'The happy rich Spain they promised was a lie'

George Mills
George Mills - [email protected]
'The happy rich Spain they promised was a lie'

In this week's edition of The View from Spain, The Local talks to documentary filmmaker Rubén Hornillo about Spaniards who have moved overseas to escape the crisis, the importance of the Erasmus student exchange programme, and why the closure of Valencia's regional television channel is such bad news.


Rubén Hornillo, currently based in Los Angeles, is in Spain at the moment drumming up interest in his documentary called Spanish Exile (Españoles en el Exilio).  

Here he gives The Local his take on the news coming out of Spain, and what it means to be forced to leave your county for economic reasons.    

Rubén, can you tell us what news event in Spain have captured your attention this week?

I think the key story this week for me has been the announcement of the closure of Valencia's regional television network RTVV.

This is just amazing — as in 'bad' amazing.

I moved to Valencia when I was five years old, and I learned Catalan (the language spoken in Valencia) by watching the RTVV station.

In fact, television helped a lot of people assimilate in Valencia, which has a unique culture. Now, though, Valencia will be left without a Catalan language channel.

On top of that, the implications for the region are a disaster: RTVV employed 1,700 people directly and 10,000 to 15,000 people indirectly. 

Oddly enough, since the closure has been announced there has been a sort of 'Arab Spring' at the station.

RTVV was always 'controlled' by the government but now the journalists are making the sort of television they should have been making before.

What about the news that Spain has decided to reinstate grants for university students studying abroad on the European Erasmus program?

Erasmus has made Europe a better place in terms of connecting people.

Many of the Spaniards who go on to survive and succeed in other parts of the world have come through Erasmus.

In terms of the government's decision to pay out people's grants this year, well of course it's good news.

But those people were already overseas and had budgeted on getting a certain amount of money. They were already studying when they found out when they weren't going to get that money, which is just unfair.

At the same time, it has to be said that the grants themselves are very small.

And have there been any international news stories that have captured your attention recently?

There was the story of the young Spaniards stranded in Germany (after the jobs promised to them by an employment agency didn't eventuate).

One of the things I've discovered is the rest of the world now knows about the rest of the problems and is starting to take advantage of them.

For example, three years ago, Chinese firms were offering Spanish architects contracts paying €2,000 a month, and now they are offering €600 a month.

You're making a film about Spaniards living abroad because of the crisis. Can you tell us about it?

It's the story of my generation.

I'm 27. I went to college when the world was a happy place, and full of money. 

But when we finished we realized there were no opportunities. It was all a lie.

Spanish Exile (Españoles en el Exilio) teaser.

And what gave you the idea for the film?

It started when I noticed in Facebook that every week a couple of my friends were writing messages saying they were leaving Spain.

The migration didn't start straight away. For a while people waited, thinking the jobs might come. But around 2009 (two years after the start of Spain's crisis), it became clear.

And we are talking about a lot of people here.

The government figures say around 200,000 young people have left, but other reports (like that of CERA) put this number much higher. 

Why aren't more Spaniards leaving?

Spaniards are very attached to their family, their land and their culture. 

Family is central to life here, and people don't migrate much within Spain, let alone moving overseas.

That's very different to the US where people think nothing of going to university in Florida, for example, and then moving to California.

Also, our language skills are not really an asset in Europe.

We don't speak English that well, and then in countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, you really need the national languages.

In Latin America, where we might have the right skill set, the visa requirements, and costs, are much harder.

A lot of people might go to the UK just because it costs €70 ($90) whereas getting to South America could cost €3,000.  

So Spain's young exiles are ill-prepared?

Many young people leaving Spain are not letting their desperation influence their decision as much as may have been the case before.

If you go to the UK or Germany without the right qualifications, or language skills, you might find yourself working in Starbucks.

On the other hand, some people are more humble and are accept that they may have to clean toilets for a year.

It's an investment in language skills.

And what about the idea that these young Spaniards leaving the country are not exiles but — as Spain's Employment Minister Fátima Bañez suggested earlier this year — young professionals looking to further their careers? 

People have said to me that these people are not exiles — that exiles leave their country for political reasons.

But I think it's naive to separate economics and politics. The Spanish Government is targeting debt reduction and a lot of the hardship experienced by Spaniards is a result of cuts to spending.

At the same time, exile is a state of mind. Conditions are different everywhere, and if you don't feel like an exile, who am I to say you are?

Beyond that, I would say that a lot of people who left Spain before 2009 are detached from the reality in Spain. They don't want to be considered 'exiles' or 'immigrants'.

They look down on the 'newer' emigrants.

You are living in the US at the moment. How do people there see Spain? 

Brand Spain is still in very good shape.

When I tell people in the US that I'm from Spain, they say, "Hey, that's so cool! Why are you living here?"

I think partly its because of our athletes (like Spain's World Cup winning footballers), who are doing such a good job.

The idea of Spain as a land of corruption and poverty is not the first thing that comes to people's minds — not yet anyway.

To find out more about Rubén's documentary about young Spaniards in exile, click here.


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