the process in her head was rather complicated and unsure. 

‘Although I am not a racist nor do I have any kind of prejudice, unconsciously I believed a little in what the society in which I grew up told me. Having to tell my family that I fell in love with a black man was difficult. In the 60s, my father was a part of the military service and had to fight against the Moroccans in Western Sahara. Obviously he was defending Spain but the memories of ‘the Maroons’ as he used to call them, remained. I was really scared to talk about my relationship with him. At first, I told it to my mother and she was very supportive. We went shopping, bought bed sheets and clothes for her boyfriend and I, so that I could move to live with him’.

At that time, Vanessa was 30. For the next 5 months, she did not tell anything to her dad. When she eventually decided to tell the truth, her father was anything but surprised. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”. She talked about her fear of being rejected, but quickly realized that the most important thing for her parents was to see their daughter happy.

‘We became a common-law couple. My husband didn’t ask me for that but I wanted to help him with the papers. Honestly, I would have done it for one of these guys here if i didn’t fall in love with my husband. Because you cannot imagine how difficult it is to get the proper documentation. If you are not a common-law partner, you have to spend at least 3 years in Spain! Three years here without the right to legally work and earn the living. That’s the reason why men sell things on the street.’

Vanessa’s husband arrived on the Canary island by boat. He stayed with the Red Cross for 45 days (the maximum allowed time) after which he should have been either repatriated if the proper plane had come. At the end however, the organisation let him go to Valencia and then- Galicia.

‘There was a lot of racism in Valencia, but not here. In Valencia people called my husband “black shit”. When he was walking down the street, people would call the police. Before being married, my husband had been selling shoes which technically is illegal. But he had to earn the living – he was not robbing or stealing. If he was not allowed to sign any contract without papers, what else could he have done? Here in Galicia, a policeman would have a coffee together with my husband even though he was aware of his lack of documentation’.

Over 5 years ago, the couple managed to fix the documentation problem. They rented an apartment together and Vanessa told her husband to continue his education. The ESO (compulsory secondary education) which he completed in Senegal was not valid in Europe. So he did ESO here and then a cycle – a professional carpentry training. Eventually, her husband started working in a shipyard meanwhile Vanessa was a nurse assistant and worked with older people. 

Vanessa got legally married 2 years ago. She did not have to convert to Islam because of the fact that Muslim man can marry a Christian-origin women (not the opposite). There are a lot of customs and habits that the couple have had to learn and accept. Vanessa drinks wine and smokes from time to time as the opposite of her husband who is not allowed to. 

‘We got married and well, here we are. No children and no more wives. I am the only one and this is the condition he agreed upon. I am Spanish and personally I do not understand the polygamy. When you start a relationship with a Senegalese there are certain things you have to ask. He is Muslim, which means he could possibly have 2,3,4 wives. We have stayed together for 10 years and I have always been his only one. 

Since 2012 I cannot work due to my health problem. I have two serious diseases which is why I am retired. Unfortunately, I have never been able to visit Senegal. There is too much sun and heat over there which I have to avoid. Nevertheless, we often talk with my husband’s family on the phone- I learned some phrases in Wolof language and showed them my traditional senegalese dress. Now I would like to go to Poland now because I really like you.’.

Now Vanessa is telling her husband to apply for Spanish nationality. Applying for nationality can be a complicated process even for a married couple. During the interview, it has to be proven that the marriage was not arranged for some socio-political reasons. Foruntaly, Vanessa and her husband had already been a common-in law couple for seven years before so :” it had to be love” as she says. 

What is the most important thing in your life?

That’s an exciting question! Maybe I’m a bit delicate but the most important thing for me is having the people you love close. I lost my parents recently and right now I only have my husband and my siblings. And friends, of course. I am happy with my husband but – without my parents – it is not the same.

And what matters most to me in life are values. That the values ​​are not lost. The respect for others, fighting for a more just world, for reducing social differences such as very rich and very poor. I am that kind of person who watches TV and sometimes my husband has to turn it off because I start to cry. I have to cry. I have to cry because I can’t stand so many bad things happening. I do not understand the majority of them, I swear. Many times I tell my husband “I don’t fit in this world”!  I’m not better than anyone, I swear to God that I don’t consider myself better than nobody. But seeing those things happening: the scorn, the murders, the rapes… 

What is the point? Whether you are black, or white, or Asian, or African, or American – if I cut myself and you cut yourself, we both share the same, red blood. You die and your death is worth the same as mine. So what would make me happy? Seeing justice. And have my loved ones close.

