Youth Shift

In my teaching Spanish youth is the lense through which we make predictions about Spain’s future. Not so long ago, our vision of Spain’s future was not optimistic. Profound apathy was associated with young people in Spain. These associations were made evident in short stories we read like Puértolas’ “Billetes” or Rivas’ “¿Qué me quieres, amor?” Clara Sánchez’ novel, “Las últimas noticias del paraíso” summed up the slacker mentality of a generation.

Faced with economic crises on many fronts, Spaniards in general, but particularly youth, have mobilized. The 15M movement, an occupy demonstration in response to the coming elections in May 2011, sparked a global occupation on the fifteenth of October in 2011, rebranded “Occupy Wallstreet” by disenfranchised Americans.

Fed up with government cuts, and the corruption that led to the crisis in the first place, Spaniards (young and old as retirees defended their pensions) took the streets occupying plazas across Spain for weeks in May of 2011. Madrid’s Puerta del Sol occupation boasted of childcare, tech support and other vital services. They repeated the effort in October.

In 2013 Spaniards continue to mobilize to thwart cuts to education and other social programs. Hence the tone has shifted. Having emerged from the long shadow cast by Franco’s dictatorship, today’s generation acts on principles of justice without fear. Silence around the horrors of the Civil War and its aftermath has been broken the effect of which is that Spanish people are raising their voices in response to current economic challenges.

This shift towards activism is heartening, to be sure. But let me offer one word of caution: talented young Spaniards are leaving Spain in droves to find work. Although 40% of young citizens graduate with advanced degrees, 300,000 have left Spain since June of 2012. Highly educated doctors, nurses, scientists and engineers make up this group. This brain drain, a result of Spain’s 50% rate of unemployment for young workers, curbs my optimism for Spain’s future. Activism is an encouraging sign; an exodus of Spain’s best is not. Emigration abroad represents a massive displacement of people that Spanish society cannot afford.

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