Our first Interviewee is Ismaïl, he is 23 and was born in Kenitra, Morocco. He arrived to Marbella in 2004 when he was 12. His family moved to Barcelona that year and he has lived there for the last 10 years. Ismaïl attended to secondary obligatory and post obligatory education during 6 years in a high school near the neighbourhood of Nou Barris where he started to learn how to speak a new language and live in a new country. He was kind to tell us in detail his personal experience here in Catalonia and his impressions about Morocco and the society and the country he considers his own.
What is your relationship with Morocco? Have you ever lived there or only visited the country occasionally? Do you have contact with friends and/or relatives there?
I have many friends, relatives that live there, especially my two grandmother and that’s it… More contact? Well friends…
But were you born there?
Yes, and I lived there until I was 12 years old.
And do you remember Morocco?
Of course I do, I go there every year! I’m leaving this Thursday…(laughs).
Oh, we didn’t know! You know there are many people that never go back to their native countries after living in Spain for so long…
Oh, I go every year yes.. and you know, it isn’t that far, I can go by car.
Are you planning to stay there?
No. It’s only a holiday trip, I’ll be back in 3 weeks.
So, you are very connected to Morocco.
Yes I like to keep in touch, I have my friends, cousins, well there is also Facebook, and my family. I like to know what’s going on in my city and with the social networks it’s easier.
Some people leave the country and they also forget about it, you clearly don’t.
Well it depends, I think it depends whether you had a nice time in your country or not…I mean, if you have good memories there you are going to want to know more about that place, but if you had a tough time there, I think you won’t be wanting to know anything else about it. But I love it. When I go there in summer it’s even better, I mean is not like there is a big difference, I can’t tell the difference, the people, the social life, it’s the same. I am there with my friends, we go to the beach, partying… everything.
Many people would think of Morocco as a country very different from Spain or any other country in Europe…
No, not at all, well…of course people are more traditional, I think it is also because of the Islam there, so there is certain things that are restricted. For example, you can’t go around kissing a girl and stuff like that, you just can’t. But the rest is more or less the same.
What did you (or your parents) decided to come and live here in Spain? and in Catalonia specifically?
Well, we came first to Marbella because my mother had her sister there, my aunt, and she suggested that there were more opportunities here in Barcelona, because its is a big city, etcétera. So we came.
Would you say it was only for work then?
I wouldn’t say that…My mother worked already on Marbella, we came because it was bigger and moreover…it’s Barcelona (laughs). And we were very used to city life there in my country, and the beach, everything. We just came, it wasn’t my decision of course, but when they I asked me, I said yes.
To which culture do you feel closer, Spanish or Moroccan?
Well, to be honest, I feel very integrated here, culturally, I have always found a job and the places where I have worked they have never treated me like a stranger or anything like that, I can’t complain… I don’t know if I have been lucky but it’s been always like that. I have worked in different places and it’s been always fine, as long as you speak the language it’s ok. And I always try feel integrated with everyone, if they go out or something I’m not like: ‘Oh I can’t… I’m from Morocco… you know’ (laughs). I speak with them, we go out, it’s fine.
And regarding the food, well, there is no change, I eat the same as everyone else except that I don’t eat pork because of my religion.
And with people of your age, do you feel you are restricted in any way? Is there any kind of pressure? When they do some things you don’t…
Not really, not at all.
About the holidays and other festivities, like Christmas and other, do you celebrate them?
To be honest, there are many festivities we don’t celebrate anymore, we celebrate the religious ones, but there are many other national festivities that we don’t. I live in a place where there are not many Moroccan people, at least we don’t know anybody so what we celebrate is only religious and we do it privately, at home with the family. For example the Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) or the Ramadan.
So, you wouldn’t say that you and your family are part of any isolated community here in Spain.
I know there are certain places where Moroccans gather like Glòries and Santa Coloma but honestly I’ve never been into it. Where I lived before there weren’t any Morrocan as well, and I lived 8 years in that neighbourhood. At the beginning most of my friends were Latin American, some of them were Spanish, from the high school.
When you first got to Spain, in the high school you attended, were all of your friends foreigners as well or you mingled with everyone?