Fran

Fran’s journey started in Ferrol, continued through different parts of Europe, and eventually finished in the same place with a whole new attitude and vision. Nowadays, his organisation invites people from all over Europe and turns global mindset into local actions. Making things more beautiful in a physical and personal term remains Fran’s main mission and goal which he strives to achieve everyday.

‘My childhood was moving from one spot to another – from the South to the North of Spain. I would transfer to different places and change schools all the time because my father was in the military. It was hard but I think that it gave me the attitude to be able to adapt to every circumstance and to not be scared to start from zero’. 

When he was growing up, Fran had never thought about travelling the world at all. At the age of 19, he had already finished an internship in a bank after which he got an excellent, well-paid job offer. It was the ‘boom period’ in Spain and all the banks were hiring new applicants, attracting them with good salary and new perspectives.

‘I refused the offer because I wanted to study at the university and had already planned my very first international trip to Malta. It was supposed to be a one month summer language course. But that trip- it changed my mind in the way I could have never imagined. After I came back from Malta the bank offer was not a deal anymore. Although everyone I knew pushed me to accept the offer (well I was 19 years old and would already earn 2000 euro a month), I was hesitating’.

Was refusing such an offer a mistake? Fran could not have known the answer. After a while, the bank fired many employees and eventually went bankrupt. However, Spain was still a rich country and the government was investing in the youth exchanges. The young student took advantage of it and went abroad every summer. Beside Malta, he visited the UK and France.

‘Every time I returned I wanted more. It was kind of an addiction to travel which developed out of nothing. I was never planning to do so. Italy was my first long term Erasmus exchange and also my first time living out of home. I studied for one year in Teramo. The city is smaller than Ferrol, in the middle of the mountains. But it was really lovely! Back then, all the flights were very cheap. During those golden times of travelling I did all the possible routes: flying  Sardinia for 1 cent, to Oslo for 5 euros. Can you imagine that 20 euros per flight were already too expensive!’ 

Fran believes that once you accept the challenge of travelling (even alone) and see that you can handle it- your comfort zone is widened. You are willing to accept more challenges which make you grow. He thought: “what happened with these people that have the opportunity in front of them and they don´t take it? In my faculty, I was the only student going on Erasmus in several years. I studied Human Resources Management”.

‘At some point however, that got slightly boring. As an Erasmus student you have limited financial resources and even though the flights are cheap, you have to pay a lot of expenses. There was this particular moment in February when I was bored at home, with no money at all when I received a call that changed my life. A long friend of mine called me. He had already told me about a training course he has been doing in the UK (Youth in Action, the previous program before Erasmus+). It was Thursday evening and he was looking for last minute participants for a training course in Macedonia. He asked me whether I wanted to go and I replied: “Wait, where is Macedonia? Isn’t it not something you actually eat!?”.

In the next three days, he was already flying to Skopje. Without noticing, Fran fell in love with the Erasmus+ projects and did more than 30 of them in just one year. Europe became limitless. He contributed to every single session in order to engage and discover the continent. At a certain moment however, he came to the conclusion that the setup in every country was very similar. 

‘Apparently, we are more similar than we think we are. I went for a long term European Voluntary Service (EVS) project to Poland, Łódź in 2013. Although the first impressions were rather unappealing (Google Street view showed a group of bald guys drinking beer) eventually I organized my first two projects as a coordinator there. After coming back home I did not want to be a participant anymore. Together with my friend we wrote our first own project’.

At the beginning, the two young students did not really believe their 2-years long project could ever be accepted nor become real. It turned out, it did. A new organisation- Xeración was born. Very quickly, the part-time activity developed into full-time work. In 2015, Fran opened a small office and hosted the very first volunteers from Poland and Slovakia.   

