La Plaza Mayor
Upon returning to Spain in January, I moved to El Ejido, just five minutes on wheels from the "aldeílla" where I spent the last trimester. The move was motivated by a few different factors: (a) curiosity, (b) new social and research ties in El Ejido, (c) unexpected opportunity for fieldwork at a school in the city, and (d) a desire for more urban accoutrements. I attribute "d", especially, to the privileged mobility of the urban anthropologist, but I've found that the move is affording me perspectives on life in this area and between the city and the aldeílla that I never would have learned about if I hadn't made the move. But, to address "a" through "c":

(a) I've been curious about El Ejido as a city, as a place to live, and as a site of multiculturalism since reading so many reports about the violence in 2001. It has a bad reputation from the outside, as being a place where racial violence is always about to happen, where you'll get mugged and where people are just mean. A friend told me recently that the teachers who get sent to her school (Spain's regional placement system for teachers is a topic unto itself) are invariably upset with their assignment, want to leave, don't want to start... but once they give the place a chance, they tend to change their minds.

You don't have to go too far outside El Ejido to find people who have this perception. A half hour after dropping me at my new apartment, the friend who'd driven me there called me from the freeway asking if I didn't want her to turn around and come get me again so I could sleep in Aguadulce with her family, instead. She seemed hardly convinced when I said I was fine, but eventually she agreed to let me stay where I was. "I just don't know why you want to be there," she said. "Is there something you're really worried about?" I asked, starting to get worried myself that I was overlooking something I shouldn't. "I don't know..." she said, trailing off, mentioning my lack of warm bedding, lack of groceries...

I had a pretty good idea of why she felt uneasy. The streets we'd driven through to find the flat were full of bars and game halls with immigrant men hanging around the doors and shooting the breeze on the sidewalks. On the corners of the main boulevard, just two blocks away, African and North African men had been congregating, talking, sitting on benches and the stoop of the gasoline station, standing at shop doors smoking. A good number of the shops sported signs in Arabic script or transliterated. "Alimentación Alhambra" and "Tienda Marhaba" are two that spring to mind: a small grocery store, and another with household goods, like the 'chinos' elsewhere in town. There were few women to be seen, and *so* many men. The overall effect is that this part of the neighborhood looks like what I've come to call Little Morocco.

Since then, I've learned that "Little Morocco" occupies about three city blocks, starting at the street immediately south of my own and continuing east. It merges with one of the most well-trafficked shopping areas in town, Calle Cervantes, which in turn leads toward the Plaza Mayor. North of my street and surrounding seem to be mostly residential areas, peppered with a small Spanish-owned grocery store, an assessor's office, and a sporting goods store, for example. This area continues uphill (La Loma) and is framed by greenhouses all around.

Mostly, I find people here to be friendly; sometimes I cannot understand their accents (at all!), and that is disconcerting, but the Spaniards are open to chatting despite an initial show of reticence which seems de riguer. On the streets, people do not tend to greet me, which was a normal occurence in the aldeílla, on the other hand. I credit my month-long stay in Tangier with having learned to not make eye contact with Moroccan men I pass on the street, but this is a rule I apply to most any man under the age of 65. It's a city, after all. Moroccan women do often greet or respond to greetings on the streets, however. Usually, most of the chatting takes place once you're inside a place of business, and people seem to enjoy doing so. In many ways, the rhythm of interactions that I've observed in the small shops in town make me believe that this city is still very much a pueblo, as well. (Today, I happened into a new grocery store where the woman behind the counter, assisted by her daughter, referred to all of her clients by name and remembered details of their previous purchases... "Jacobica, tú quiere' pan? Ah, no, e' verda', como llevaste ayer, no va' a quere' hoy, también." [Jacobica, do you want bread? Oh, no, that's right, you bought some yesterday, so you won't want any today, too.])

(b) and (c) Thanks to acquaintances made through colleagues in Santa María last semester, I learned that the schools in El Ejido were also culturally diverse. The more I talked with teachers at these schools, the more it seemed like a good idea to pursue some fieldwork there: they have a longer history than the high school in Santa Maria, a wider range of academic options (including college prep and vocational ed), and their students are living in an environment that is similar to the aldeílla but culturally and socially richer. I will have to check, but I believe the school where I've been authorized to collect data is not a "compensatory" center, so this offers another point of contrast with Santa Maria. In the meantime, the good will and genuine interest shown by teachers toward my study was not a gift I needed to think twice about. By living in El Ejido, I still have regular access to Santa Maria during the week, and (as soon as I'm over this cold) I will add a day or two of observations per week in El Ejido. (By the beginning of the third trimester, I want to also do periodic observations at a high school in Aguadulce; this will provide my final point of comparison/contrast, since Aguadulce has a fraction of the immigrant population in either Santa Maria or El Ejido.)

This plan, which has emerged over the last two months mainly through personal contacts, varies from my original research itinerary: 3 mos. in Santa Maria, 3 mos. in Aguadulce, 3 mos. in Roquetas de Mar. While that plan would have ensured some symmetry in terms of time-per-site, it was clear to me that I would lose ethnographic depth by leaving Santa Maria and El Ejido behind. The connections I've been able to establish with some kids and parents are allowing me to continue interviews and data collection with them, and I've noticed a sharp increase in participants' candidness and comfort levels with me. I feel even more involved and more a part of the scene in Santa Maria, and I would be missing all of that if I'd left it for another field site. Every conversation I have with a teacher from El Ejido (and I will meet the students soon) teaches me something more about the cultural and identity dynamics that are part of their everyday work.

(d) Said urban accoutrements include the municipal pool -- a gathering place for people from all over the community; conversations with the fitness monitors regularly turn into informal interviews on interculturality -- cafes with wifi, tapas bars, clothing stores (basically the Spanish version of Target is where I tend to end up), and a bus station. And I've learned that, by going and coming between El Ejido and Santa Maria, I run into students regularly: two who are on their way to dance class, another who's buying a present for her boyfriend, another who's skipping class, speeding by on his bike while I run to catch the bus. This is an unexpected and happy result of living here: I see that the social networks of Santa Maria's youth definitely extend to the "big" town next door. In other words, those who have the means and the permission to do so, go hang out there. Those who don't are stuck, for better or worse, in the aldeílla.