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The Encyclopedia of Migrants

Kevin Lane

Archaeologist, Ministry of Culture and Institute for Gibraltar and Mediterranean Studies MSCHY, University of Gibraltar, Gibraltar

“He recognises in others, more talent, more culture, more elegance, greater generosity, greater strength of character… Everything that you would like, but that he believes to be, together, and as such superior to all others.” Miguel de Unamuno, 1895

Land or lack of it, has always been a key problem for Gibraltar and its inhabitants. Physically constrained by the Rock, and lacking any appreciable hinterland the people of British Gibraltar have always sought in nearby Spain, a place with space. During the Nineteenth Century and through to the 1960’s there was a mix of reasons for Gibraltarians to live in Spain, from lack of affordable housing on the Rock for the working class to the better-off people seeking the comfort and opulence that greater space accorded them (CONSTANTINE, 2009). For the latter, summer homes abounded, thereby endeavouring to escape the miasmic conditions prevalent to Gibraltar during these months.

Under this caveat, Gibraltarians migrated and settled across the width and breadth of the Campo de Gibraltar area, recreating the Gibraltar vernacular architecture in towns, districts and villages such as La Línea, Campamento, San Roque and Algeciras, among others. These houses where interspersed between those of the Spanish population, proof – if needed – of the intense, co-mingled nature, and often narrow relationship between Gibraltar and its Spanish neighbourhood (sensu LICUDI, 1929). The closing of the land frontier between Gibraltar and Spain (1969-1985) signalled the final collapse of this system of co-habitation and ethnic syncretism.

What has emerged since the opening of the frontier in 1985 might seem for all intents and purposes a re-setting of the same system whereby Gibraltarians seek the space and affordability that property in Spain provides. Yet, there is, in many ways, a seismic difference in the manner in which the relationship between Gibraltarians and the inhabitants of the Spanish hinterland is currently negotiated, to that of the pre-1969 era.

While the general appeal for property in Spain remains the same, its geographical underpinnings have changed dramatically. No longer do most Gibraltarians seek to live alongside or within Spanish communities, rather they relocate to gated, or semi-gated, estates set somewhat apart within the Campo area. With easy access to leisure amenities, the estates thus chosen always tend to be the same ones. A cursory examination of Gibraltarian newspapers and property magazines offer property deals on properties in a selection of niche geographical sites such as Alcaidesa, Guadiaro, Sotogrande, Santa Margarita. All of these are semi-, or luxury settings within easy commuter distance of Gibraltar. In fact, the possibility of daily transit between Spain and Gibraltar, where the majority of this migrant population works, is a crucial aspect in the selection of these dwellings.

But the penchant for housing in these communities underlines an unsettling change in the modern relationship between Gibraltarians and Spanish. By seeking the company of their own the Gibraltarian is signifying that they are not particularly interested or willing to integrate with the greater Spanish nation. Therefore, migration to the hinterland in effect leads to a type of self-segregation, whereby Gibraltarians prefer to live near to, or alongside, other Gibraltarians in closeted communities in nearby Spain.

Crucially, this is a migration influenced by affluence, in which the Gibraltarian buys properties normally out of the economic reach of the local population, a local population that often services the needs of this affluent migrant. Indeed, Gibraltarian migration to the Spanish, Campo de Gibraltar may be construed as property-driven settler movement by a wealth-privileged group seeking lebensraum in the perceived terra nullis within the neighbouring country (GOSDEN, 2004). In effect, the Gibraltarian is helping to create a series of colonia or enclaves in the Spanish hinterland. As opposed to the non-resident, Spanish trans-frontier worker that pays his taxes but does not fully benefit from the services this provides in Gibraltar (such as schooling and state sponsored university grants), the Gibraltarian living in the Campo de Gibraltar will rarely contribute to the Spanish state even when their services are used.

This situation is reminiscent of what happened during the 1980’s and 1990’s in the UK, with rich English owner-buyers seeking second homes in Wales (PITCHFORD, 2008:35-37). Although in the case of the Gibraltarian this second home often constitutes the primary dwelling, the long-term effects on the neighbouring region where, and are, very similar. On the human scale, the knock-on effect of substantial Gibraltarian migration to the Spanish hinterland has given rise to across the board property price hikes in this region. The situation is further compounded by a strong Gibraltarian service economy that attracts skilled foreign workers to the area. Given the high price of rents on the Rock, many of these workers seek rented accommodation in Spain, thereby driving prices up and beyond the reach of the local Spanish who earn on average 30% less than their Gibraltar-paid counterparts.

While this migrant situation naturally produces a certain amount of trickle-down economic effect, it could be argued that its long-term effects are not particularly salubrious. Word of mouth evidence indicates that the service relationship existing between the affluent Gibraltarian vis-à-vis the Spanish underclass in this economically poor region of Spain amplifies – aided and abetted by unbridled Gibraltarian nationalism – the disdain that is often felt by Gibraltarians towards Spain, magnified from the local onto the national and international arena in which Hispanicity is often ridiculed and denigrated. Furthermore, the lack of integration is passed onto their offspring whose interests, language (increasingly mono-lingual English, rather than past biligualism) and culture are informed by the nearby ‘mother country’ so that interaction with Spanish children if often kept to minimum, unless they represent the sub-group that is wealthy enough to inhabit these select condominiums.

The identification of the Hegelian other in this case scenario is an interesting one, in that it is the Gibraltarian migrant that defines the otherness of Spain and seeks to contain it by self-segregation in the Spanish hinterland. In an anthropology of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ spaces, we see here the creation, assertion and maintenance of alternatively ‘fuzzy’ and ‘fixed’ boundaries circumscribed by identity politics. (HAUGHTON & ALLMENDINGER, 2013:218). A Gibraltarian identity that often sets itself up as a veritable mirror image of Spain’s, thereby often denying ties of culture, blood and shared history. In this respect, Gibraltarian siege mentality, fed and fostered over centuries, but given particular resonance during the late Twentieth, and Twenty-first Century, is exported with the migrant.

To conclude, the Gibraltarian migrant in Spain seems committed to replicate their ‘homeland’ in the hinterland. Their relationship to the Spanish land, culture and people is transient – or even antagonistic – much like that of permanent tourists or the various ex-pat communities that flourish along Spain’s coasts and islands. While conservatism and ghettoization among migrant communities is rife, what makes Gibraltar’s migrant population in the Campo de Gibraltar singular is its relative wealth and the lack of distance between the mother-country and its supposed daughter-settlements.

The ritual of daily return or commute to Gibraltar reinforces these transient migrants sense of belonging, and underscores their lack of engagement with their host country. In the end, little assimilation is possible or in many cases desired creating ever more space for misunderstanding, resentment and nascent hatred.