Over the last seven years however, Fran managed to build a cosmopolitan community in his local place. He never imagined that one could have a possibility to speak English in Ferrol. Around 10 years ago, Fran was feeling like a little boy in a little village. That bothered him every time he went abroad, started to widen his perception but eventually had to come back to the ‘boring normality’.  

‘Probably this was one of the main motivations to create Xeración and to keep inviting people to come here and change the mentality. The fact I didn’t make my highschool friends travel was frustrating. Somehow we got distant. I want to change our community because it’s the one I know, it’s the one I care the most about. It’s a small town with a lot of needs and it doesn’t matter if it’s on the side of stereotypes, racism, environment or civic participation. I think that you, the volunteers, are a priceless tool to take these steps. 

There is a field for improvement but I saw and know that we did change some people’s lives. No salary can pay that. If I may give you some suggestions – go for the purpose in life. If you don’t know what to do from now on, try to find something that really fills you, where you think that you can really contribute and don´t care so much about “what will people say?” or “what is the best paid position?”. Just try to find something that you would even do without money. It’s wonderful to match passion and work’. 

Fran also perceives migration as an opportunity, beyond a threat. From an economic and ‘selfish’ point of view, migrants bring richness. But most importantly, new people bring new ideas. New willingness to create and work which, according to Xeración’s founder, is needed not only in Ferrol but in the whole Spain.  

Fran sees his future in Ferrol. What he realized after years of travelling is the fact one can blossom in the place where they are from. Nowhere else you know the people, the place or the background. To pack up and leave does not seem to be any kind of a solution for Fran. There is a responsibility which lies within every action. 

‘If I go to Italy, neither culture nor language will be the problem. But if the Italians joke about something related to their history, probably I will not get it. It seems dull but at the end it becomes a barrier. For instance, you cannot really connect deeply with the local community’s needs’.

The most important thing in life

‘It may sound naive but the most important thing in life is trying to make the things more beautiful around me. In terms of physical and in terms of personal aspects. To make people around you happier and to try to create a better world around you. This is not about changing the world – it’s too abstract. It’s about the people that are close to you and places that are close to you. An example might be to go to a beach and take some litter from it – the beach before you came was dirty and after you left it was clean. The purpose of life would be to create a better world around you’.

Katia

Katia left Peru a long time ago. Although everything in her personal life is already settled, each day she gets to meet different people who migrate from all parts of the world. Her association ‘Movildad Humana’ is a shelter and a second home for those who remain in motion.  

‘When I was younger, my dream was to learn, explore and get out. After graduating from accounting in Peru, a telephone company hired me and I started working there. In the meantime however, my family who lived in Madrid used to tell me a lot of interesting facts about Spain so after a few talks we had together, I became so intensely curious about visiting that new place!’

It didn’t take long for young and freshly-graduated Katia to leave Peru and come to Europe. Although the new place was nothing but exciting, she had to find a job and earn a living. At the beginning Katia took care of children and  worked as a home help. Afterwards she completed a course in real estate and worked on digital technology support platforms. 

‘Here in Galicia, I worked with older people at the beginning. Children and people in general have always been an important part of my life. Although currently I work in a real estate agency, purchasing and selling flats- we still have our association Movildad Humana’.

Soledad and Katia met each other at a bus stop in Galicia. Two foreigners- a Peruwian and an Ecuadorian, were immediately attracted to each other and started talking. Soledad proposed: why don’t we form an association where we could help each other and feel more protected? As simply as it may sound, this is how the Movilidad Humana started.

‘Movilidad Humana’ name comes from the ‘people on the move’ from all over the world. At first there were mainly people from Ecuador but very quickly it turned out we had immigrants from South America, Caribbean, Africa and Europe. There is no other association like this in Galicia so the need to join a migration-concerned group was enorm. Our association was created by women immigrants and dedicated to immigrating women. However,  after a short amount of time we also had to give support to the women’s husband, children, brothers and partners.

At Movilidad Humana, every single woman can come and have an intimate moment of ‘one to one’ conversation. Katia admits that immigrant women need guidance and care. Many of them escape from abuse, domestic violence or shortcomings in life. They are afraid and do not know how to schedule appointments or register the documents.

