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by Carmen Luque / Gabriel Pernau

More than ninety per cent of the North African immigrants currently living in Barcelona come from Morocco. However, no matter whether the files you read are headed "Maghrebians" or "Moroccans", you will find that, in numerical terms, they rank first in all statistics. The fact is that, in Barcelona, there are more than 12.000 people from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Carrying over a culture and a religion that deeply mark their way of thinking as well as their appearance, they have come to our city in search of the kind of openings their homeland could not provide them with.
Here is one of the most popular jokes circulating throughout Morocco : one day, King Hassan II decides to go out for a walk through the city dressed in a very plain djellaba to prevent his subjects from recognizing him. Walking in a rather absent-minded fashion, he is on the verge of tumbling down a precipice, when a passer-by saves him from falling. Enormously grateful, the King tells the humble peasant that he may ask him for whatever he wants as a reward for saving his life; and the man answers : a passport ...
In 1965, 129 Moroccan residents were registered in the city's census. Fifteen years later, their number had increased up to 444. The figure for 1990 was 3.181. Two years later, in 1992, for reasons connected with the construction works occasioned by the Olympic Games, it had further increased to a record 13.680. From that year on, official statistics have been registering slightly lower figures, whereas the numbers of clandestine entries and/or illegal stays have been steadily increasing. The immigrants from the Maghreb area currently form the largest foreign community in Barcelona, with the exception of a few other colonies of European nationals. The North African community is the group that makes the largest number of requests for family regrouping, matriculates the largest number of schoolchildren, turns to local social services with the highest frequency and it is also the group that registers the largest number of expulsions.
According to the data processed at the provincial government office, there were 4.000 North Africans holding a residence permit in 1995, but this figure is in stark contrast to the information gathered by non governmental organizations that estimate that 12.000 North African immigrants are presently living in Barcelona. If we include those who live in other cities within Barcelona's metropolitan area like Santa Coloma de Gramanet, the total figure is as high as 30.000 people. Every year, some 2.000 North Africans come to Catalonia and most of them settle in Barcelona.
Omar arrived at Barcelona from Larache 24 years ago and he has been carrying a Spanish identity card for more than 15 years now. Even though he thought that he was merely taking up a temporary job when he started working for the city's rubbish collection service, he is still emptying rubbish containers. In the service as well as in his neighbourhood, Hostalfrancs, he used to be considered as an exotic specimen but, as he acknowledges : "Today, I am just another Moor".
Chronologically speaking, the first North African immigrants arrived in the nineteen sixties. Most of them were men, very poorly educated people who came from rural areas. The first instances of family regrouping took place between 1972 and 1975. Those families came from the North of Morocco, mainly from places in the Rif area, a former Spanish protectorate : Tetuan, Larache, Tanger, Alkazakibis, etc... but, nowadays, immigrants come from all parts of Morocco.
1991 was a key year in the evolution of the North African immigrant community. On the one hand, new state regulations established that they had to obtain a visa to enter the country and this restrictive measure started a series of clandestine entries. On the other hand, there was a renewed process of family regrouping that statistically tripled the number of North African residents in our city. That is also when women and children acquired specific weight within an immigrant community which, up to that time, had almost exclusively been comprised of men.

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The migratory movements of people from the Maghreb area to our country were more important between 1995 and 1998 than in the 1990-1995 period. This phenomenon was in fact prompted by the closure of European borders. For linguistic as well as historical reasons, countries like France, Italy and Belgium had always been the Tunisian and Algerian emigrants' most favoured destinations. This explains why there are "only" some 4.000 Algerians and 1.000 Tunisians currently living in Barcelona.
Djaouuidha left Algeria because she wanted to expand her professional as well as personal horizons. She took her doctor's degree at the Autonomous University in Bellaterra and she is now doing research for a book on North African emigrant women. "When I arrived here, people were surprised because they thought that there were no universities in my country", she says with some annoyance, recalling that the first Spanish university - that of Salamanca - was founded by the Arabs. "North African men only emigrate to find work, but women have other objetives", she points out. She wanted to see the world, that is why she decided to leave her post as a schoolteacher in Argelia.
