Powerful women-led organisations in shrinking regions

11 January 2021

Leticia Santaballa Santos

During the pandemic, fieldwork became a challenge. Nevertheless, the University of A Coruna team was able to start the Welcoming Spaces research on two of the selected case studies, thanks to the low prevalence of active COVID-19 cases over a period of several weeks in the autumn of 2020.  

Map showing the location of the two municipalities, Celanova (south) and Burela (north). Source: Google Maps.

Celanova is a Spanish municipality located inland in the Galician region, in province of Ourense. Burela, in turn, is a coastal village in the far north of the same region, in the province of Lugo. We could be forgiven for thinking that the two municipalities would have little in common; nevertheless, once out on the field, we were able to identify a shared singularity: powerful women-led cultural organisations with scope that extends far beyond their geographical boundaries. Indeed, our conversations with various agents in situ revealed a clear trans-local relevance.

Both locations are characterised by large migrant communities, albeit with widely-differing migration projects underlying people’s movements.  In Celanova, most of the “new” neighbours formerly lived in Venezuela. They already held Spanish citizenship, as many of them are returned Galician descendants, although some had never previously visited their ancestors’ country of origin, whilst others had travelled there regularly to spend their summer holidays.  Nevertheless, influxes and effluxes to and from Latin American countries had existed since the Galician diaspora of the early 20th century. In recent years, a steadily rising one-way trend, consisting mainly of migrants fleeing Venezuela, has rejuvenated an otherwise rapidly ageing population, the result of constant outward migration and falling birth rates.

Forty-five years ago, Burela, once a small village, began to receive people of Cape Verdean/Portuguese nationality, mainly for economic reasons related to the building and fishing industries. As the structural situation was prosperous at the time, people from other villages/regions/countries arrived and settled, and many were able to regroup their families. In a few decades Burela became a fully serviced municipality with a population of over 10,000 and more than 40 nationalities. However, the extent to which they integrated is an issue for study in future analyses.

The Batuko Tabanka Association had a long-standing trajectory as a cultural organisation, although it was further strengthened under female leadership in the wake of Bogavante, a social project that ran from 1998 to 2020. In turn, this led to the creation of a Batuque dance and music group whose origins lie in the dreadful times of slavery. You can listen to one of their songs here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efmP5hEwWBA

Mural dedicated to the Batuko Tabanka Association on a street in Burela. Source: Servizo de Audiovisuais da Diputación de Lugo, 2019.

In addition, the Cantaclaro Association started life as a cultural organisation that aimed to conserve and promote Venezuelan culture and values, as well as creating intercultural shared spaces within Galicia, providing interested participants of all ages with the opportunity to take part in traditional music courses (learning to play the cuatro stringinstrument, for example), dancing, workshops and many other activities. 

Some of the activities carried out by Asociación Cantaclaro (Celanova). Source: La Región newspaper, 2020.

When it comes to migration discourses, memory tends to be short-lived. Due to its relevance, we must never forget Galicia’s long-standing tradition of emigration that is still alive today. Indeed, the popular saying “there’s a Galician on the moon” is indicative of the scope and extent of a phenomenon that extended as far afield as Switzerland, Germany, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, Cuba, Belgium, Canada and even Australia – just some of the countries where it is possible to find Galician cultural organisations that remain active even today.  

Example of a Galician cultural organization in Switzerland. Source: Expaña Exterior Journal, 2019.

So, what do they have in common? Organisations in shrinking areas could be seen as the visible face of a migrant-based community, but their reach is wide and deeply rooted in the location. It goes far beyond the workshops, activities and concerts, and in many cases provides a supportive hand to hold along the way, when carrying out the basic procedures, or providing a sense of direction in a new environment, which comes from experienced voices in both realities. During the interviews, many of the returned Galician voices reminded us of the importance of the cultural organisations abroad, whose impact extends far beyond the actual migrant community, proving essential for development and schools houses, business and medical centres, all crucial for cultural reproduction, as well as enhancing development and social wellbeing for both reception and sending countries.