‘What we do is: we listen to their needs, empathize and try to put ourselves in their place. Then we help them in various ways such as accompanying them with the paper related works, going to the doctor, making arrangements etc. We want to make them feel protected. Our office is like a second home, a major point of reference. A lot of women stay closed in their houses all the time, a lot of women leave their children in different parts of the world. Thanks to the association, they can finally go out to have a coffee and feel a little more sheltered. We are very fortunate to have this big space and be able to tuck everyone in. Movilidad Humana has a lot of people in very different life situations: from men, young boys to separated people or terrific companions. Everyone contributes to the main purpose of the association. We are all people on the move.’

When Katia came to Spain 26 years ago, she was still young with no resigments at all. She came to Madrid, settled, got married and got birth to her two, beautiful daughters. The adaptation process proceeded smoothly. In the past, it was much easier to find a job in Spain. Katia considers herself really lucky because of the fact she got the documentation and was able to ask for the asylum with no problems. Nowadays, getting the proper documents seems to be a whole different story. Over 90% of Katia’s colleagues work with no contract and have no documentation.

‘I used to work with a very nice family as a home care. Nowadays, many people have serious troubles related to home/domestic work. Either they work without the agreement, get underpaid or they suffer from all different kinds of abuse. I believe domestic service (work with seniors,childcare etc.) should be more respected.’

Despite the documentation problems, many people still decide to migrate to Europe. The reason lies mainly in the need for a safe, secure living. Europe holds dozens of opportunities for all kinds of qualifications. Katia admits she would rather stay in Spain and only visit her family in Peru from time to time. 

‘Almost all the people who immigrate want to find a better job, earn a little more money and have a brighter future. That is the reason they decide to stay. By taking care of children here, you can earn more money than as an accountant in Peru.’

So is Ferrol a dream place for immigrants to live in? Potentially yes, but there is still a lot of work to be done. As Katia mentions, this small city is a military zone and that is also why machismo is still present here nowadays. Galician people are rather distrustful and do not give a lot of confidence at the beginning. 

‘If I compare Ferrol with Madrid, Madrid’s people tend to be more open-minded. When I first came here, I saw a bit of rejection and distrust. However, after a while we ended up connecting and integrating with each other. Eventually I would feel supported. Ferrol is the city where people are constantly on the move. In our association, we work with the city council which notices very well what we are achieving. My dreams would be to create more space for integration. For instance: prepare some courses for women immigrants, give them access to the computers, teach them how to write a curriculum, promote different activities for international integration.Ferrol is slowly growing. Opening for differences and multiculturality.’

What makes you happy?

What makes me happy is obviously the fact that my family is fine. 

What would make me very very happy is that all our colleagues who do not have documentation, could finally receive it. This would be a great step forward for both our community as well as the society. 

Demba

Demba came to Spain as a 13-years old teenager without knowing the language, nor his new Spanish mother. His life changed unexpectedly during casual daily shopping. It was that one lady he met, who introduced him to a brand new world of athleticism. Nowadays, Demba is dreaming about winning an Olympic Gold Medal in 400m sprint and is ranked as the 7th best junior athlete in Spain.

 

‘My dad comes from Senegal and my mum is from Gambia. They met each other when my dad came to fish there for a few months. When I was little I dropped my school in order to join my family and work on the boat.

 

It was my father’s idea to go and search for work in Spain. I stayed in Africa with my mother. At the beginning my dad had some serious problems in Europe: he could not find any job and eventually he was put in jail for a while. After some time however, he started to work again and met his current wife- my ‘Spanish mother’. Four years had passed and I decided to join him in Barcelona.’

 

Demba’s first impressions from Spain were rather harsh: he remembers landing at the A Coruna airport, not knowing how to communicate and where to ask for help.

‘I arrived in Coruna, followed the crowd, opened the door and saw my father with his Spanish wife for the first time. We went home and after a week spent in Spain, I wanted to go back. It was all very complicated. I obviously had no friends and would stay home with my Spanish mother, who did not understand my language just as I did not understand her.

 

Eventually, I went to school. It got even worse there. Without understanding anything, the only thing I wanted was to go back to Africa. But there was no return- my dad spent too much money on the ticket, visa etc and I was obligated to learn Spanish. Fortunately my Spanish sister helped a lot and introduced me to new people. My motivation grew and I started to learn Spanish every single day with my mother.’

