How did you end up in Barcelona? What positive aspects have you found here?
When I was 19, I decided to leave Honduras. I told my mother and she contacted some relatives living in Barcelona who could support me as I was very young. I found Barcelona to be an open-minded city, cosmopolitan and European, and I loved the architecture. Honduras is a country with a long Catholic tradition, very patriarchal and sexist. On Sundays, you might hear a Cardinal saying that women should be submissive. The same thing was happening here not so long ago. If you go out dressed in a certain way at a certain time, it can be dangerous. If something happens to you, they say that you shouldn’t have gone out. It is a repressive bubble. I have been in Barcelona for 13 years and when I arrived, I found it to be an open-minded and tolerant city where people have freedom, although there is also a lot of inequality. It is a city of contradictions. There are areas with a lot of problems and if you go to higher income neighbourhoods, the families have a better income and more facilities. It's two different cities. The problem is that they don't mix. When I arrived, I was undocumented but in a city where I could work and study and get my papers in order – there are opportunities here.
Is the city what you expected?
Sometimes, conflicts are not about bombs. There is another hidden violence which, as it can’t be seen, isn’t talked about. For example, making these situations visible, which are bad for poor people or women, or collectives that are often the target of violence. Barcelona has a history that dates back to medieval guild associations, where the weak and excluded join forces. It also has a history of oppressors related to the slave trade. On one hand, there was exploitation and on the other, a union in precarity. I’ve noticed that in recent years, there has been more of an effort to raise the profile and make people aware that we share these types of problems, such as when you come home at night and you are stopped at your front door and subjected to verbal obscenities, which has happened to me. It is being worked on, but more needs to be done to raise the profile of these specific problems. Barcelona is helpful because people can go to public places like the library, civic centre and casal (cultural centre), and this is very positive for sharing things that are going on.
How was your life when you arrived?
The situation of women that arrive here is very hard. I worked as a live-in carer for six years looking after a person with Alzheimer's. Imagine living in these conditions and only going outside from 9 am to 9 pm on Saturdays. Many of my colleagues who have been doing this type of work for some time, while they get their paperwork in order, have problems of self-esteem, depression, insomnia and even memory problems because living indoors somewhat takes the life out of you. The sick person that you are caring for is quite enough, but you often have to put up with verbal violence by the family that makes you feel insignificant. They abuse that power because they know you don’t have anything else and, if you leave, they threaten you.
What is the function of your association?
There are approximately 270 of us in our association, Mujeres Migrantes Diversas [Diverse Migrant Women]. We are not homogeneous because we are migrants with different backgrounds. There are Catholics, atheists, Evangelicals, bisexuals, trans women...there is great diversity. What mainly unites us is the defence of women who are domestic workers. We had been working for three years and we came together to help each other. There were five of us live-in care workers and we started to realise that the work situation was getting worse. Some of our colleagues have to buy their own food, and while they may offer you a good wage when they hire you, then they take off €300 for your room, gas, electricity, etc. That is exploitation. In the association, we also offer training, language and internet courses at times when people can come. We help out with health issues and give information on medical care. It is very difficult for our colleagues to talk about problems of violence such as harassment or rape. The difference with women from here in this situation is that there is inequality for the migrants because they are undocumented. If you feel alone and without support, you don’t speak up. This association makes women stronger and can improve the city. Now they feel that they have support in these and in other situations, this has the power to change things. We fight for labour rights, and now we also defend LGBTI rights and many others, really because the group is so diverse. We are a feminist association and we have found some networks with other associations that make these transformations pass on not only to their children but also to their partners and, sometimes, even changing the employers themselves. Something surprising happened to one colleague. Her employer increased her wage after reading about my speech in the newspaper. Now she even has days off, which shows that it was worth raising the profile of these problems.
How did you feel that evening in Saló de Cent?
I thought I was going to be very nervous but I actually felt fine. It is quite an imposing place, but I was very happy to see the people there. I had a task to do for my colleagues, to explain our situation. I had a lot of support from them and when I wrote my part, Leticia Dolera didn't change anything. Just so you get an idea of what some people are like, I was asked if I had written the speech myself. It seems that when you're a migrant, you are only good for caring for others and running a household, nothing else. The women in Saló de Cent were pleased to know that a migrant colleague, black, Latin, someone like me who has been through the same situation as them was representing them politically, even though they had arrived only recently themselves, together with Ada Colau and Leticia Dolera.