When I first got there, I attended one month there and then they sent me to another high school, so I attended to two different high schools, one in the mornings, and the other one in the afternoons.
So in the mornings I learnt Catalan, and Spanish of course, I didn’t spoke any at the beginning, and other students didn’t know me very much, because they only saw me part time, this lasted for a year, and I passed everything! (smiles).
So, was it very difficult to learn Spanish and Catalan?
Look, I started to date a girl, back then I already knew a bit, but with her I learned a lot more (laughs).
Do you feel Spanish or Moroccan?
Moroccan, obviously. When I’m there I don’t feel any change, my friends, everyone treats me the same, I don’t waste much time in my old neighbourhood, I prefer the city now and everything is the same, I still speak the language, I haven’t lost it so..
Do you feel more part of Spain or Catalonia? In which one do you feel more comfortable? Are they both the same?
Well, I think I agree with the Independence of Catalonia, especially in terms of economy, the income that gets in, what goes away… I think that if Catalonia becomes a state, maybe we would be better, like Andorra or Monaco.
And what do you think about the integration programs that La Generalitat carries out? Have they been useful for you (Aules d’acollida) ?
Let’s see, what programs? (laughs). I’ve never been in any of those, maybe the ‘Aules d’acollida’ started just one year after I arrived because they never sent me there. As I said before, I only took Catalan courses in a different high school, maybe after that they opened this new classrooms. In this high school, I was in a mixed class, with Chinese students, Moroccan, everybody, and we did some literature and some language learning, but that’s it, I don’t think it worked as the ‘Aules d’acollida’ that do not necessarily help integration that much.
Have you ever thought about going back to Morocco to live there?
Honestly, I have not. I wouldn’t stay there, now it’s different, I’ve grown up here and the time I’ve spent here left me a mark, it’s different.
But you see there is a certain contradiction there, because you said you feel Moroccan but you don’t want to live there.
Yes, of course I am Moroccan but I have all of my family living here, thats why I don’t even think about that, I have my sisters here and they are married here, my parents live here.. so moving there again would be like being alone. Well I would have some relatives there, but it wouldn’t be the same.
How many sisters do you have?
You don’t want to know! (laughs). Five. The youngest one was born here, she’s 8 years old now. She would tell you ‘I’m Spanish!’ (laughs). And it’s true, she is, she was born here and you are from where you are born, if you grow up somewhere else, that’s another thing, but you are from where you were born.
So, looking forward to the future, if you start a life or get married or anything else, would that be here in Barcelona? or…
In Spain, certainly. I like Barcelona very much and I wouldn’t change it.
Do you feel connected with Catalonia specifically?
Not really, I’ve visited other cities like Zaragoza or Valencia, Málaga as well, they are different, but I think what differentiates them it’s the change from a big city to a smaller one, that’s all, I don’t know. They are similar; I’ve been to Paris, Netherlands, Belgium… etc.
What aspect of the Spanish/Catalan Culture has been more difficult for you to adapt to? Besides language of course.
I think everyone lives their own life here, there is not any certain aspect that is difficult to assimilate, besides, I can’t really tell the difference between here and Morocco… of course there are certain things like… gay couples, it’s different from here, it’s taboo, everyone knows they exist, but it’s banned there, they can’t ‘come out of the closet’ (laughs).
When I went to the beach for the first time when I was a kid I was also impressed to see naked people or girls doing topless, I was like: ‘wow’, that was the thing that shocked me the most as a kid. But the rest is similar, there is the same passion for sports, soccer in particular, and again, people aren’t that different.
How’s your parents’ experience here? Do they feel as comfortable as you? Do they want to come back?
Well I don’t think it’s the same for everybody but my father, for example, doesn’t want to come back, he lost contact with his family and he doesn’t want to come back, but it’s due to family issues. Then there is my mother, she’s got her mother there, my granny, she’s wonderful, so my mom needs to see her and she goes there once or twice a year, but in the end they still want to live here.
What about your sisters?
Yes, for the two youngest I think it would be very complicated to go back… they were very young when they came here. And because of the language of course.
