Migrant children: integration through popular culture

As unaccompanied minors continue arriving in Catalonia, popular culture may help them feel welcomed

Khalid Ousini volunteered to play the drums in the Festa Major de Cubelles (Gemma Sànchez)
Khalid Ousini volunteered to play the drums in the Festa Major de Cubelles (Gemma Sànchez) / Oliver Little

Oliver Little | Barcelona

August 21, 2019 02:51 PM

When asked about their experiences in Catalonia, Khalid Ousini and Mamadou Yero offer a timid smile. It’s summer, and these 17 year-old boys, who arrived from Morocco and Guinea respectively under a year ago, are adjusting to Catalan culture by taking part in the local festivities of Cubelles as part of the team of drummers and festival giants.

“I prefer how they play drums in my country, but I have been more than happy to learn songs and they sound very good,” says Ousini.

The two boys have been able to voluntarily participate in this summer’s Festa Major de Cubelles, something that experts say has helped them to “feel an accepted part of society”. This has demonstrated popular culture to be a potential avenue for the integration of unaccompanied minors that arrive in Catalonia every.

Unaccompanied minors arriving in Catalonia on the rise

Figures suggest that this influx into Cataloniais not slowing down. Catalonia has welcomed 1,129 unaccompanied minors in the first 6 months of the year. Although this figure has stabilized compared to the severe increases from 2015-2018, when year on year this figure was doubling, it is still up from 1,008 in this time period last year. 

With 950 estimated to have arrived in July and August last year, Catalonia can prepare for many more over the course of coming weeks.  

Last year minors have been found sleeping in police stations for several days, and government child services were described as ‘in over their heads’. This, together with an attack on a migrant centre last month, in which two minors were injured, has raised questions regarding the children’s protection, safety and integration within society.

Popular culture a way into society

However newly-established partnership between non-profit support group ‘La Fundació Diagrama’ and public event organization ‘L’Agrupació de Balls Populars’ has helped Khalid and Mamadou integrate in society through their participation in the team of drummers and festival giants of the Festa Major de Cubelles. 

This appears to have opened the door for a more seamless adjustment, in which the culture shock and their own feelings of insecurity are more quickly overcome.  

In joining the drumming team, Khalid was able to draw upon previous experience, while discovering the music of Catalan culture. 

Meanwhile Mamadou was introduced to giant culture through videos that the people in charge at his welcome centre had shown him.  

They stress that ‘it was him that wanted to participate’, and although he concedes that the first day was “very difficult”, he was able to draw on experience in his home country as well - he came to appreciate that the giants had to follow ‘much more complicated choreography’ than he had performed in his home of Conakry, Guinea.

The respective experiences of Khalid and Mamadou have given them unprecedented confidence for unaccompanied minors in their new homes - they are now independent enough to travel through the streets on their own, and have been able to make new friends, whom they meet up with to play football.

Experts have said that they “feel accepted and can now be more natural.  They feel that they are unquestionably a part of the town’s society, and this makes their day to day life easier”.

The minors have said that they are “very grateful” to those in charge at ‘L’Agrupació de Balls Populars’, who have allowed them to feel confident and safe in their new surroundings: 

“I thank them because they have helped a lot - before, when I saw a policeman, I was scared, and now I am not.”  

A lesson on integration

Furthermore, the benefits of the children has given a clearer idea of effective integration mechanisms for the children that arrive in Catalonia every week. Clàudia Rodríguez, spokesperson of ‘L’Agrupació de Balls Populars’ has highlighted the mutual understanding the experience has provided:

“They are people of different origins and cultures, and this has been a good opportunity so that everyone can get to explore new things.”

The organization intends to strengthen its partnership with ‘La Fundació Diagrama’, so that more minors are able to participate in more popular celebrations, allowing them to recognise the “diversity that the festival has to offer”, and to participate in “one of the most integrating activities in the whole town.”

A counter to xenophobia

Finally, their successful integration sends a powerful message to the xenophobic actions against these minors that have occurred this year. July’s attack on a migrant children’s centre was denounced as “racist”, and there is now a belief that steps have been taken towards eliminating such forms of xenophobia.  

Rodríguez laments that “they are being prescribed unfair labels, and for us, everyone deserves an opportunity”. With the most hectic period of the year still to come, the arriving minors will need any opportunity afforded to them.