Do you consider migration to be a one-way trip or have you ever thought about going back?
In my case, it’s a very uncomfortable situation because you never know when you’re going to see your family. It's your roots, your cuisine, the place where you were born. It is a very complex question. It depends a lot on each migratory process and the reason why you left in the first place. Violence is what drove me away because my father was murdered. The situation in Honduras is very complicated and it is not for me at the moment. I miss a lot of things, like my family and the places where I used to play with my brothers and sisters. I’m from a rural area in the heart of the Honduran countryside. I miss the mountains, the smell of earth and plants. They will always be a part of me, although the process that made me leave makes you feel uprooted.
How can we explain this march today towards the United States, while Donald Trump is warning about military action?
These people want to save their lives because the governments are killing people and expelling them from their country. Just like Europe, they recognised the president of Honduras even after the allegations of fraud, and nobody is doing anything about it. There is so much business interest, such as with the palm oil. Many companies have come and they take everything somewhere else. There is talk about how globalisation affects the local economy and that is when migration starts. There is pollution from mining and then the population moves away. It is a consequence of a long-term lack of values. It especially comes from the families and the schools where everything is focussed on the content that needs to be learnt. Migrants and gypsies are stereotyped and there are no expectations. If you come from dysfunctional families, this is what happens. The Mediterranean Sea is Africa's grave, although of course this violence exists in those countries of origin. Violence comes in many different forms, including capitalism, because it doesn’t care about a country, just about its resources, and this impoverishes the peasants. It is the same case with the murder of a figure like Berta Cáceres who seemed to be protected in her defence of the environment, despite having received the Goldman Prize.
Have you ever suffered discrimination?
You often get harassed when you're sitting on a bench enjoying your book or people think you’re a prostitute. It's a mix of a lot of things: you are Latin American, female, a live-in carer, etc. Part of society is like that and it is internalised. It has a lot to do with how we are socialised in the family, which is why it is necessary to work on values, interculturalism, how to see others, to have rights as people, to learn how to respect the individuality of each person. If that doesn't happen, then we are faced with cases of racism. It's like when girls are treated as weaker and these problems are not dealt with in the classroom. There needs to be a paradigm shift in education, and to learn how to work in networks, in a team, with common values. The people who come here often don’t feel like they belong here. They don’t feel like citizens because they are being exploited. You begin to feel that you form part of the city when you can register on the municipal census, you have access to studies, you have children, when you start to meet people and you feel that this is also yours and that you are a part of it. Sometimes, you feel detached from both your home country and the host country.
What can be done to make these situations better? Are you optimistic about the future?
It is necessary to work on content and results, but also on interculturalism processes, gender identity, healthy sexual relationships, and really the human and cultural side of things. I am pragmatic. To be optimistic, we need to start introducing changes. Girls and boys will start to participate and to understand that everyone has to respect each other, to think about the rights of others, to know that we have things in common but that we’re also different. There are many problems related to education, such as the work-life balance. But there are others, such as easy access to violent video games, to pornography, to drug abuse in early childhood. As a society, we have to think about looking after ourselves better in general, on all levels. Then we can be optimistic.
Carmen Juares Palma (Valle, Honduras, 1986). Coordinator of the Asociación de Mujeres Migrantes Diversas [Association of Diverse Migrant Women]. She has been working for five years in the Servicio de Atención a la Dependencia [Dependency Care Service] (SAD) of Barcelona City Council as a family worker. She is a social integrator and is currently studying for a Degree in Social Education at the University of Barcelona.
José Luis Corazón Ardura (Madrid, Spain, 1973), lecturer in history of art and modern design at EINA. He contributes to various contemporary culture publications. His books include Historias de autómatas, Poéticas del presente and La escalera da a la nada. Estética de Juan Eduardo Cirlot. His exhibitions include “Alegorías de la migración” [Allegories of migration] and “La comunidad desobrada” [The dysfunctional community].