Migrations have always consisted of movements of people, whether voluntary or not, from one place to another and for various reasons. A utilitarian perspective predominates in Europe which tends to reduce these to a simple phenomenon of market regulation. Obviously, we cannot ignore this factor related to supply and demand but it is a huge and regrettable mistake not to take the human dimension into account. The backpack of any migrant begins to fill up with projects and dreams from the very moment they make the decision to travel. I want to share with you the dreams that I think are still possible, based on the idea that human beings, with their values and rights, must be the centre of relationships of all kinds and all processes of sustainable human development.
Martin Luther King proclaimed “I have a dream” on August 28 1963 at the Civil Rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in a peaceful call to denounce the situation of the black population in the United States and to demand their legitimate civil rights, in an America with some intensely discriminatory laws. Many people, then, took up a position in the struggle to demand civil and political rights for minorities. When this happened, I was 2 years old, and in other parts of the world, such as Africa – which was also the origin of Martin Luther King’s ancestors – the injustices caused by the capitalist needs of the Western powers to control the continent’s resources before, during and after colonisation were continuing, while globalisation was growing, expelling thousands of people from the places they were born to seek a better world, which led to youth depopulation – the force and potential motor for the development of the continent. In 1986, in the context of the application of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies in my beloved country of Senegal, I left my dear land of Fouta, responding to the cultural philosophy or social adjustment that says “So yaadu yoonti jonde ko ayiiba” (When it is time to leave, to stay is a dishonour”).
I travelled through various African countries on the recommendation of my father, as a way of seeing the world, and finally I fell upon the idyllic destination of Europe, as if it were El Dorado. At the beginning, because of the “cultural” connection, my destination was France, rather than Spain, which did not figure in my plans, but due to the circumstances of needing that “product” so highly valued amongst immigrants, administrative papers (the residence permit), I came to Barcelona to seek registration. I immediately fell in love with the country and its people, without forgetting Senegal and Africa, which I carry with me inside. After many years of accommodation and putting down roots, which were very tough, especially emotionally, I decided to live in Barcelona working to be one more piece in the processes of accommodation/integration of those who arrive and those who are already established. By the same logic, I wanted to be part of those who are working to create a bridge between Senegal and Catalonia, to build and foster cooperation and development relationships, in order have an influence at an economic, social and cultural level for these people, since these are the causes that continue to lead to the expulsion of young people due to lack of opportunities for the future, which forces them to cross deserts and seas, taking risks to reach the idyllic Europe.
I have chosen to live in Catalonia and I hope that the citizens’ struggle will put an end to all the administrative difficulties, such as alien internment centres as a repressive instrument of the Alien Status Act. I have the dream of living in a country where the government does not lead the hunt for people by ordering discriminatory police checks on immigrants. I want to believe that the society I identify with will be angry and denounce these vexatious practices. After these twenty years I have spent working in the field of migration, my dream is that the moment will come when immigrants are considered to be citizens, with all their rights and duties, and are treated with justice and equality without any paternalism.
I want to feel, when I walk through the streets of my neighbourhood, the shared glances of recognition from the local residents, because I am just another neighbour. After so many years and so much effort to get to know and to love the country, I dream of a more open, welcoming Catalonia, where people live together, not just coexist. Because to live together means accepting that our diversity enriches us. It is communicating and sharing. Recognising and being recognised as a part of the whole, from shared responsibility for what we have together: the spaces and resources which we all take care of and enjoy. I want, when I say that I am Catalan, Senegalese, African and Muslim, not to be looked at as if three separate communities had touched me, as if they were incompatible, because for me they are my identities. And for immigrants to understand and value the identity of the Catalan community too, and do so of their own accord and not by assimilationist decree. Only with mutual recognition can we build a common future based on democratic values, viewing diversity as an asset based on an intercultural vision that is a tool for being a neighbourhood and living together. Given the new configuration of our neighbourhoods, where coffee is not served now by Manola or Jordi, but by Li, Mohammed or the woman who lives here but who comes from South America, we must open our eyes with an inclusive, intercultural gaze, that recognises everyone, and assume that diversity is something belonging to those who have chosen to live and get along together, sharing a project for transforming the future for us and for our children. After many sacrifices along the way and during the first stage at the destination, I want to be able to live my dream, for it to be worth the trouble of coming, and to meet people from other cultures. In terms of proposals, the focus would be the concept of citizenship at a local and global level.
I want to dream that the Catalan – and by extension, the Spanish – community does not allow this destructive and xenophobic discourse to impose itself. That the commitment to solidarity will win the day in the new approach to cooperation that is whispered in the high political spheres of the States and the EU, where diplomacy is at the service of capital and fights against migration for reasons of "security.” I want civil society to be strong enough to influence and guarantee the level of the States that establish the dialogue of the United Nations and the commitments that derive from it, so that the 2030 agenda commits to a better world, with solidarity and peace, and that fulfilling the objectives of sustainable development does not fail where those of the millennium failed, despite the breakthroughs declared.
We know that everybody – except supporters of the right and the far right, who have already chosen their side by feeding xenophobic and racist discourse that creates hate – tends to consider discourse about migration as positive, with the necessary corresponding nuances. That said, in a globalised world where countries, cities and neighbourhoods are connected, where diversity forms part of everyone’s day-to-day life, we must be aware that the new population configuration brings with it cultural elements that deserve to be considered as a reality and a part of that community, to promote living together based on respect and mutual recognition. It is no use if government measures are not taken on board by the citizens, who are ultimately the ones who interact in public and private spaces (schools, parks, gardens and so on).
We can dream, with the guarantee of the support of political powers, that the commitment to a diverse society with democratic values will be our future and the future of our children. Also in our solidarity to find connections with the countries and the people who live with us, to transform together the hostile conditions that make thousands of people leave what they love the most, to escape and to save their lives. We can dream of living in a world where leaving your own community is not forced on you by the reason it is, but is a desire to discover and share, to be enriched, getting to know other cultures and ways of living, which brings us added value.
Amadou Bocar Sam (Seno Palel, Senegal, 1961). Gold Medal for Civil Merit 2018 from the Barcelona City Council. Chair of the Coordinadora de las Asociaciones Senegalesas de Cataluña [Coordinator of Senegalese Associations of Catalonia] (CASC) and founding member of the Fundación de los Emigrantes Senegaleses [Foundation for Senegalese Emigrants] (FES). He forms part of the BCN Anti-Rumour Network, and is a technician with CEPAIM.