Sunday, 16 February 2014

Why are chinese spaniards speaking spanish fluently exotic?

Two summers ago a friend of mine from Alcorcon, suburb of Madrid, whom I met on the Spanish southern beaches of Murcia where we used to spend the summer as kids, told me about a guy she met while she was out one night. Apparently, she came across a guy from her neighborhood that was “Chinese but born in Spain and more Spanish than anyone of us”. I listened to her and replied that I honestly did not understand the “strangeness” of the matter. We started discussing the topic – and why it was still so strange and somewhat exotic for her to meet a man with this background, while it was so obvious and natural for me who had grown up with this kind of multiplicity in Stockholm, ever since I was born there in 1983.

My reaction has a logical explanation though; great waves of immigrants started coming to Sweden a long time ago as “more immigrants arrived in a decade than throughout the entire history”. This phenomenon started occurring during the seventies and eighties, and continued to overflow during the nighties and the “zero zeros” as well. Almost all of my childhood friends are born in Sweden or came here when they were really young, and are therefore just as neutralized as me, the “Chinese man” in Murcia or the former Barca Bojan. 

During our conversation we also talked about the Swedish friends that I have brought along on other occasions to spend the summer in Murcia.  Many of them have apparently caused somewhat confusion amongst the locals. For instance: “Aren’t all Swedes supposed to be tall, blond, and blue-eyed?” This preconception always amuses me. At least “my Swedes” aren’t, especially not considering that they have Latin-American or Persian roots, and as such not too many blue eyes or height to extract from them. But this is only part of the truth. In reality, it is nowadays no longer possible to claim that Swedes have blond hair, blue eyes or considerable height. Let me give you an example; sometimes when I give public speeches in Sweden, I ask the audience to raise their hands if they have blue eyes or blond hair. Unsurprisingly, not too many do. This is because a few centuries ago the migration currents from Belgium and Holland left very few people with blond hair and blue eyes amongst those who “look Swedish”, irrespective of them having been born in Sweden to Swedish parents and ancestors or not. This re-defining process of identity has continued to develop slowly, but just imagine: if it is running slowly within the Swedish borders, how is it running outside of them?

Yet this is the current situation. Sweden has 9.5 million inhabitants, and almost a million and a half of them are immigrants. Around a million of us Swedes are the fruit and loins of these 1, 5 million immigrants, not counting those who like my parents have emigrated again. This is also an issue I will address more thoroughly later on - I am referring to those who after immigrating decide not stay after all.
One thing for sure is that something similar to what I just described is going to happen in Spain. Considering it has one of the smallest populations in Europe, more immigration is in order unless you want a population with a median age of 60 in no time at all. And this is where the topic with which I started gets serious: if you insist on treating the Spanish with darker skin or bigger eyes as strange or exotic, you are going to end up  creating a society that is neither up to date with reality nor necessity. Naturally, a short time-period of admiration or interest might perhaps be inevitable in this case, but my advice is to avoid differentiation as much and as soon as possible.

For example, it should be natural for me in the Sweden of today to consider myself and my friends as Swedish. However, many of us are still seen and treated as exotic and strange, and what is worse – a danger in the eyes of the majority. We are consequently and ridiculously excluded from employment, studies and from many of the plenty of services that the Swedish society supposedly offers. I mean, isn’t it ridiculous that I have friends whose children are considered a problem to solve already as preschoolers because they have a Kurdish or Spanish name? That they are regarded as the grandchildren of immigrants? Nobody wants that society but many insist on reproducing it. The best thing is to stop it at once!