PHOTO: Young Spaniards on Avenida Insurgentes in Mexico City. (From left to right, and top row to bottom row): Lorenzo Baladrón, Rafael Avalos, Toni Marí, Alejandro Santos, Almudena Barragán, Claudia Munaiz, Guadalupe Díaz, Cristina Cabrero y Sandra Durán. / photo by Pradip J. Phanse
MEXICO CITY -- The most fashionable accessory in Mexico City this winter is ... a Spaniard.
As the euro crisis shakes Spain to its core, thousands of young Spanish professionals are leaving their homeland in search of employment. The result is a mass exodus of young, educated Spaniards -- a massive brain drain, the likes of which have not been seen since the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.
Mexico, with its historic, cultural and linguistic ties to Spain, has become a leading destination for Spaniards in the Western Hemisphere. Although firm figures are difficult to come by, Mexico's immigration office, the Instituto Nacional de Migracion, reports the number of Spaniards granted work permits in the last quarter of 2012 alone was 7,630 -- which does not include the unknown number of Spanish "tourists" who arrived in Mexico during the same period, and who are granted 90 days to apply for work permits.
In upscale neighborhoods in Mexico, like the Condesa district, the familiar lisp of Iberian Spanish is heard with greater frequency at the cafes, bistros and trendy bars. Guadalupe Díaz works for GDS, a company that specializes in expediting immigration services to foreigners in Mexico. She told the Madrid-based newspaper El Pais that the company has seen an uptick in the number of Spanish clients:
"Before [the euro crisis], I had to look for clients. Now, they search me out."
The departure of young, educated Spaniards reflects the deepening economic crisis in Europe, where many expect to see a "lost decade," which presents few career opportunities for those in their 20’s and 30’s. A recent report by Spain’s Dept. of Labor (Encuesta de Población Activa, or EPA) estimated that last year, 166,000 Spaniards between the ages of 16 to 24 left the country looking for work abroad.
Rodrigo Gil, a Spanish sound engineer, was recently quoted by the Spanish news site Heraldo.es:
"There are few people who have studied sound [engineering] in Mexico, and there are many in Spain," he said. Gil researched opportunities in Mexico, and within a few weeks of arriving in the Mexican capital, he found employment. "I have friends who stayed in Europe, [went] to London, but they're working as waiters."
Although many Spaniards would prefer to remain in Europe, where they would be close to family and friends, language is proving an obstacle. Maria Bahamonde, an architect from Galicia, arrived in Mexico City as a tourist, but is now looking for work there.
"My parents were afraid that there was violence because of the drug war, but that's not the case,” she said. "They would have preferred that I go to Germany or Switzerland, but unless you are fluent in German or English it's impossible to find comparable employment in those countries. After two months here, I feel confident enough that I can pursue my career professionally here."
She has interviewed successfully and is in the process of changing her immigration status from "tourist" to "resident foreigner."
"My parents raised their eyebrows when I told them -- it's an 11-hour nonstop flight between Madrid and Mexico City -- but I studied to be an architect, and that's what I want to do with my life," Bahamonde said.
Her experience is not unlike many of her countrymen.
"Mexico is a land of opportunities for young, qualified Spaniards," Paula Escalada Medrano, a reporter, wrote in Heraldo. Escalada noted that the job sectors with the greatest opportunities include advertising, communications, engineering, and business administration.
However reluctant, Spanish officials acknowledge the appeal of Mexico.
"Being an emerging and growing economy, and boasting an enormous market [in Mexico], there are motivations for becoming self-employed if you are creative and industrious. Now, in Spain, however willing you may be, it is very complicated," Cristina Cabrero, who works for the Press Office at the Chancellory at the Spanish Embassy in Mexico City told El Pais.
While the unemployment rate for young professionals in Spain reaches 25 percent, in Mexico it is 4.8 percent.
When Spain announced that the arts would be subject to a punishing sales tax, thousands of writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers and high-tech designers mounted protests, and vowed to leave Spain altogether.
“The tax increase is a major setback for the development of the Spanish arts, and seriously wounds a sector with great economic and employment potential,” the Sociedad General de Autores/General Society of Authors, or SGAE, said in a statement.
As these news reports of the comparative ease with which Spaniards are landing professional jobs, along with anecdotes among ex-pats, are fueling an exodus to Mexico, the influx of Spanish immigrants is also having an impact on Mexico’s cultural scene.
Last fall, Magazine Mexico, in its "Lifestyle" section, provided a primer on Jamón Iberico, Spanish ham that is the hallmark of Spanish tapas, since so many cafes and restaurants are expanding their menus to reflect the number of Spanish customers who long for a taste of home.
Similarly, one of Mexico's largest gourmet retailers, La Europea, is expanding the number of Spanish products it stocks.
In addition, gourmet options are fast expanding when it comes to the available selection of Spanish wines, cheeses and olives. Indeed, Jamón J. Jamón, a temple to Spanish ham, has become a thriving eatery in Mexico City.
Among Mexicans, the sudden influx of Spaniards -- who are joining yoga classes and gyms, signing up their toddlers at bilingual kindergartens, and frequenting the same cafes, bars and restaurants -- is amusing.
"Until a few years ago, it wasn't common to hear Spanish accents, other than tourists," Gabriel Barajas, a young professional in the engineering sector in Mexico City, said. "Now there are more of them, and it's such fun to take them to parties and introduce them to your friends. It makes you seem so sophisticated."
Apart from the economic windfall for Mexico -- thousands of young professionals are entering the labor force -- the crisis is strengthening the cultural ties between the two nations.
Spanish singer Miguel Bose and Mexican songstress Ximena Sariñana collaborated on a song, "Aire Soy," or "I Am Air," which has become a You Tube sensation, emphasizing the generational bonds that link Spain and Mexico, with the captivating lines: “Without you, I am nothing.”
Hipsters are now carrying pocket-size "dictionaries" of Spanish-Mexican slang and idioms, just to make sure that intentions are clear, especially in the realm of dating.
Gabriel Barajas, who is a civil engineer, is delighted he has befriended a few Spaniards.
"They're great guys, [and] root for all the right [soccer] teams, and when you show up at a party with one, we're swarmed by all the girls."