The Reapers

Single Channel Video | Black and white | 2001

Barcelona, like many other cities in Europe, has undergone demographic changes brought about Spain’s entry into the European community, dropping birth rates and rapidly accelerating immigration from Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. 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 establishment of Catalan schools. Regional  government officials must demonstrate Catalan proficiency and actors in Catalunya must perform exclusively in flawless Catalan. What is extremely difficult to discern is the difference between a 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.

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.

During the same period, the wife of Jordi Pujol, the president of Catalunya’s regional government, made xenophobic public 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. Some of  those showed up were prepared to sing a variety of traditional songs, while others only chose to sing the anthem.