Alejandro Portes, Princess of Asturias Award: “We must encourage immigrants to move to the towns of empty Spain” | Spain

The sociologist Alejandro Portes, winner of the 2019 Príncesa de Asturias Award for Social Sciences, in the lobby of the Hotel Sardinero in Madrid.
The sociologist Alejandro Portes, winner of the 2019 Príncesa de Asturias Award for Social Sciences, in the lobby of the Hotel Sardinero in Madrid.Andrea Comas

Alejandro Portes (Havana, Cuba, 77 years old) is a sociologist and professor emeritus at Princeton University. In 2019 she received the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences for her “fundamental contributions to the study of international migration”. His best-known research began in 1992 when he interviewed more than 5,000 children residing in the United States, repeating the interview in adolescence, to understand the adaptation of immigrants in their destination countries. A study that he has repeated in Spain and that he has just published under the title The new Spaniards, coordinated by Rosa Aparicio and edited by Bellaterra. On October 28, Porter received a tribute from his Spanish colleagues in Madrid. “At first I thought that the integration of immigrants would be worse than in the US, but on the contrary, in Spain the results are quite positive,” he points out to EL PAÍS.

Question. You often say that we must look more positively at how Spain has worked on the inclusion of immigrants. What does the Spanish model have that could inspire others?

Answer. The success of the Spanish model is the absence of a model. In Spain there is less perception of discrimination and greater identification with the country, especially of the children of immigrants who were born here or arrived very early. And I think it is because the Spanish people do not have a too exalted vision of themselves, it is a country that exported migrants until recently to Latin America and later, to Europe, and it is not like other countries that have a grandiose vision of your culture. This has meant that the Spanish population in general has been quite tolerant of immigrants and has allowed the various groups to join at their own pace, without excessive difficulties.

P. Do you think that paradox of the success of the absence of model will continue to work in the future or is it time to rethink it?

R. It is time to rethink it, because most of the thousands of immigrants we interviewed in the past decade were Latin Americans, Eastern Europeans, Moroccans and Filipinos. The study did not include a massive influx of refugees in boats from sub-Saharan Africa, which may create a different situation.

P. What new approach should be applied?

R. These migratory flows through the Mediterranean and to the Canary Islands are chaotic. They must be prevented from having negative consequences, such as a nationalist reaction. Immigration is necessary for the economy and for demographics, but it must be regulated. First, trying to encourage immigrants to move to the towns of the so-called empty Spain. And second, regulating their arrival through agreements with the countries of origin. These flows can be channeled through temporary and permanent work visa programs and with the cooperation of the issuing countries, which help curb uncontrolled immigration.

P. In France, exclusion has become chronic and the extreme right has exploded. What have they done wrong?

R. In France there is a feeling of a certain cultural superiority and the State tried to impose a model of integration from above, conditioning aid to get rid of all cultural traces of origin. The French Government proclaims that there are no ethnic groups in France. There is no Arab culture, there is no Romanian culture, there is no one’s culture. It is simply France. That is absolutely absurd. When the French impose, they cause many French-born children of immigrants to refuse to call themselves French.

P. Returning to the success of the Spanish non-model, there are experts who are beginning to warn that there is an inequality gap between the children of foreigners and the children of nationals.

R. The gap is not great. My analysis shows that natives have advantages in terms of educational and occupational achievement, but the process of achieving status is the same.

P. Have you seen differences in inclusion for certain nationalities?

R. Nationality is not determining, it is your social class. The key is the socioeconomic status of the family and the youth’s gender, not nationality. If the Moroccan parents are peasants from the Rif, their economic status will determine where the children go. But not for being Moroccan, but for being a poor peasant.

P. The University of Comillas has just published a study that concludes that the social conflict that could have occurred after the 2008 crisis did not occur. But there is a silent racism. Do you agree?

R. Yes, but it is exaggerated. Prejudice is not so important as long as it is not manifested in such a systematic way that it affects the laws themselves, the possibilities of promotion and participation. Spain does not close, it does not prevent immigrants and the children of immigrants from being promoted. I think that many times that is exaggerated. The common citizen cannot be asked to be a paragon of virtues, people have their little prejudices.

P. What he is defending is contrary to the discourse of anti-racist groups that denounce institutional racism.

R. It is true that some Moroccans in our study sample complained that they were stopped too much in the street to ask for documents. And that obviously should be prevented, but it comes from the ordinary policeman, not from the upper echelons of the Government. The discourse has been very inclusive in Spain, and the reception in schools has been overwhelming.

P. But in Spain there are many places where ghettos have been formed, from neighborhoods to settlements. Shouldn’t we take a closer look?

R. It is a class problem, not necessarily a culture problem. Poor immigrants go to live in poor neighborhoods and that does not necessarily prevent their children from successfully joining, going to school and moving up the social ladder. In every capitalist society there is that class stratification in terms of residence. Those who live there do not live there because they are from equatorial Africa or from another country, it is because they do not have the resources to live elsewhere.

P. There is talk from some sectors of the risk of the Islamization of Europe as an argument against immigration. Makes sense?

R. Those alarms are exaggerated. It is a minority and, in no way, are they going to subvert the Western value order and the constitutional order. They are calls cultivated by activists, by right-wing politicians and commentators who want to raise their ratings alarming the public. The Muslims are just going to join in like the Jews did. Jews have synagogues, they dress in their own way, they have their culture and nothing happens.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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