Spotlight on Intercultural Tenerife
Tenerife, with an area of 2,034.38 km2 and a population of 898,680 inhabitants (2012), is the largest island of the Canary archipelago.
Due to their geographical location, these Islands have maintained, throughout history, financial and administrative specificities compared with the rest of Spain, reflected in the establishing the Island Councils, Cabildo.
Between 2000 and 2007, Tenerife has experienced a significant population growth, with 155.705 new inhabitants, well above the national average. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, in fact, emigration to the Americas acquired a considerable size, reaching a pick during World War I and its aftermath when nearly three-quarters of the island youth migrated to Cuba. In the late ‘90s and early 2000, however, a clear reversal in the trend became manifest and Tenerife began to receive returnees and their descendants, as well as immigrants from other countries. In June 2013, Tenerife counted 35,163 non-EU foreign residents, as well as 90,516 EU residents.
Despite this, no mention of the “integration” concept was present in the first Spanish immigration law of 1985, but it was only in 1999 that a state-wide model was established with the institution of a Fund for Integration and Immigrants, as well as the creation of Strategic Plans. According to the law, the distribution of responsibilities is mainly focused on the autonomous communities (status that the Canary acquired in 1982). In this sense, the Cabildo of Tenerife does not have legal responsibility to manage integration policies, although it covers the efforts of the municipalities of the island, as well as co-manages some policies like, for example, social services.
Noteworthy is the joint initiative of the Cabildo and La Laguna University, which in 2001 have established the Immigration Observatory of Tenerife (OBITen) marking a turning point in the ability to generate knowledge and promote discussion on migration. If at first the urgency was put on giving answers to the needs of the moment, since 2009 the focus has shifted on the concepts of participation and interculturalism, bringing to the development of the “Together in the same direction” strategy. More than 100 entities (immigrant associations, social partners, public agencies and institutions) started working in thematic groups on priorities and needs identified by consensus among the participants. Because of the incorporation in the Spanish Network in 2012, furthermore, an even more transversal working committee has been set up, with representatives from various departments of the Cabildo (economy, culture, youth, equality, participation and social care) and officials from the OBITen.
The actions of this strategy are, for the moment, focusing on the neighbourhoods of Taco and El Fraile, an area where half of the population (7000 inhabitants in total) is composed by foreign-born. “Fraile for all”, an adaptation of the working methodology of the “Together” project, has succeeded in creating a strong sense of belonging in the neighbourhood as well as in reversing the stigmatized image that the media have traditionally shown. With the support of structures like RECI (Red Española de Ciudades Interculturales), that can help not only creating collaborative networks, but also supporting the efforts of municipal officials and recognizing the work made by local associations, the project will be extended to a larger number of districts as well as other islands of the archipelago.
The Tenerife experience has shown how governments and administrations can gain advantage by accepting that they cannot do everything but that many other actors can cooperate to achieve common goals. The Cabildo of Tenerife, in fact, despite not having specific competences in integration, has chosen to cooperate with the University through the creation of a body such as the OBITen, which prioritizes the application of knowledge to policies and intervention projects. Administrations often tend to have bureaucratic structures that might hamper the development of strategies that require a lot of flexibility, creativity and certain “informality”. The "Together" strategy instead seeks to promote interculturalism from the base, pushing through a participatory process in which citizens and social organisations are the true protagonists.