Very interesting topic indeed. We’ve discussed related topics a number of times but it’s nice to be able to write down one’s thought about these particular aspects you introduce above.
So, let me share some facts with you and then my view on the relationship between Catalan identity, people’s place of origin, language use and political choice for (non-) independence options.
First, the facts:
- On people’s place of origin: 70% of the population in Catalonia are either first or second generation immigrants (people born outside of Catalonia or their direct descendants).
- On people’s language use: Spanish is the most widely used and spoken language in Catalonia. 55.1 % of the people state Spanish (only) to be their native language, 31% of the people state Catalan (only) to be their native language, 2.4% state to have both Spanish and Catalan as their native languages and 10.6% of the people have other languages as their native languages. Regarding frequency of use, 50.7% of the people state to have Spanish as their main language of use, 36.3% of the people state to have Catalan as their main language of use, 6.8% state to speak both Catalan and Spanish in more or less the same frequency
- On people’s political choices regarding the independence question. The most reliable data we have to this date are the last September 27 elections, for a number of reasons. First, an election is always most reliable than a poll. Second, it was almost impossible not to know -as a voter- that this last election was mainly about independence (it was the only thing TVs would be giving all day, everyone talked about it, all main parties’ political slogans referred to the independence debate, etc.). One could still choose to vote parties that did not divide themselves into pro- or anti- independence factions (and this is why this cannot be read purely as a referendum), but even then we’re able to have a reliable image of how Catalans feel about independence. These were the 27S Election results:
- As of January 2015, the picture on people’s identification as Catalan, Spanish or both was like these, according to polls — I’ll synthesize: 26.2% felt “only Catalan”; 23.5% felt “more Catalan than Spanish”; 35.9% felt “as Catalan as Spanish” / both; 4.2% felt “more Spanish than Catalan”; 4.7% felt “only Spanish”. Put differently, 49.7% felt either only Catalan or more Catalan than Spanish; 35.9% felt both Catalan and Spanish (strong decline since the 1990s) and 8.9% either felt more Spanish than Catalan or only Spanish.
The easiest, safest implications to draw from these data are, in my view, that:
- People do not have to be originally from Catalonia to identify as Catalan, nor do they have to speak Catalan (frequently or at all) to identify as Catalan.
- People do not have to be originally from Catalonia to support pro-independence options.
- People do not have to speak Catalan (frequently or, possibly, at all) to choose pro-independence options.
Now, my interpretation — the data above illustrate a few things:
- Catalan identity is, at least for a very important part of those that identify as Catalan and/or to a very important part of those that support independence, not based on ethnic origin or native language.
- Something must have really gone wrong in Spain politically so that so many people born all over Spain choose to want to become independent from their own country of origin, in favor of a nation they were not born a part of.
A part from these implications, there are a few things I dare share from my personal experience as a Catalan:
- Identification as a Catalan has really changed in the past decades. For many years, pro-independence support did not even reach 15% of the population. Many of those people that supported independence then and still support it now are -I feel- those that feel strongest about language or a sense of ethnicity playing an important role with regards to the “Catalanity” of a person. This was definitely true when immigration was lower. Some Catalan grandmas and grandpas sometimes used to speak of people from all other parts of Spain as “Castilians”, but that is normal given that only three hundred years ago almost no one (but the elite and upper middle class, or some of the citizens of Barcelona) spoke “Castilian” (Spanish) in Catalonia and that this continued to be so in many areas for many years up until the rise of particularly repressive political regimes in Spain throughout the 20th century. The rest of self-identified Catalans are (thought to be) very open to what a Catalan can mean. President Pujol (not very popular today), Catalan PM for 24 years, used a definition of what it means to be a Catalan that is thought to be widely accepted: a Catalan is the person who lives and works in Catalonia. What I feel often makes the difference between someone merely feeling Catalan and someone being accepted by fellow Catalans as a Catalan is making the extra effort of learning about Catalan language and tradition.
- Most first-generation or second-generation immigrants I know in Catalonia feel integrated somehow in Catalan identity. Some of the most radical pro-independence supporters I know are in fact second-generation immigrants. This may be because Catalan identity arguably doesn’t ask much from people. In fact, those that often feel excluded seem to be those that create paranoias in their heads (perhaps true in a very few instances, but definitively not generally) on people speaking Catalan to them with the objective to force them to speak it or the tyranny of a hypothetical first-order ideal citizen consisting of someone born in Catalonia who speaks Catalan as a first language and manages an own company.
- Those that find it easiest to integrate are kids going to schools having Catalan as a vehicular language (usually public schools). I don’t believe it’s so much due to the language use by faculty as it is by the fact that they make friends and grow up in one of the most diverse melting pots in Europe (specially in the bigger cities).
These are my thoughts. I have difficulties believing the way you feel about Catalan identity is representative of the way many mid-term/long-term immigrants feel about it. Perhaps it may be because of particular aspects in your partial upbringing in Catalonia. If you’re brought up outside of the general system where people from all places develop their own sense of Catalan identity, and then at some point later in life you try to merge, it may feel as if everyone has been living in Catalonia for hundreds of years. The fact is that, most of us/our families, are rather new to Catalonia.