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Open Access Publications from the University of California

North African Immigration in Contemporary Spain: Representations of the Struggle for Integration and Power

  • Author(s): Rivera Perez, Marianela
  • Advisor(s): Herzberger, David K.
  • et al.

During the last three decades, Spain has witnessed numerous changes in its political, economical, and social system. Among those changes, the integration of Spain into the European Union and the economic and political reforms implemented by the government were fundamental factors in the transformation of the country into a popular destination for immigrants. This dissertation examines contemporary North African immigration to Spain and its representation in late twentieth and early twenty-first century Spanish narrative and cinema. From a historical point of view, there exists a strong parallelism between North African immigration in the recent past and the Arab invasion of Spain during the Middle Ages, as numerous studies have pointed out. With that in mind, I explore the construction of literary and cinematographic discourses that expose the revival of an immigrant "Other" as a result of the social and economic interaction between contemporary Spaniards and North African immigrants. At the same time, I explore the way this interaction is determined by the impossibility within Spain of establishing a precise definition of Spanish identity, causing immigrants to be cast aside from the host community both socially and economically.

The interaction between Spaniards and North Africans is also significantly influenced by historical relationships and the Spanish desire for individuality and power. I argue that the power exerted on immigrants is presented in the texts that I study in three principal ways: (1) imposed silence, (2) physical manipulation, and (3) labor exploitation. These in turn are linked by the economical and social failure of the immigrants' integration process and the Spaniards' blurred definition of their national and cultural identity. I analyze the construction of this relationship of power based on the codependence created by both groups: the North Africans as the dominated objects that depend on the Spaniards to survive and the Spaniards as the dominant subject whose position is divided between the power they exert on the immigrants and the dependency on the North Africans' submission in order to prevail.

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