Every year, more Italians are settling in Barcelona, attracted by more than just Las Ramblas, the fantastic pinnacles of La Sagrada Familia and the spicy bacalhau fritters described by Pepe Carvalho. The city of Gaudí and Mirò is becoming a new Eldorado for our fellow citizens.
“It’s about the attitude, the state of mind,” a chef from Friuli who struck gold in the Catalonian capital explained to French daily Le Monde. “Here, people are positive, and foreigners are welcomed in a way that compares to nowhere else.” This year, the Italian community became the largest of the new minorities now settled in the city, outnumbering Ecuadorans, Pakistanis and Bolivians.
The latest batch no doubt arrived in the wake of footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, when he left Inter Milan for the magnificent Barça, but the fact is that 22,685 Italians were recently counted in Barcelona, and new arrivals are rising at a rate of 15 to 20 percent per year. Currently nearly 50,000 Italians reside in Catalonia. In 2000, they were barely 15,000. And these official statistics may only reflect half the actual number. Whereas in other cities, retirees make up the bulk of new residents, the newcomers to Catalonia are young people between 25 and 40. Often they are recent college graduates, sceptical about the Italian political and social scene, and the tight job market at home.
They don’t always find a better position in Barcelona. Most work in the restaurant business, in retail, or in call centres. Wages are low and these jobs have no future, but Barcelona is perceived as a city where “life is better”. For at least twelve years now, Barcelona has been fashionable among young Italians, both as a place to start a new life and as a travel destination, for leisure or school (one quarter of the foreign students who come on an Erasmus scholarship are Italian). Coastal Barcelona is well ahead of Madrid as an enchanting city, with its small squares and fountains, drenched in sunlight, hardly ever gloomy, careful to defend its cultural diversity, and yet never hostile to foreigners or withdrawn.
This new “Italian passion”, as Le Monde termed it, is still blazing brightly, despite the recession. Life is no more expensive here than it is in Italy, and in recent years, job possibilities are the same in both places – that is, just as much a matter of luck. The Consulate believes the economic situation may stem the tide of Italians arriving in Spain, but it will not change their destination: Barcelona’s Italian community is bound to keep on growing.
Undeniably, this “invasion” was stimulated by the “Tremaglia Law” which enabled the descendants of Italians who emigrated to Latin America to reclaim the nationality of their parents and grandparents: Argentineans, Uruguayans and Brazilians have flocked to Spain and remained there, as often because they already speak the language as for economic reasons.
But Barcelona is also a glittering, glamorous name, an attractive logo. The brochures put out by the Chamber of Commerce promote it as the quintessential Mediterranean city. The economic dynamism of the past decade has made it attractive to thousands of European and Italian students, who have found first jobs or cut their career teeth here. Italians who have fallen in love with Barcelona have created a website providing all sorts of helpful information for incoming Italian settlers, from apartment-hunting tips to classes in Spanish. Moreover, Barcelona is perceived as a liberal-minded city: wealthy but socially conscious, the capital of the anti-fascist struggle during the Spanish Civil, the one George Orwell defended and described. In other words, it’s the “other Spain”, quite different from arid Castile.
Of course, all that glitters is not gold. Catalonia and the Costa del Sol, all the way to Marbella, have also become an asylum for 70% of the godfathers of the Neapolitan Camorra. The migratory flow which began in the 1980s has never dried up. Italian investigators believe that this little piece of paradise is also a hub for the Cosa Nostra and ‘Ndrangheta, the organizational nerve centre of Europe’s illicit drug trade. These suspicions seem to have been confirmed by the arrest of six kingpins in Marbella, the seaside resort Spanish police now refer to as “Cosa Nostra” because of the high density of mafia crime bosses who live there.