Catalonia has a unique history of integrating newcomers from both inside Spain and abroad into the cultural landscape. Long known as a “welcoming country” (país d’acollida), Catalonia has been defined by its location and thousand-year history of social and cultural mixing.
In the last two centuries, intense migration influxes have significantly impacted the population. The nineteenth century saw the beginning of industrialization and consequently a thirty-four percent increase of population. Although things slowed down during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), Catalonia was able to maintain its industrial base. Between 1939 and 1981, its population doubled as many migrants, mostly from Southern Spain, moved to cities such as Badalona, Cornellà, and L’Hospitalet de Llobregat to find work.
Within the context of the recent European immigration crisis, more than fifteen percent of Catalan residents are newcomers from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds—North African, Latin American, Chinese, and Romanian to name a few. In spite of these migration surges, and perhaps because of them, Catalan society has adapted toward the integration of newcomers. For example, casteller (human tower) teams actively recruited new members in 2009 using the slogan “Tots som una Colla” (we’re all a team). Within the music scene, the iconic rumba catalana has roots in Gypsy flamenco, Cuban rumba, and other sounds from Latin America.
Yet people “become Catalan” in a way that is quite different from what happens in the United States. Rather than claiming hybrid identities, Catalans have integrated newcomers into their tarannà—their way of being. People perform “Catalan-ness” by speaking Catalan and participating in everyday life. When one joins the festa major committee, for example, a person might say, “Faig poble”—“I perform my town.” Catalonia integrates cultural, ethnic, and political differences by accepting people when they begin to play a role in the public arena.