Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From: Thoughts of Immigrants to Catalonia on Social Integration and Cultural Capital


‘Once you get here, you realize that thinking Foucault was writing for you was terribly naïve, since in reality I did not exist as a subject for anyone like Foucault, or if I did it was only as an object of study’, recalls one of the protagonists in this essay, a collage of fragments of interviews with foreign immigrants from impoverished countries who have settled in Barcelona and other Catalan towns in recent years. Widespread prejudice in the host society dictates that these people are generalized as being on a lower cultural level, anonymous members of the growing mass of immigrants prepared to work at any price. The prejudice seems to be confirmed by the fact that the great majority of them do low‐skilled or unskilled work in sectors such as the building trade, hotels and restaurants and domestic service. The reality, however, is very different. The average level of formal education of these immigrants is similar to that of the host population. It is the precariousness of their legal status or the often insurmountable barriers preventing recognition of their academic and/or professional qualifications, or simply cultural prejudice, that condemn them to accept jobs well below their personal potential. Thus, the host society wastes social and cultural capital of the first order, and lays foundations for a permanent division between ‘us’ and ‘them’. This essay offers a modest but revealing sample of the quality and diversity of the ideas and viewpoints of the immigrants themselves, an asset we continue to at best underestimate or more often ignore altogether.