Mi camino con Paco

For the Spanish, the word “Camino”  has many meanings.

Although it is normally associated with the pilgrimage trek through Northern Spain to Santiago the “way” or ” journey”can be undertaken in many ways.

Last week I went on a physical exploration of Bordeaux and I was accompanied by Paco, who, in the course of our work together, guided me through the Hispanic world for a few days.

However, he was no ordinary tour guide.

In fact, the man from Spain isn’t in the tourism business.

He’s a journalist and a damn fine one too.

There is a lot to say about this singular little man from Extremadura who, along with four buddies in their tiny village on the border with Portugal decided in the 1960s, just for the craic like, to support Athletic Bilbao!

A veteran TV journalist for the TVE (Télévision publique nationale d’Espagne), they sent him anywhere there was a war.

It helped that we had a mutual friend.

It did not take us long, minutes in fact, to ascertain that a colleague of mine on the Irish Executive Council of the NUJ was a long-time associate of Paco’s on the European Federation of Journalists.

No need to explore the Six degrees of separation…

I used to think that there was no such thing as a new old friend.

Now I’m not so sure.

As a Spanish TV journalist, he knew many places in Irlanda del Norte where I spent a lot of my exuberant years.

We worked out that we were almost in the same place at the same time in the late seventies and early eighties.

Not surprisingly, he was very well versed in a certain team in Glasgow that had emerged from the city’s Irish community.

He had a historically grounded acceptance of Celtic’s ethnicity that would see him struggle to break into any sports desk in the club’s hometown. Over the years, he and his wife have moved between Madrid and Paris for work.

Neither city was too far for him to jump into his car and get to a match in the Basque country to watch his team.

Paco and I had been paired off in a “media encounter” which brought together journalists from all over Europe to explore themes of diversity and how we report it.

I had previously attended the Dublin meeting and produced this piece of work over two days examining racism in football.

This was the 19th and final encounter of this European wide project.

Working to a tight deadline over two days means that the personality as well as the professional abilities of the other person is vital.

Like two players up front for the first time in a crunch game, there is no time to gel.

Our task was to research and produce a piece of multi-media journalism on the Latino community of Bordeaux.

Our proposal was readily accepted by the tutors on the course.

Largely underneath the surface of this exquisitely elegant city of almost a quarter of a million people (2008 census: 235,891) there are 10,000 people who hail from South America.

If the second and third generations are added, about 20% of the city can claim some Latino heritage.

This is a mere fraction of the Latino diaspora that has decanted itself to Spain in the past generation, but a significant one nonetheless.

That number of people can generate a critical mass.

The questions I asked our main informant, Juan from Peru, reminded me of dialogues and debates that had engaged me all of my life as a second generation Irish person in Scotland.

I mention fair Caledonia specifically because I am fairly convinced the Irish experience in England is fundamentally different in several subtle ways.

The Latino community in Bordeaux mainly hails from Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

Juan’s craft shop served as an informal South American consulate.

The interesting thing is that any friction-inducing issues on the Latin American continent are left there.

Juan joked that as long as Latino people avoided the subject of Hugo Chavez they were ok!

The Chilean wing of Bordeaux’s Latino community is mainly a product of political refugees from the Pinochet coup in 1973.

I was reminded of how many Irish communities in some North American cities were revitalised and “stiffened” in their Irishness by the Civil War generation.

Many of Ireland’s best and brightest left Ireland and many never came back.

When the Bogside breathed CS gas in 1969 there was a generation of proud Americans who did not need the BBC to “educate” them on what was going on.

They knew in their blood that Britain, ultimately, was to blame for the carnage.

The official French attitude toward anyone settling in France is that as a French citizen they have full rights and full responsibilities.

La liberté, l ‘égalité, la conformité!

Not surprisingly, the Latinos have fully integrated, and maybe even more so in a country across the Pyrenees where they speak the language from the git go.

I have picked up friction and discriminatory attitudes in Spain towards people from the Americas.

Many of Bordeaux’s Latinos arrived already professionally educated; therefore they possessed an ability to gain a foothold in the society in the first generation.

Poorer Latinos in Bordeaux, many of them from Mexico, have to wait until their children are born in France before upward social mobility can really happen.

This is the classic “deal” that any immigrant group in the USA would recognise as the one that is offered in the land of the free.

It certainly isn’t the deal that was offered to the community that founded Celtic.

I doubt the South Americans of Aquitaine will have to wait for over 100 years for occupational parity.

Now that wouldn’t be civilised!

Because there is no colonial baggage with imperial France the Latinos carry no folk memory of French atrocity.

Even the Mexicans who were briefly a French vassal state for a point in the 19th century do not appear to a harbour any ancestral hurt.

If Paco and I had been researching a similar piece on North African immigrants to Bordeaux then I suspect it would have been a different story.

The folk memory of an atrocity appears to be about 90 years, that’s roughly three generations.

My trio in Donegal have no idea what the British Army perpetrated on unarmed civilians in West Mayo in 1920.

I was told these stories by my grandmother, but I have not passed them on as they are not relevant to the lives of my brood.

Their Ireland is different.

The British are gone from County Mayo and they’re not coming back.

If the crime is not repeated then, in time, it will be forgotten by everyone but the historians.

As the Latinos of Bordeaux prove, if the host community is accepting and equitable, integration is actively sought by the immigrant.

In a Latino restaurant Paco and I interviewed Alicia, the bean a ti of a very fine establishment.

She is Chilean and escaped from the Pinochet terror in 1978.

She married a man from Senegal and their daughter is fully integrated into French life despite having two foreign-born parents.

The experience of the Latino communities in Bordeaux is a testament to how a modern multi-cultural city can operate to the benefit of all.

We finished on the Saturday and I headed back to the airport. Paco was bound for Euskadi the next day.

He promised to wear the gift I gave him, a Celtic 125th anniversary top.

He told me it would be complimented by an Athletic Bilbao scarf at the next match so I asked for photographic evidence to be provided!

Although not a Basque, he loves the whole aura around the club.

History is everywhere around us.

Each day we make our own stories and one day they will be retold as precious tales to our children’s children.

Spain’s history is of a coloniser that was invaded as it weakened.

It was narrative that would ultimately lead to Franco.

A relative of mine was wounded in fighting with Los Republicanos in Cordoba.

I told Paco that pride of place on the wall of the An Phoblacht office was a styled reproduction of Goya’s iconic painting El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid.

The print was there on the day I started and it appeared to have been there for a long time.

I think it silently reminded us of the international dimension to our struggle.

It remains my favourite piece of politically motivated art.

In an oil painting, Goya conveyed the immediacy and significance of the event with an authenticity that some war photographers never capture, despite having the technological benefits of a modern digital camera.

As I enthused about the greatness of the man from Aragon, Paco smiled knowingly and reminded me that Goya ended his days an exile from Spain.

He died in Bordeaux.

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