Yes, let me tell you, Moroccan Arabic is a language spoken all over the country and in the streets, but the language spoken in the schools, high schools and similar it’s Arabic. This Arabic language is the one that all Arab countries have in common, so… Moroccan can be written but it is usually oral only, you only speak it on the streets, it’s like a vulgar tongue, it is not form a tiny region, it’s used all over the country, but only on the streets. [referring to Darija dialect]. But Arabic is the language spoken in the classroom, institutions, administration and everything.
What about French?
Well French is very dominant but the Arabic is more used, French is the second language here, it’s similar to English here, but here people does not really care about English, they don’t learn to speak it, there in Morocco they do learn French, they take it more seriously.
So do you think Arabic language is the only thing that keeps your sisters from coming back to Morocco?
I don’t know, I don’t think so… I think it is the most important thing, but not the only thing. We are a family where there isn’t any problem, we get along pretty well, we always want to be close to each other, and for us living outside would mean leave the family behind, and we don’t wanna do that. So, you see, it’s more of a family thing, as long as I have my family I don’t mind living here or in Morocco.
Have you noticed any change in your parent’s mentality when you moved here? Are they different from other families back there in Morocco?
Well I was a kid, I couldn’t really tell if there was a change, of course in Morocco families are more traditional, they really hold on to religion, I would say my parents are more liberal, I don’t know how to tell you but… yes, they are more liberal.
In fact, the mere fact of moving here implies that they had to be ‘open-minded’ right?
Absolutely, you have to try to integrate, you have to take into account what other’s think and the country where you are going so you can know how they live, if you don’t know how they live you can’t be a part of them.
Obviously, you’ve grown up here and you have no problem being part of this culture, but what about your parents? Do they feel discriminated?
Not discriminated, but they don’t speak Spanish very well, that’s the big problem they have. My father worked but… I mean they both have friends, but all of their friends are Moroccan.
And what about Catalan?
How do they feel about living here? Do they complain about their lifestyle, about anything regarding Spanish/Catalan culture?
Not at all, we talk about this all the time, they know that even being outsiders or whatever, they have their rights. If you do everything legally you have no further problem, if you know how legality works and you follow it, you won’t have any problem.
So you have never faced any legal problems? You know not having papers is an issue that affects many immigrants here, have you had any difficulties to be a legal resident here? What do you think about it?
Yes, the truth is I’ve always had my papers in order and if you have that is alright. Police has never stopped me, even if it’s hard to believe, they’ve never stopped me, not late at night or anything else. Sometimes when I’m driving, of course they do, because of the controls, but besides.. they’ve never stopped me.
Well, there was one time, I was in my motorcycle, I believe it was around June… it was May, and I was with a guy that had no papers. We were around Trinitat Vella, you know that neighbourhood is not really good and the Undercover Police stopped us, they followed us first, I don’t know what they were thinking… and they stopped us as if we had done something, they asked some questions, they asked for my papers and then I told them the guy had no papers… they didn’t do anything to him, I told them: ‘He has no papers, really, he hasn’t any.’
So were they nice to you?
They thought we were selling drugs or something, I thought it was normal because we were around that neighbourhood, but yes, they were suspicious about us.
And does that bother you?
Well on the other hand, there are people that do that so it’s normal that the police is suspicious about all of us and does more surveillance on everybody.
So it really does not bother you to be put in that cliche?
No, because it exists, there is many people that sell drugs and when you know they do it.. I know it’s bad that they put you on that group, but it’s their job in the end… I guess. If you have done nothing wrong, you don’t fear anything.
In fact, that time, they didn’t register me or anything, they just asked if I was carrying something, so I joked and I said: ‘What am I gonna be carrying? My phone, I carry my phone’ and that was it, they asked me: ‘Do you have anything else, something like hash or marihuana?’, I said no and that was it.
Do you think that living here has influenced your religious beliefs?
