Professor sees little hope for change in immigration relationships

March 31, 2010

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Political stress and poverty have led to an increase of immigrants for many countries in the modern, post-colonial world. In his recent book, Africans in Europe, Michael Ugarte, Spanish professor in the University of Missouri College of Arts and Science, argues that immigration problems worldwide stemming from poverty and discrimination, similar to those between the U.S. and Mexico, are unlikely to go away unless poverty is greatly diminished and the world becomes more accepting.

"Global inequalities often occur when groups and populations migrate from their native lands to the lands of their former colonizers," Ugarte said. "From studying the stories written by Equatorial Guineans who have moved to Spain, I found that the terms 'immigrant' and 'exile' are arbitrary distinctions that are dimensions of a similar phenomenon - leaving your home country for reasons beyond yourself. The struggles of Equatorial Guineans are emblematic of the immigration struggles between the U.S. and Mexico and broader dynamics of cultural exchanges worldwide."

Slave trade in the 19th century and political upheaval in the 20th century were causes for many Equatorial Guineans to leave their homeland, a former Spanish colony. Today, some leave to escape poverty, others for educational opportunities. Moving to Spain is a difficult and often deadly journey for the poor, usually traveling from either Western Sahara to the Canary Islands or through Morocco.

"Some of the migrants are poor and some are well-educated students, which means that Africa is losing population and significant resources," Ugarte said. "Spain also is going through a lot of changes because of the immigration. Compared to other European countries, Spain does not have a large population of people that were born elsewhere, so a large influx of immigrants is somewhat new for them. Racism exists, but the Spanish often won't admit it."

Ugarte studied the personal accounts and writings of Equatorial Guineans in Spain, which has now become a part of Spanish literature. One of the main themes Ugarte found in these writings was a longing for a return to the homeland, often referring to Africa as a maternal figure. He said that most people who leave Equatorial Guinea do so for circumstances beyond their control, so they often want to go back. In Equatorial Guinea, as much as in Africa, Ugarte said that it's seen almost as a sin for native Africans to leave.

"People who return to Equatorial Guinea from Spain are often seen as blemished when they come back," Ugarte said. "The problems for Equatorial Guineans moving to Spain probably won't change soon - similar to U.S. immigration problems with Mexico. As long as there's poverty, people will want to move."
Africans in Europe was published by the University of Illinois Press.

University of Missouri-Columbia

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