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Being a Sojourner in Granada

June 11, 2018

Solo soy una extranjera en esta gran ciudad / Una cara nueva / Un acento raro / Y un montón de cuentos que no han empezado

“I'm just a foreigner in this big city. / A new face / A strange accent / And a lot of stories that haven't started.”

-‘Extranjera’ by Claudia Prieto


During the first day of my Anthropology of Migration class at the University of Granada, my professor asked us what it meant to be an immigrant in Spain. During this class we discussed the difference between a migrant, an immigrant, a foreigner, and a tourist. While the term migrant refers to anyone living outside of their country of origin focusing specifically on the political responsibility of nation states to protect these people. At this juncture in the conversation, our professor began surveying the class to ask where we were from. It became clear that, perhaps due to the number of study abroad students in the class, students lived in places all over the country and the world— from Granada, to San Sebastian, England, to the Netherlands, and the U.S.

The professor then asked those of us from other countries: how would we classify ourselves according to the terminology of human movement? As students who would spend an average of four months in the city of Granada, stay in homestay families or rent out apartments, enroll as a student in a university, build local networks, become integrated in the public transportation system, but ultimately would return back to our home countries, we were located somewhere between the spectrum of immigrant and tourist. When making these distinctions, one had to take into account the class-based connotations of these labels, for example, while the term ‘migrant’ has historically been used to describe non-skilled workers, terms such as ‘expatriate’ or ‘tourist’ imply higher levels of mobility and expertise. Moreover, as a study abroad student, while I was able to acquire local documentation from the Universidad de Granada, I didn’t intend on seeking citizenship from Spain.

Defining these different terms was interesting to me, because during my time in Granada I met so many people from the international community who came to settle in the area: women from Morocco who studied in the University of Granada, non-profit workers from the U.S, and Venezuelan migrants who fled the economic instability and military occupation of their own country. While the population of Granada wasn’t nearly as ethnically or culturally diverse as I had been accustomed to in New Jersey (where I went to university), the presence of different cultures was made most evident by the buses full of tourists that arrived in the foothills of the Alhambra every single day, and the specific businesses run by certain ethnic communities.

In fact, an article published earlier this year in a newspaper for Granada said that the city is the most overcrowded urban destination in Spain. The article mentioned that Granada has a daily tourist pressure of 11.7%, which reflects the ratio of foreign tourists in relation to the population and urban area of a given destination. Additionally, it is evident that the feel of the modern city is greatly shaped by the enclaves of Gypsy flamenco performances, Moroccan tea stores, Chinese convenience stores and Senegalese street vendors.  In this way Granada is quite unique, because though it may not have as much diversity as other metropolitan areas, since it is so small, foreign influences are quite prominent in the narrow streets of the city.

Yet if you looked a little closer at the history, the Granada was built on the stories and foundation of migrants. In my course on Islamic Civilization we learned that in the 11th century, a North African Berber chief, Zawi ben Ziri established Granada as an independent kingdom in 1013, which then became the last Muslim City in the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. As such Granada’s greatest treasures can be considered as legacies of immigrant communities, such as the Moorish neighborhood of the Albaícin, the gypsy caves in Sacromonte, and the Jewish quarter of Realejo.

As such, perhaps instead of political terms such as economic migrants or asylum seekers, the people of Granada can be better described as sojourners and travellers: students, tour groups, workers, who pass through the city. They come in search of different education systems, historical monuments, and job opportunities. Whether or not they choose to stay permanently, sojourners undertake the journey of becoming a part of the narrative of Granada.  

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