Not really, the truth is that I don’t feel any pressure from my parents or anything to follow the Islam; I do it because I have faith in it. However, it is too long to explain now but Islam is very complex, and it has nothing to do with terrorism. In fact, the word “Islam” means “peace”, and then in the Quran it is said that you don’t have the right to decide over anyone’s life. Terrorism has nothing to do with it, in fact if you kill someone that is a sin, the Quran forbids it. Terrorism is exclusively politics, it is only related to politics, not to religion. If you truly read the Quran you would realize it is wrong, the only thing that it allows you to do is defend yourself if you are going to be hurt, but killing? No, you cannot take somebody’s life. Actually, I don’t like to talk about this very much, but I feel the need to correct this mistaken believes, to ask people not to mix terrorism with religion.
But the problem is that many people do believe that these two concepts are related. Do you think that Islam is stigmatized in this sense?
I’ll answer with an example. You meet someone that is a Muslim, and he does something wrong, he kills someone, and he says “I did it for my religion”. Since you don’t know very much about Islam, you will believe him. Many people have those beliefs because of things like this, there is a lot of ignorance in this sense.
So, you don’t have any external pressure to follow your religion.
No, not at all. As I told you, I do it because I believe in it.
Do you talk with friends or people that you know from Spain about your religion? Or do you consider it something more personal and private?
I think it is personal. However, I also think that religion should not limit or determine the type of people to whom you relate, I mean, you mind your business and the others mind theirs, you may have things in common but religion is very personal. I’m quite liberal in that sense (laughs).
So for you living in an occidental country is compatible with having an oriental culture?
Yes, I mean, religion is something yours to practise, you can follow it, but people who don’t share your beliefs also have to carry on with their lives, you cannot do anything about that.
For example, it is true that there are some ignorant muslims who force their wives to wear the veil even if they are not muslim, but then you have to think of the sentence “Your freedom ends where the other’s starts”. So, the veil, women are not forced to wear it; they wear it because they want to, so no one should force other people to do something that they don’t want to.
That’s very nice, but what about other men that you know that are Muslims like you? Do they share your views?
Uh… (laughs) (silence) Some do, others don’t. Some believe that women should do what they are told… But I don’t see it like that, I have my religion, but I won’t impose it.
So… you would consider the possibility of marrying a Spanish girl, and having a life…
A normal life here, yes, absolutely.
Well, I wasn’t going to say that. It’s not like Islam is not normal. Do you think that in Spain/Catalonia there is discrimination against foreigners?
It’s not the country, it’s certain people. In general, I wouldn’t say so… I don’t think that there is much discrimination here. I think that while you respect their rights and fulfil your duties you shouldn’t have any problem. I mean, you cannot be here and say “no no, in my country we don’t do this”, no, you are not in your country, you are here, you are the one that has to adapt.
But, when you talk about your origins, where you come from, etc. you see that people try to understand or that they laugh at you?
Many people do laugh or mock me, but that’s only because there is a lot of ignorance. I mean, I have come across people that think that Morocco is a desert. But I know that those are a small group of people that just don’t care about what happens outside their country.
Do you have more friends from here or from there?
From here. Well, I mean, from here when I’m here, then when I go to Morocco I have many friends there too (laughs).
And would you say that your friends are open minded?
Yes yes, moreover, when you explain things properly, they understand, and they realize that they thought of it in another way. For example, many of them thought that Islam was a bad thing, or that it wanted to impose violence… But when you talk to them, and you even tell them some sentences from the Quran, they see that their beliefs were based on the actions of some people that act wrongly.
And you know that there is always this debate about sexism in the Muslim culture… Have you been asked about this before?
I have. I was working with a colleague and he told me that my religion promoted sexism, but I tried to explain to him that that is a personal ideology that has nothing to do with religion. For me, these concepts are not related.
So, you would say that the so-called sexism in the Muslim or Arabic cultures is not motivated by religion at all.
No. In fact, all religions were created in a historical period where there was sexism in society, and it’s like it continued to be like that in religion, although it has nothing to do with it. That was another moment, you cannot stick to that, and we have to move forward. However, I think that things have changed a lot for women; they almost have more freedom than men! (laughs)
Have you lived any episode of racism?
Not really, I don’t see that any more in society. Well, sometimes at school… but that was because they were kids, they didn’t know what they were saying, they said things because they heard them in the streets. But I used to defend people like me at school, I got into some fights but I usually won, so they respected me. I have the hope that these people will think differently now, when we grow up we learn more about life, about other cultures, about respect…
And what about your family? Have they felt discriminated in any situation?
