Friday, 27 November 2009

Written After Having Taken A Deep Breath

Okay, so I maybe got a little carried away in the last posting - however, I do assure you that the quotes I reproduced were (as far as my dodgy Catalan is concerned) accurate. More depressingly, they were pretty representative of the vast majority of comment threads I've read in the past couple of weeks.

The current situation is acting as a lightening rod for anyone with a gripe against demographic change in their community, to the extent of the President of UE Poble Sec blaming the football team's lack of supporters on immigration. To quote from the editorial of our excellent local paper, Zona Sec:

According to him (Pedro Venero, president of UE Poble Sec for more than 30 years), it is impossible for a neighbourhood "full of foreigners" to identify with a club of people of all the life [gent de tota la vida].

Gent de tota la vida is an expression for people who have always lived in a particular area, and I suppose could be loosely translated as indigeneous residents. Venero's comment is a bit rich, when the Sec's recent improvement in form has been put down to our new - Rumanian - signing, Raducanu. And the idea that recent arrivals can't get excited about their new local team is simply laughable - and something I'll deal with in more detail in my next post about the glorious Sec.

Essentially, what seems to be being said in one way or another is that Poble Sec used to be a great place to live, it isn't any more, and it's mainly - or completely - the fault of new arrivals to the area - particularly foreigners, with Africans, Dominicans and Pakistanis taking the full brunt of the blame - although (perhaps quite reasonably) more monied newcomers have been blamed for inflating property prices and rents. 

But the main complaints seem to be centred on noise - yelling and loud music, mostly, youths hanging out in the street, urinating in public, drug consumption and dealing, and crime in general. I even saw a comment that was highlighting the large number of rapes now occuring in broad daylight in the barri. That was as much news to me as I imagine it is to the police.

In fact, a friend pointed out the following quote in an issue of La Vanguardia, a respected and fairly moderate national daily:

The neighbourhood association (of Poble Sec) wants to draw a clear line between its demand  (for un barri digne - whatever that really means) and any taint of racism or xenophobia, but...

(there's always a but, isn't there?) clearly links the problems of the neighbourhood with the large increase in immigration.

In other words, it's all the fault of us immigrants, but the association doesn't want to be racist or xenophobic about being racist and xenophobic. So that's all right then.

Thankfully, if you want to find local voices opposing this point of view, you don't have far to look. As I briefly mentioned in the previous post, the wonderful local blog Un Balcó Al Poble Sec , written by long-term resident (thus, I suppose, part of the gent de tota la vida) and author Júlia Costa has a highly reasoned and far-ranging recent post that deals with the whole issue, gripe by gripe.

Zona Sec has a far more reasonable, sensible and conciliatory attitude than the more sensationalistic national press, and mis-guided (let's be diplomatic and not call them bigoted) self-styled community leaders. In addition, I've also read a  few comment postings online that stand out from amongst the sea of rage, such as the following:

I live in a building with 48 flats and 4 are occupied by immigrants (who) curiously have a higher level of behaviour than some of the indigenous residents and I speak with some understanding (when I say) the cause of poor public behaviour was already here before the arrival of immigrant families... the blame for the natural bad behaviour of this country is being falsely attributed to those from abroad.

Julía also makes some similar points. Amongst other things, she mentions that there was a huge amount of immigration - from other (non-Catalan speaking) parts of Spain in the Seventies - and, until the big clear-out for the Olympics, slums peppered the whole of Montjüic, which had a profound effect on the area. But everyone seemed to get on well enough, despite the fact that there were up to 40,000 people without electricity, running water or sewage disposal living on their doorstep. 

A surprising fact was that, in the Eighties, there were a lot of heroin addicts in the area and a fairly menacing atmosphere from gangs in some parts of Poble Sec. In other words, life hasn't always been wine and roses in the barri. In fact, according to Julía and many other residents I've spoken to (and I agree whole-heartedly), the neighbourhood is a very safe place indeed. And it sounds as though this wasn't always the case.

Another accusation levelled at recent arrivals is that we are taking over the shops and bars, and forcing local residents out of their homes. Not so, says Julía. It is certainly true that many small businesses are now owned by immigrants - there are Chinese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Dominican, Italian and British - run bars and shops in Poble Sec, for example - but many of these had previously been abandoned by indigenous owners, often remaining boarded up for months or years before being taken over and re-vitalised by foreigners. 

Now, there are shops open at all hours, many with exotic new products never before available in Poble Sec, that the more adventurous locals can take advantage of. As for forcing people from their homes, it appears that before the recent wave of immigration, younger locals were already leaving the area in droves. We've simply plugged this population gap.

And as for the issue of urine and filth on the the streets, I'd like to weigh in here myself and respectfully suggest that a good deal of it come from the legions of pet dogs - mainly walked by indigenous locals. Noise can be a localised problem, but there are laws to ensure that consistently noisy bars can be closed down. In fact, there are also planning appplication procedures before a bar, club or restaurant opens that give citizens in the vicinity the opportunity to stop a potentially disruptive venue before it becomes a problem.

Another issue is drug dealing, which even from a casual stroll around the area is clearly taking place. My questions are - who are buying the drugs - is it just immigrants? Or do Catalans enjoy the occasional jazz cigarette or line of nose-candy, also? And if we agree that street dealing is not only illegal but also unwelcome - why can't the police spot dealers as easily as I can, and arrest them? If they have a policy of containment, it would have been nice of them to have told the residents about it at some point, would it not? 

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