Migration in the Community: Lay Accounts
Migration and Migrants in Narratives
In the community, migration is a known reality and a common last resort for people who have a hard time financially. The scarcity of jobs in the area makes it difficult for people to find and maintain employment, and even if they manage to do so, they still have to face serious economic constraints due to the salaries they receive: most of the people working in Seaca, Turnu Magurele and Alexandria receive the minimum wage, which for 2012 was of about 170 Euros gross.
While the motivation for migrating is largely economic, this is only part of the picture. The fact is that the economic related problems do not come alone. They are accompanied by various forms of limitations, such as perpetual feelings of deprivation, the free time that is often perceived as totally missing, as well as the patterns of spending it—not being able to afford any holidays. Having to worry about tomorrow is constant, and it is a feeling that many choose to extinguish through migration, in other words through finding better paid jobs and fair economic chances.
Migration stands for the courage to shift social contexts and to break the routines. The idea that ‘it is hard here, in Romania’ but it is ‘not easy to leave either’ came up several times. As interviewees often put it, ‘not everybody makes it out there, because there the rules are different, the state treats you differently than here and life is something else entirely’. Still, there is no particular type of individual that is the ideal migrant. A recurrent idea that appeared throughout interviews is that one leaves with some expectations, naturally, but only after working at the destination and trying to find his/her own way can one say that he/she made the right choice. In this context, a special category of individuals appears as motif in the conversations with our migrant interlocutors, namely, those nonmigrants who take for granted the idea of working abroad by thinking it is similar to holding a job in Romania, and imagining it is a very easy thing to do. This seems to be the recipe for failure, in case ‘individuals of this sort’ eventually decide to migrate.
Migrants are characterised by non-migrants and returnees alike as being bold, hardworking and ready to take chances; in other words, not everyone can be a migrant. While this is the most common perspective on migration in the village, there are also contrary thoughts being expressed. In random unrecorded discussion, migration was depicted as involving menial and degrading jobs, such as being a caregiver and ‘wiping strangers’ asses while your parents are alone, with no one to take care of them’. This example refers to the case of women who work in private Spanish households as maids (cooking and cleaning), with or without the obligation to watch over children or elderly people. In fact, this type of employment is very common for women choosing the non-seasonal strategy of migration (long-term migration). It should be mentioned that this type of going against the common view on migration is severely gendered, and it implies blaming women for leaving their homes and families and following their male partners in other countries. Another detail which is relevant for the variations in the accounts of migration is the personal experience of the individuals making the claims. While the positive perspectives were expressed by both migrants and non-migrants, the negative depictions belonged exclusively to people without any migration experience.
The migrant-non-migrant distinction is animated especially in terms of experiences and learned practices. While not much is known and present in the interviews in terms of the prerequisites of being a migrant, ‘those who know what it’s like out there’ and ‘those who think that working abroad is a piece of cake’ are two categorically distinct types of individuals.14
Migrants and former migrants claim that fixed ideas about how life is easy abroad, which are expressed by people without any migration experience, are bound to be proven wrong by the realities specific to the destination countries. The twist here is, as migrants claim, that it is easy to jump to conclusions about how it is not something challenging to work in another country, until one is faced with an entirely different set of social norms and a new social status—being an immigrant, trying to make sense of the new claims of professional responsibility, and of the qualities that make one a reliable worker.
Leaving for work abroad is associated with radical changes in day to day practices, in habits and in ways of relating to the social environment. The household transforms altogether. First of all, the window of time spent at home is much narrower in Spain than in Romania. Secondly, having a job has a different meaning and a different impact on one’s life: one earns enough as to afford a decent life, without having to worry about any financial issues. It involves different types of attitudes regarding work and work ethics. In one interview, the former migrant addressed the differences between Romania and Spain in what concerns work (how people perform their jobs, how they are expected to behave and what they expect from their employers) as follows:
R: [...] So, thrifty—thrifty. I give you the money, but I also want quality services...I want you to perform. Because over there, when he works, you have to be responsible not let’s go on, it’s all the same. No. So. we gotta understand. so, I’m telling you. I speak as a cleaning lady, sort of. humble. you know. So, we gotta understand that we gotta work and to be responsible. Not just spinning a key, not just sitting with the broom or the hoe. And, when you start doing something, you do it.
(C., woman, 58, Orthodox, former contract worker in Spain)
Working abroad is presented as something that involves being responsible. An important detail is that, unlike what happens at the origin, work is situated outside the household. The latter is no longer a means of completing one’s economic or material resources, but a place where one actually prepares oneself for doing one’s job professionally. This is a major shift in values, compared to the Romanian situation, where for a lot of people cultivating privately owned land or investing in livestock complements the professional activity.
Through migration, individuals engage in a constant race against the clock.15 One leaves for work in order to accumulate capital, so as to be able to lead an economically safe life at home. But not once does one plan on making her stay in the destination country permanent. In most cases, this return trajectory is attributed to the second generation of migrants: in the interviews with migrants who managed to take their children with them to Spain, Romania and more specifically Seaca are part of the retirement plan. Because children adapt easily to changing circumstances, it is not hard to enrol them in Spanish schools, thus enabling them to learn the language and to enter peer groups that make the transition into recipient society easier for them. Years go by and the children become young bilingual adults with Spain as their primary home and with Romania as the place for vacations, and major family events.
In the field discussions about migration, networks often appeared as central resources used by potential migrants. Ample accounts of leaving for work with the help of others who already have a job and stable accommodation in the destination country are to be found in all the conversations. The story is the same in every case the respondents refer to: everybody left because they knew somebody who had settled in Spain. This way, after the first series of departures, migration ceased to be a trip into the unknown.