Barcelona, like many other cities in Europe, is currently undergoing demographic changes brought about Spain’s entry into the European community, dropping birthrates among Spaniards, and rapidly accelerating immigration from Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. But this increasingly heterogeneous metropolis is also the capital of a regional government that represents the institutionalization of Catalan identity. The transformation of a long oppressed nationalist movement into the reigning political apparatus of the state has led to the revindication of bilingualism and the establishment of Catalan schools. Regional government officials must demonstrate Catalan proficiency and state television and threatre actors in Catalunya must perform exclusively in flawless Catalan. What is extremely difficult to discern is the difference between a historically rooted defense of Catalan identity against encroachment by Spanish State and burgeoning Catalanist protectionism in the face of the hybridizing forces of globalization. In the skirmishes over Catalan symbolic expressions resonate anxieties about whether a formerly embattled identity can or should be extended to all the inhabitants of the region regardless of their birthplace. During the same period, the wife of Jordi Pujol, the president of Catalunya’s regional government, made xenophobicpublic statements about how immigrant children’s speaking languages other than Catalan was imperiling national culture.
In the spring of 2001, I placed advertisements in several newspapers in Barcelona asking for actors and actresses who could sing traditional Catalan and who would be interested in performing in an American film. I was looking for people who considered themselves Catalan and who would be willing to display that sense of identity before a camera. Over seventy people responded to the advertisements, from which I chose to work with about twenty-five. On the set, those who needed help were assisted by a Cuban immigrant actress who played the role of a diction corrector, a language coach that is regularly on hand for rehearsals of Catalan thratre and television productions to insure the “purity” of the Catalan presented with governmental support.
I had told the actors that if they wanted help during the recording session, they would be taught to sing Els Segadors, a traditional hymn that became the national anthem of Catalunya. Some of those showed up were prepared to sing a variety of traditional songs, while others only chose to sing the anthem.
In 2001, in the midst of mounting anxieties about the impact of immigration on Catalan social integrity, a debate began in the Spanish press about whether the national hymn of Catalunya, Els Segadors should be taught in the region’s public schools.
This video will premier at the Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam in December 2001 as part of the Unpacking Europe exhibition sponsored by Rotterdam European Cultural.