We began to perceive that their impact is far from trivial. In this sense, research into Welcoming Spaces should thoroughly and ethically address the contributions of cultural organisations. How do other agents interact with migrant community organisations in shrinking regions? How are communities organised and what are their demands? Are they really considered as key agents for development? It may well be that we will discover valuable and underestimated reception know-how.

COVID-19 Crisis impact on migrants in Spain: New challenges and opportunities in the shrinking regions

2 June 2020

María García Tarancón, Adolfo Patón (Cepaim Foundation
Obdulia Taboadela, Laura Oso (ESOMI; Universidade da Coruña)

Impact on immigrant’s employment: some hit boats, another ones coming up

In Spain, COVID-19 is having devastating effects on the economy and the labour market. In just fifteen days in March, the GDP has fallen by more than 5 points, and it is expected that in the next quarter our economy will fall by a further 14%, according to data from the European Commission and the INE (Spanish Statistics Institute). Logically, this collapse has had its correlation in the labour market, with a spectacular fall in employment and the hiring process. Such loss of employment does not affect all groups equally; it is precisely the weakest and most unstable who suffer most from job loss: young people, women and immigrants.

The hotel, restaurants industry and commerce, where there is a very significant number of immigrants, are some of the sectors where employment has fallen the most, because of the paralysis of activity and the closure of establishments due to confinement. However, there are three other sectors of activity with a high concentration of foreign workers, and where their employment levels have not fallen so much, or even their demand has increased during the COVID-19 crisis. These are agriculture and livestock farming, domestic employment and residential assistance (Ministerio Seguridad Social; SEPE). In the case of agriculture, this is due to the greater domestic demand for food and to the fact that it coincides with the harvest season. Residential care has increased due to the very nature of the pandemic and the need for care for the elderly.

However, this pandemic has also brought to light the existence of two new social classes, in the words of Antonio Izquierdo: those who can be confined and those who are exposed out of necessity. The immigrant population is part of that battalion of “exposed” who, from the fields, the supermarkets, transport, care, have to take more health risk.

New opportunities in the rural areas

With the Covid-19 pandemic, the need to reformulate the current socio-assistance model has been more than confirmed, where an increase in the number of workers per resident or even the creation of new assistance figures such as “the personal caretaker”, can be an option and a source of employment that manages to attract a large number of migrant population to the shrinking regions. Many migrants are caregivers for older people living in our villages and thanks to them, they can continue to reside with care and attention in their homes. Without relatives and with the desire to take care of the health of our elderly, their needs for attention and care should be alleviated through people who want to work as caregivers or home assistants, being a great employment opportunity for migrants who want to live in rural areas.

This global health crisis has also brought to the table some important aspects, key to rural development. It has demonstrated that nowadays it is perfectly possible to telework, avoiding unnecessary polluting journeys, facilitating conciliation and allowing for decongestion in large cities. This leaves a new opportunity for the rural environment, as professional development can be carried out anywhere by means of new technologies. All these reasons make possible and offer a great opportunity as a means of living in the rural environment for immigrants who are in situations of special vulnerability in urban areas. On the other hand, the sale of products on the Internet has grown exponentially during the health crisis. There are many people who have bought for the first time through the Internet during this period, this upturn in commercial activity on the Internet is also a great opportunity for people who want to market their artisan products through the Internet, living and working in rural areas.

Some political responses

More institutional support and mechanisms that provide the labour market with greater flexibility would be advisable in order to be able to move some of the unemployed foreign labour to those sectors of higher demand, particularly agriculture. It is now harvest time, and in the situation of border closures, the option of hiring seasonal workers from outside is not available. At this time, the need for some 150,000 workers is estimated. Of the 300,000 seasonal workers in the field, about half are foreigners. That is where, with institutional help, there may be an opportunity for immigrants. The Government had relaxed requirements and extended work permits, but perhaps it could do more by granting work access to irregular immigrants or asylum-seekers.
On the other hand, in Spain the pandemic has accelerated the implementation of the minimum vital income for households in a situation of vulnerability and poverty. Nationality will not be an eligibility criterion, only one year’s residence in the country, so those immigrants who meet the requirements will be able to access this aid, which will undoubtedly alleviate the situation of the weakest and most vulnerable