Image courtesy of the University of California Press

Symposium on Spanish Immigration

The SRPP Department hosted a symposium on the book Spanish Legacies: The Coming of Age of the Second Generation, coauthored by visiting sociology professor Alejandro Portes.

Nov 5, 2017

On Oct. 15, the Social Research and Public Policy Program hosted a symposium on the book Spanish Legacies: The Coming of Age of the Second Generation, coauthored by Alejandro Portes, a visiting sociology professor from Princeton University. The book focuses on the challenges second-generation Spanish immigrants face adapting to Spanish society and also draws comparisons to their counterparts in the U.S.
The book, written by Portes, Rosa Aparicio and William Haller, is the product of a study of 7,000 second-generation students from various nationalities, who were interviewed in Madrid and Barcelona in 2008 and again four years later. The interviews are complemented by surveys of immigrant parents and native Spanish students.
His Excellency Antonio Álvarez Barthe, Spain’s Ambassador to the UAE, delivered the symposium’s opening remarks. Barthe provided a contextual overview of Spain’s history with immigration and called attention to Spain’s openness to immigrants.
“Spain has been a very, very successful country in terms of integrating a huge wave of immigrants that came in a very short period of time … and [this] hasn’t brought about any outburst of xenophobia or cultural clashes or political problems. Today Spain is a country that, unlike other European countries, [does] not have a party that is promoting xenophobia or is making immigration their main subject … On the contrary there is a broad consensus among the most important political parties in Spain that immigration is not an issue, but an opportunity,” said Barthe.
Following Barthe’s remarks, SRPP Professor David Cook-Martin provided a summary of Spanish Legacies. The book concludes that there is no evidence of mass reactive ethnicity or alienation of immigrants. When compared to their U.S. American counterparts, second-generation Spanish immigrants have a closer relationship with their native peers. Portes, Aparicio and Haller conclude that the relative ease of immigrant integration in Spain is a result of the absence of a pre-existing policy framework for integration. What they call “integration without a blueprint” allows individuals to integrate and adapt on their own terms and at their own pace, allowing for a smoother integration process.
Cook-Martin’s overview was followed by Assistant Professor John O’Brien’s comparison between Spanish Legacies and his own research in his book Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Life of Muslim U.S. American Teenage Boys, which deals with the challenges of growing up as a Muslim in the U.S. O’Brien found that Muslim U.S. American teenagers experience more discrimination than immigrants in Spain, which he attributed to the existence of a racial hierarchy in the U.S.
Abraham Okbasslaise, Class of 2019, who also participated in the symposium, shared his experiences as the son of Eritrean refugees and as a second-generation German immigrant. Okbasslaise emphasized the role of family and education in facilitating immigrant adaptation into society.
“The [symposium] overall just really provided a sense of closure as an immigrant to feel like there’s explanations and theories to explain my own and others’ lived experiences,” said Shahinaz Geneid, Class of 2020 and a student in Portes’ course Immigration, Ethnicity and Public Policy.
The symposium ended with remarks by Portes, in which he cautioned that although systematic discrimination does not exist in Spain, isolated discriminative actions by law enforcement, such as the targeting of Moroccan immigrants by police in Barcelona, may create a racial problem where one did not previously exist.
“In Spain there has to be more proactive efforts in the direction of the children of immigrants especially those … of Islamic origins [so] that they find their place in the society and ... have a clear path toward the future,” said Portes.
Paula Estrada is News Editor. Email her at
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