MADRID - Lulu, a Chinese woman who years ago had a small bodega in Madrid, the kind that is open late and on weekends when everyone else is resting, is now the owner of a tapas bar. She started by selling beer for one euro in the street, something that is a little hard to imagine today, because now Pakistanis sell beer on the street. The Chinese, on the other hand, have taken advantage of the Spanish crisis to buy up tapas bars.
Lulu’s bar fills up every night in the summer. The tapas are not the best, but it is open later than the rest and every day. Things are harder for the Pakistanis. They never make more than 0.40 euros for each beer they sell for one euro, a price that hasn’t gone up since 2005. Tariq is new to the business, but he knows that the police will try to dissuade him. So he is taking advantage of the ‘indignados’ protests to work extra hours.
A young Spanish man buys the last of Tariq’s beers, saying, “they took away our dignity, but they can’t take away our joy.”
Later, I speak to a friend from Madrid, and say that there seems to be jobs but people don’t have a survival instinct. “Of course you won’t find a Spanish person selling beer for one euro,” he responds.
I immediately think of Carmen, an exile of the Spanish Civil war from Sevilla who lived in my grandmother’s neighborhood in Mexico. In spite of her age, she had a fiery temper, and she was always saying “You Mexicans are very wasteful because you’ve never had a war! You don’t know what hunger is!” I am sure she would tell today’s Spaniards the same thing.
Off course, all of this doesn’t minimize the fact that Spain has truly horrendous youth unemployment rates - over 50 percent in 2011. It’s five percent in Mexico and 3.4 percent in Korea. It’s better in some parts of the country, like in Madrid and Barcelona, but in others, like La Rioja and Galicia that had a lot of jobs destroyed, the unemployment rate is even higher.
Many regions that based their growth on the construction industry are now suffering for not knowing how to manage the abundance. Even those who are not hit personally are worried about the future. Jesus, who took an early retirement from his job at a bank, is fine, but he worries about his children’s future. They were children in 1993, the last major crisis in Spain after the costly Olympics and the Expo in Seville. Will his children have opportunities today? One thing that many of the indignados seem to have forgotten is that in 1993, Spain was still one of the largest exporters of manual laborers to other European countries.