When the ultras come out, immigrants stay home. This is the unspoken rule in the streets of Spain and a direct symptom of the spike in racial violence in this country since 2006. In local slang, “ultras” refers to ultra-right-wing and racist groups or individuals that have recently attacked immigrants in Spain. The Spanish government is left wondering whether it has a xenophobic "offensive" on its hands.
Messages warning migrants “stay home tonight” have become a constant not only on the Internet, but also in college dormitories housing foreign students and work places—above all, in smaller Spanish cities such as Salamanca, Murcia, or Andalucía.
Security camera footage of racist subway attack in Barcelona.
Such threats are not taken lightly, considering recent attacks on immigrants that have over-saturated the airwaves: video footage of a young Ecuadoran girl on the Barcelona metro kicked in the face; the death of an anti-fascist activist in Madrid; four youths—including two of African descent—beat up, amid yells of “Heil Hitler”; and, finally, an Ecuadoran nurse who won a case against her boss, a doctor, who called her a “sudaca piece of shit.” Sudaca is the racist Spanish pejorative for South American immigrants.
But migrants in this country need not watch television to confirm the fear prevalent among the immigrant community: “We had a meeting of immigrant associations and people came to tell us they had just beat two migrants, a Honduran and a Brazilian. They told the priest to call his people and tell them that we should not go out on the streets that night,” says Rossmery Adriázola, a resident from Bolivia who has lived in Castilla and León for the past four years.
Not going out on the street is a way of preventing “crossing paths” with those that attend gatherings of racist hate groups that take advantage of conservative, right-wing events to hold meetings. A recent example was the homage to dictator Francisco Franco held November 17 in the Valle de los Caídos. That day, fliers in Salamanca that invited people to the event added that after the gathering some activists were going out to “dole out correctives” in the community.
Rough police estimates suggest there are approximately 10,000 ultras and Neo-Nazis in Spain. This year they registered 59 major xenophobic attacks. The states of Cataluña, Valencia, and Andalucía—and cities like Barcelona and Madrid—are the main sites of these aggressions. Not coincidentally, the three states mentioned also contain 65% of the country’s foreigners, according to the Spanish Foreign Ministry.
The Ministry of Labor estimates that a total of 3.7 million registered foreigners reside in Spain: 1.4 million are considered “community citizens” (of the European Union) and 2.2 million have general (non-E.U.) “immigrant” status.
The “waves” of migrants, as alarmist reports paint the issue, breakdown in order as follows: the largest immigrant groups are from Morocco and Romania followed by Ecuador (387,000) and Colombia (247,000). The rest are a mix of English, Italian, Chinese, Bulgarian, Polish, and Portuguese.
Soledad Andrade, an immigration rights advocate with the Catholic Church, says that although overall immigration flows have actually reduced—largely, due to stiffer visa requirements—the image presented by media include claims of a “human avalanche” “flooding” the labor market, which is then linked to “saturated” health and education systems.
Rossmery has experienced this conception firsthand: “In my daughter’s school, immigration came up in a class and they talked about migrants coming here to take people’s jobs and to fill up their health clinics.” Andrade explains that extremist positions and slogans find their way into the everyday speech of “common citizens, who defend those fascist positions saying, ‘Look, I’m not racist, but…’”
What’s lost in the tumult of events is not so much the violent acts perpetrated by Neo-Nazi, racist, and ultra-right-wing groups, but the general social climate such groups generate toward immigrant groups as well as the copy-cat practices of racial intolerance. It is the subtler developments that both media and the Spanish government have yet to address.
Marielle Cauthin is a Bolivian journalist and researcher currently based in Spain. She can be reached for comments or questions by email mariellecauthin(AT)hotmail.com. Translated from the Spanish by NACLA.