Literary Representations of Moroccan Immigration in Spain

A Look at Moroccan Immigration in Spain from a Literary Perspective

by Nasima Akaloo (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain)


This paper approaches Moroccan immigration in Spain using a hybrid, border/ frontier literature as explained by Homi Bhabha and Nieves García Benito respectively. It maps Spain’s reaction towards this migrant population taking into account the long and conflicting Arab presence in the Peninsula as well as the ambivalent, often negative and paternalistic attitude towards Morocco, stemming principally from the period of the Spanish Protectorate (1912-1956 roughly). It also considers Spain´s recent past of emigration (there were about seven million emigrants who left Spain in the twentieth century) and draws several parallels between the treatment meted out to Spanish emigrants in Europe and the attitude adopted by Spain towards its own immigrants in recent times, especially those from the Magreb, which constitute the largest migrant group.
The profile of the emigrant/ immigrant, the circumstances which push him to migrate, the travails and deceptions experienced while waiting or planning, the illegal, corrupt world which feeds on the desperation and vulnerability of the individual, the illusory, idealistic representations of Europe as the Promised Land etc. are all briefly treated as a preamble to the encounter between the emigrant and the local.
I have chosen to focus primarily on the illegal side of immigration mainly through “pateras”, underlining firmly the challenges and dangers of this approach in view of the media and political attention this phenomenon has received in recent times. I have therefore highlighted its misuse and manipulation by authors and have sought to question the posture and intentionality of the writer when treating this sensitive issue whose reality has been practically eclipsed by the media and other sources alike. Comparing the elements of the “literature de patera” from both sides- Moroccan and Spanish- and relying on comments by authors and researchers such as Marco Kunz and Juan Goytisolo, I have sought to show as well that the Spanish representation of the immigrant is seen more as a critique of the Spanish society than as a “true” reflection of the immigrant´s posture and plight.
The paper also considers several recurrent metaphors which emerge from the literature such as the sea as the womb/uterus which gives birth to a new individual; the helpless, regressive emigrant who must learn, like a newborn, to live and adapt in a new, strange environment. The metaphor of invasion/ inversion is also quite common and pits the immigrant as a threat and danger to be eliminated through xenophobic discourses for example.
As already mentioned, the essay relies heavily on Moroccan literary sources to elucidate the question of emigration/immigration in Spain. Particular emphasis has been given to the inversion or subversion in the approaches to the topic. Some key authors include Tahar Ben Jelloun, Rachid Nini, Miloudi Chagmoun or Mahi Binebine. Thus, parallels are drawn between the Arab occupation and presence in the Peninsula and the “return” or “new invasion” of emigrants to a land which they once laid claim to and from which they were brutally and savagely expelled. Unsurprisingly many authors revindicate this Arab presence and contribution in Spain´s history and therefore exhort a broader reading and understanding toward the Muslim migrant populations now living there. Many popular celebrations, such as the fiesta de moros y cristianos, are also called into question especially as it relates to the obliteration of the suffering and humiliation of the Muslim expulsion and the violence underlying the Catholic reconquest, which are all poetically and entertainingly transmitted to locals and tourists alike. One author, Rachid Nini, himself an illegal immigrant in Spain, gives a detailed account of this spectacle and further subverts its significance by comparing the head of the Moorish band to legendary Moroccan leaders such as Ali or the miserly king, Antara who was eventually defeated by a blind man. These comparisons all point to a deeper, broader understanding of the close and conflicting relationship between the two countries and the necessity of addressing and confronting the underlying prejudices and stereotypes if a more neutral and balanced debate is to emerge. Furthermore, the misuse by both politicians and Islamic fundamentalists alike, of Spain´s history with the Arab world is also treated in the narratives, especially by the author Tahar Ben Jelloun who mocks at and ridicules the extremist’s distortion of Islam to draw desperate, vulnerable immigrants to their nefarious ideology.
Finally, attention is given to the direct encounter between the immigrant and the native in an unequal, unbalanced setting which inevitably leads to a victim/victimiser relationship. Homi Bhabha´s argument on the ambivalence in the relationship between the “coloniser” and “colonised” and the potential for resistance and subversion in this imbalanced tension which emerges, is of particular relevance here. The immigrant´s problematic identity construction, his denial of and abrupt rupture with his past, his attempt to imitate the native and to integrate into his new environment are all examined with the use of concrete examples from the narratives studied. The emigrant/ immigrant´s body as a site of resistance, oppression or injustice is also briefly explored here.
Summing up briefly, in many of the works examined, the immigrant´s return is seen as not only desirable but essential. The novels attempt to offer a broad critique of Moroccan immigration in Spain, considered as a post-colonial phenomenon and an inevitable consequence of Europe´s brutal and unfair distribution of the African territories and later, its neglect and unfair economic practices. By reverting to the historical circumstances which have binded the two nations for centuries, the authors offer a more balanced, in-depth perspective to the debate on immigration, which has been and continues to be inappropriately and distortedly bandied about by various parties.

Nasima Akaloo is working on a dissertation which she hopes to upgrade to a doctoral thesis on Moroccan authors who have opted to write in Spanish. However, since this literature is relatively new, she has broadened her scope to include those authors who originally write in arabic or french and their work have been translated into spanish. The working title of her thesis is ‘The Other amongst Us (El Otro entre (Nos)Otros); Representations of the Other in Moroccan literature translated into spanish.’

To read a full version of Nasima’s article in spanish please see the attached file:  nasima-akaloo.pdf


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