By Andrea Fort, Alicia Lanau and Alvaro Malo
For the last four decades, the Philippines government has promoted the immigration of its citizens due to the population surplus in the country.
The country has become a machine for exporting labour, leading to worldwide immigration that’s spreading quickly.
Barcelona, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and an important Mediterranean port, has embraced a colony of Filipinos who arrived on Catalan soil as a result of the government’s policy, but also looking for a brighter future for their life and their family.
El Raval, a historic neighbourhood in the heart of the city, has become the home of multiple immigrant communities; Algerians, Moroccans, Pakistanis and other nationalities live together.
“I love my neighbourhood. I think we live very well and we have good people here. I play with everyone here, except the adults of course,” Edwin Dayrit says with a burst of laughter.
He is Spanish. Born in Barcelona in 2002, he doesn’t know what the Philippines looks like but he knows the streets of El Raval like the palm of his hand.
Edwin attends school every day and he likes it “because you get to know some things that are interesting. It is important also for your adaptation to other people”.
Around a 1,000 families with Filipino roots have been registered in El Raval by the City Council. Profoundly Christian, humble and quiet people, the Filipinos are considered a non-problematic community that have adapted easily to Barcelona’s culture.
El Raval hosts a large population in a small area; there are 43,171 inhabitants per square kilometre while the city of Barcelona holds 15,000 inhabitants per square kilometre.
Around 49.4 per cent of the population in El Raval are immigrants, making it one of the places with the highest rate of immigrant population in Barcelona. The conditions of the buildings and the services aren’t the best in the neighbourhood.
Time has weathered the old buildings; unemployment rates in El Raval are high and the Filipinos are particularly suffering. Work conditions are poor, with salaries that oblige them to share flats between families.
“The adaptation to the new city was difficult. We knew a little Spanish but we still had to perfect it. Fortunately, my wife and I are working people”, states Ryan Dayrit, Edwin’s father.
We took the decision knowing the sacrifice and, sincerely, we are grateful to Barcelona even if much of our community lives in very bad conditions.
Ryan is one of those who decided to leave the Philippines to give their family a brighter future. They family left their native island in the 1990s, when Ryan and his wife Teresa decided that the Philippines wasn’t the right place to raise a family.
His life wasn’t easy, he’d worked since the age of 14 in a plantation of wood in Mindanao, which was “an experience that opened my eyes. I almost didn’t have a childhood. I decided that if God granted me the luck to have a wife and a son I would never make them feel the same”.
The situation soon presented itself to Ryan. The decision to get married to Teresa changed the course of his life and sent the couple to Barcelona, a city that they dreamed of.
Ryan works in garden services of the City Council of Barcelona while his wife Teresa is a maid in a city centre hotel.
The family has a stable situation, enabling them to give their children a decent education and health care, even if the possibility of visiting the Philippines seems far too ambitious for Ryan and his two boys.
“I would like to give my sons the possibility of approaching their roots and visit our country but I cannot complain. We took the decision knowing the sacrifice and, sincerely, we are grateful to Barcelona even if much of our community lives in very bad conditions. We cannot ask for everything but rather earn it”, states Ryan, proud of their achievement of having a good enough home place for his family.
As you approach the court, you start to see how much they enjoy open spaces and the company of those in their community.
Juan Carlos Street, the Terenci Moix square and the streets that surround the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) Museum are the comfort zones of the community, where they gather in different associations and the younger ones take advantage of the public spaces to practice sports, especially basketball.
The Terenci Moix square is transformed into the court for a game of street basketball. Here the ball is king and people join around her to enjoy the freedom that sometimes life denies them.
As you approach the court, you start to see how much they enjoy open spaces and the company of those in their community. But it’s not a closed community, rather the contrary.
One can play with them, smiling and enjoying a good basketball game. Important advice however, it isn’t a friendly game of basketball. If you play, do it seriously.
To see the spectacle in El Raval’s basketball court is surprising; it isn’t normal to see someone playing basketball around Barcelona.
When asked why they play basketball rather than football, the young Filipinos say that “basketball is a popular sport in Philippines. It is easy to play! You only need a ball and the basket. We love to play it here and it is interesting because people arrive here randomly like you. You get to play with very good people”.
The Filipinos are friendly and helpful people who enjoy the simple things in life, like the company of a stranger who decided to join their basketball game one afternoon.
It is a neighbourhood that reflects how the integration of a culture in a city can work, with harmony between the locals and immigrants. This is what can be observed on the basketball field, a space that represents the union between people.
The Dayrit family is a clear example of adaptation, hard work and achievement. “I like living in Barcelona and I’m grateful”, says Edwin, who’s just another 13 year old living in the city of Barcelona.
Featured image by Chilli head via Flickr.com