 

Demba’s mum used to give him shopping lists in Spanish in order to make him practice the language all the time. Once upon a time, when he was standing confused between the market shelves, he met a nice lady who helped him with the list.

 

‘She had children who played soccer and convinced me to join them. I was terrible at it! Back in Gambia, I’d rather go fishing than play soccer. But- there was one good thing that she noticed. I was very fast. The lady asked me: why don’t you try athletics? My reply was a ‘no, I do not like it.’ She didn’t agree and convinced me once again to try it out. On the first day of training other boys beat me in running and I promised to myself to beat them on the next time. 

 

I trained a lot and after four months only I was the Galician champion in my category in 400m. I finished 10th at the Spanish Championships. In the second year, I won two gold medals in Galicia in 200m and 400m, and arrived 7th in the whole Spain. Very close to the medal. This year I was going to go to the U-20 World Athletics Championships, in Africa (Nairobi), but due to covid-19 it was postponed until next year. I was going to represent Senegal because I don’t have Spanish nationality. In the future however, my dream is to represent Spain, because that’s where I live now and because there are many competitions which I can participate in. Senegal is not an option right now- I couldn’t even go back there.’ 

 

Demba is aiming high. He knows that little by little he will improve and reach the top level as an athlete. One of his dreams is becoming the European Champion. He knows that if he continues to train, he will be capable of achieving something great. Sports also helped him to make more friends. People started to recognize him from time to time and ask for photos.

 

‘I don’t consider myself a star but a normal person. My idol is Usain Bolt. He’s humble, treats people very well, and unlike other athletes, he doesn’t have to dope. In the future, I would like to be like him.

 

In my country the level of athletics is very high. In fact, my mother was an athlete. A team from the United States wanted to hire her but her father didn’t want it because she was very young and she didn’t know anyone there. He loved her very much. Now I am in a very similar situation. Senegalese and Spanish cultures are so different. I still prefer the Senegalese one and will stick to it.’

 

The young athlete’s dream is to return to his country and build his own house there: ‘I would also like to open a business there such as a beautiful restaurant on the beach for my mother. Six years have passed without seeing her. Family always comes first in my life. Sport goes second’.

 

The most important thing in life

 

The most important thing in my life is my family. If I were a millionaire, first I would help my family, then people who are close to my family and then the others. Even if I have little, if there is someone on the street who has nothing, I will help him. Because all of us could find ourselves in this kind of situation. For example when my father arrived here, he did not have a job, he did not know anyone. So if I see someone who needs help, as my dad needed in the past, I help him. 

 

I also believe you have to be kind, humble and not get too angry in life. If you are nice to people, people are going to be nice to you. If I hurt somebody, I will always ask for forgiveness. I will apologize 3 times because it is my fault. I have respect for all people – from youngest to oldest. If I give you 100 percent respect, you also have to give me 100 percent respect.

Alberto

Alberto’s family comes from Ferrol but he has already been working in different shipyards of Spain, lining the boats. Although he considers himself an open-minded person, Alberto admits racism has been always present in his personal life. 

When I was born, my family moved to Alicante. We were somehow immigrants, who came to live in a different city. My mother used to say that the opinion about Galicians in Alicante was rather negative: ‘They were taking away the jobs of the locals by charging everything cheaper’. As funny as it may sound, those were the exact words my father would later repeat about immigrants coming from Latin America to Ferrol. He, indeed, was a racist. 

What is more, when I got married my parents did not come to the wedding. They refused to accept the invitation because of the fact I invited my international and ‘gypsy’ friends. All the outsiders that I met have always been very humble and reminded me that despite our differences we are all people. I learned a lot thanks to them.

Nowadays I have three children. They are the most important thing in life for me. The oldest one is 22 and got an offer to work on a boat in China. My daughter is studying Early Childhood Education and my third son is still pursuing his primary education. If my children want to go abroad in the future, I would for sure support them. International experience and a mixture of cultures enriches everyone.  
If one day I had to go to another country to work, I would. Thanks to living in various places in Spain I noticed that prejudices are not good. I do not judge anyone by where he/she is from. I judge him/her as a person.