From the late nineteen eighties on, the flow of emigrants from the Maghreb area has incorporated unmaried women who leave their homeland either upon their own initiative or induced by their family so that they might contribute money earned abroad to alleviate the straitened financial situation at home. In the seventies, 90 per cent of the North African emigrants were men, whereas the numbers of men and women are practically balanced out nowadays. The first women who came for family regrouping purposes were for the most part from rural areas and many were illiterate. The young women who are currently coming to our country are educated and come from cities such as Marrakech, Rabat or Algiers. (...)
Teresa Losada is one of the most knowledgeable persons about the real situation of the North African immigrants in our city. She has been working for and with this community for over thirty years now. In 1974, she founded an association called "Bayt Al-Thaqafa" (House of Culture) which strives for the cultural and social integration of the members of the North African community without detriment to their own sense of identity. "What the host society wants and expects from them is assimilation, because we implicitly consider that our western culture is superior, but this is merely a way of assessing culture from an economy-orientated perspective", she says. "It is fundamental", she adds, "that we approach a given culture not by applying comparative criteria which create rejection, but rather through an analysis that leaves space for diversity". After many years of dedicated work at her headquarters on calle Princesa, Teresa considers that, nowadays, the situation of the North African community - and of the immigrants in general - is not so much improving as "becoming more complicated, more diversified". (...)
Rachid admits that what disturbed him more than anything else the first day he went to school in Barcelona was seeing that the girls in his class were "almost naked". He was 12 years old when he arrived from Fez. "I remember that they all wore sleeveless tops and mini-skirts that showed their legs. Just looking at them from the corner of my eye made me blush with embarrassment". Now, eight years later, he still feels rather shocked by some local customs such as "friends kissing each other, unaccompanied women going to bars at night, or the extroverted way in which some young girls behave. "In my coutry" - he explains - "if a girl invites you to a drink, it means that she is a prostitute".
"The second generation is a sacrified generation. They are young people who were born in our country, but who are still called immigrants. Many of them have never set foot in their parents's homeland and their ties with their family's culture are usually rather loose." Teresa Losada further comments. Many of these children speak Berber at home, Arabic when taking classes in Koranic Studies, Spanish in the streets, and Catalan at school. Those whose families can afford it go back to North Africa with their parents in summer, or spend their holidays at their grandparents'. (...)
Djaouida, Karima and Hamida are fed up with being asked the same questions about the condition of North African women. "People romance a lot about this matter. They think that young girls cannot go to school, that married women are not allowed to speak or to leave the house ... It's utterly ridiculous !", Djaouida states categorically.
Teresa explains that "women are neither as submissive or as ill-treated as some people believe. On the contrary, they hold a lot of power within the household". And she gives a historical reason for this cultural difference. "Their family codes were established after the colonization process, when they were striving to be different from western people, using the Islam as the basis for their behaviour. But what happened was that the ethics of Islam were interpreted exclusely by men". "Anyway, here, how many husbands have dinner ready when their wives come back at night after a long day's work away from home ? And how many men get up in the small hours of the morning to give the baby his bottle ?", Djaouida remarks. And Hatsa adds : "Women may be subjected to their men but they are in command at home. On the other hand, North African men are ill-treated at work and often left aside at home. And nobody talks about their situation".
The household is a traditionally female domain from which men are banned and where women do as they please and feel at ease. Cooking and the upbringing of their children are the spheres in which women exert their power. They may have to wear a scarf when they go out but, at home, they make all the decisions. Mothers inculcate the importance of pleasing their husbands in their daughters' minds, so that the mother sets herself up as the real transmitting agent of moral values and cultural codes.
Girls know that, out of respect, they are not to smoke in front of their father, wear low-necked or revealing clothes, or go to a discothŔque alone with a male friend, but this is not something they perceive as traumatic. After all, the same behaviour was expected from Spanish women forty years ago... Karima points out that a woman's situation depends on her level of education, her family and even whether she lives in a large city or in a small village. She is happy about the education she has received. "At times" - she reflects - "freedom is no good at all if you don't know how to use it". (...)