Yes, well, I wasn’t there but my mother once was going out of the supermarket and an old couple began to shout at her “go back to your country”.
Really? And what did she do?
Well, she was really shocked. After so many years living here… she couldn’t believe it. But, I mean, they were old people… I think they are a minority, that racist people are a minority nowadays. Moreover, I think that these people they must have lived something… something must have happened to them… like a trauma with a foreigner, and now they think that all of us are like that. It’s a shame that they found the bad people first because then we have no opportunities…
And do you think that some foreign people may develop a feeling of resentment against Spanish people because of episodes such as the one that happened to your mother?
Not really, again, I think that this may happen because you meet one or two people that are racist, and then you think that everyone is like that. Even my mum has not developed this resentment against Spanish people, she knows that what happened to her was an isolated episode, nothing to do with Spanish people in general.
And your parents, do they have Moroccan friends here in Barcelona?
Yes, actually most of their friends are Moroccan, but I think that’s because of the language, because they don’t speak Spanish perfectly, they prefer to associate with people that speak their language.
Do your parents feel nostalgia for their country?
Not really. But that is because Morocco is quite near, so every year we go there on holidays. Actually, when my mother first came here, she didn’t settle down, she was coming and going every now and then because we still have family there, my two grandmothers. Moreover, my parents are old now, my father is 53, and he realizes that his youth has passed now; he’s more concerned about being with his family, his children and his wife.
Do you think that Spanish people perceive a wrong stereotype of Moroccans?
Again, when you meet one person from there you already form a perspective about how everyone from that country is. But it is true that there is a lot of ignorance, more than ignorance, I would say that many people are just not interested in knowing, for example, people say “the moors”, people call that to Pakistanis and they are not. “Moors” are only Arabic people.
How would you feel if you were called that?
Well, it depends on how you say it. If you say it meaning that I am from an Arabic country it’s ok, but if you mean to insult me… Well, I don’t like to take it as an insult, many people get very offended but I don’t, I mean, yes, I am a moor. But you know, it depends, if they say “fucking moor” that is another thing.
And has it ever happened to you?
(Pause) Not really, the truth is that I don’t get insulted so often. Well, sometimes as a joke, yes, but I don’t get offended.
What language do you speak with your parents? Moroccan, Spanish…? Do you mix languages?
With my parents, only Moroccan. But for example, with my eldest sister I speak Spanish and Catalan, and with my other sisters we keep mixing languages a lot. Because sometimes we are speaking Moroccan and then you cannot think of the right word and you say it in Spanish or Catalan. It is normal for us.
What facilities have you had to learn Spanish and Catalan?
It’s been a bit difficult because they are two languages, not just one. When you learn something in Spanish then you realize it is different in Catalan and viceversa. But when you get in touch with people, for example, with my girlfriend I used to speak Spanish, and that was good practice for me, I learnt a lot of things. It is easier with company.
So, you first learned Spanish and then Catalan?
Well, actually, I spoke only Spanish. I knew Catalan and in exams and in school I could use it, but I only spoke Spanish. But then you realize that with a small effort you can also master Catalan, so I also tried to practise it.
And you think that you learned the language because you made an effort to do it or because since you were in Spain and were surrounded by Spanish it was easy for you to learn it?
No, not at all. I was the one who knew that I had to make an effort to learn the language, because it was the only way to integrate and to meet new people. And moreover, for me it is a respectful thing. You are in a foreign country, so you have to learn the foreign language to integrate; you have to live like them. It is an effort to adapt better.
Actually, I went to a kind of “aula d’acollida”, but what it did actually was the opposite thing, it separated me and other foreigners from Spanish people. It is true that there we could focus more on learning the language, but I think that it did more wrong than right.
And you went to school in Morocco. Would you say that the educational system was more serious than here?
(Pause) yes, yes. For example, here kids speak out loud in class, they get up… they shouldn’t, but they do it. There it’s not like that. Here you also treat your teacher more respectfully, you see him as a superior.