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New Book by W&L’s Mayock Explores Immigration in Contemporary Spain

An accelerated pace of immigration has brought profound ecological effects, cultural change and a plurality of languages to the streets of contemporary Spain. A new volume of essays co-edited by a Washington and Lee University professor explores the overall issue in depth: “Toward a Multicultural Configuration of Spain: Local Cities, Global Spaces” (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2014), co-edited by Ellen Mayock, the Ernest Williams II Professor of Romance Languages at W&L, and Ana Corbalán, associate professor of Spanish at the University of Alabama.

“We thought that this compelling and contemporary topic would interest our readers: How immigration is changing the representation of what is Spanish, how the Spanish language is evolving, who Spanish people are and how Spanish religious traditions are changing and expanding,” said Mayock. The 16 essays examine literature, documentaries and fictional films to see how, through the arrival of new residents from across the globe, Spanish cities are experiencing transformation in architecture, popular customs and festivals, economics, family dynamics, and social and political agency.

Mayock and Corbalán found that in 1995, immigrants composed less than 1 percent of the total population of Spain. By the end of 2005, that figure had risen to 8.5 percent. “The influx from the Andean region—Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia—and Argentina has been enormous,” said Mayock, “but also from African countries, especially Nigeria, and Romania in Eastern Europe.”

One essay studies a documentary about Ecuadorians who worship at a Catholic church in Madrid but need to pray to their own symbol of a virgin from their small town in Ecuador. The film follows the journey of the symbol of the virgin to Spain, illustrating how Ecuadorian immigration has transformed religious and civic space in Spain. “It looks at the need of local people for a global symbol, something from their old place to make the new space their own,” said Mayock. “It’s also linked to cultural, religious and linguistic practices.” Using documentary film in literary studies is new and a welcome practice these days,” she added.

Another essay examines a documentary about the changing landscape of Barcelona and about which people have free access to public spaces such as plazas, parks and sidewalks. It shows that, for the most part, the less you appear to be a Spanish national, the less free access you have to public spaces without attention from the police.

A different migratory pattern is explored in an essay about the British in Murcia, a Spanish region on the Mediterranean popular with British tourists and retirees. It examines the effect of this influx on local resources, particularly water use by golf courses, as depicted in the documentary “Golf Wars.”

Mayock found an essay that questioned the value of the term “multiculturalism” particularly interesting, because “we don’t want to say, ‘This is the way it is, and there is no other way.’ The author questions the legitimacy of the term itself, saying that sometimes it’s dangerous to think in reductionist terms about multiculturalism,” she said. “As soon as you say that Madrid is now a totally multicultural city, people ask what you mean by that. Do you mean that many cultures exist, or that cultures are mixing together, that there’s total harmony, or that there’s no longer a supreme power of those born in Spain? Multiculturalism sometimes transmits the idea of harmony among peoples that can be false.”

Mayock is the author of “The ‘Strange Girl’ in Twentieth-Century Spanish Novels Written by Women” (University Press of the South, 2004) and co-editor (with Domnica Radulescu, professor of Romance languages at W&L) of “Feminist Activism in the Academy. Essays on Personal, Political, and Professional Change” (McFarland, 2010).

Her latest co-edited volume is “Forging a Rewarding Career in the Humanities. Advice for Academics” (forthcoming Sense Publishers, Nov. 2014). Mayock has also translated a play, published poetry, written many articles and book reviews and co-authored a Spanish textbook supplement.

Mayock teaches Spanish language, literature, culture, translation and cinema. She holds a B.A. in Spanish and French from the University of Virginia; an M.A. in Spanish from Middlebury College; and a Ph.D. in Hispanic literature from the University of Texas.