Imagining Migration

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Imagining Migration

Senegalese Migrants in Argentina and their Imaginaries about Mobility

Master’s Thesis

MSc Cultural and Social Anthropology Department of Anthropology, Graduate School of Social Sciences University of Amsterdam

Final version

Student: Guillermo España Student number: 12557765 e-mail:

Supervisor: Dr Kristine Krause Second reader: Dr Oskar Verkaaik

Word count excl. Appendix and Bibliography: 27347

June 23th, Amsterdam.


“Waru” Photo taken by Abdoulay La Plata, Argentina. 2021.


Plagiarism Declaration

Declaration: I have read and understood the University of Amsterdam plagiarism policy []. I declare that this assignment is entirely my own work, all sources have been properly acknowledged, and that I have not previously submitted this work, or any version of it, for assessment in any other paper

Guillermo Ricardo España June 18th, Amsterdam


Table of Contents

Abstract 4

Acknowledgments 5

Introduction 6

Presentation 6

Positionality, Interlocutors & Ethics 9

Methods 10

Imagination 12

Chapter 1. Contextualising Senegalese Migration 14


1.1 Colonial Heritage & Transnational Senegalese Migration 14

1.2 Cultures of Migration 19

1.3 Senegalese Migrants in Argentina 23

Chapter 2. Imagining Migration 27


2.1 Aspirations, Obligations & Decisions 28

2.2 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell 35

2.3 Imagining Destinations 43

Chapter 3. Abroad 49


3.1 Imaginations versus Arrival 50

3.2 Self-Representations 54

3.3 Imagining Europe 65

Finals Words 71

Bibliography 75



Colonial heritage, high unemployment rates, and the search for 'greener pastures' have kept the Senegalese transnational diaspora and the ongoing process of interpreting and re-interpreting different cultural values and practices regarding mobility in motion. Migration is a well-known topic in Senegal. It is hard to find someone with less than one friend or relative living abroad.

Scholars have focused on the imaginations and aspirations of potential migrants in Senegal and their ideas about Western countries; however, little has been done regarding the ones who managed to travel. This thesis addresses the migratory project of Senegalese men living in Argentina from the scope of imagination as a social fact. Drawing on ethnographic research carried out in Argentina and on online social media platforms, this thesis focuses on migrants' narratives about their imaginaries about migration. Moreover, I argue that cultural practices such as passing and filtering information or self-representation, are central in shaping imaginaries. My interlocutors' imagined migration thus is informed, contested, re-created, and interpreted by a set of cultural values and practices, media, networks, and by the very act of migrating.

Keywords: imagination - mobility - cultures of migration - self-representation - media - Senegalese migrants



First and foremost, I want to thank the Senegalese community in Argentina, especially to my participants. This is the second time I find myself thanking them, and again, I’m lost for words. Thanks, Gracias, Djiereief? In moments like this, words seem meaningless. They opened every door I knocked, answered every message and every question I asked, and invited me to so many coffees, beñes and suppers. They allowed me, one more time, to have a glimpse into their lives and ways of understanding the world. One more time, djiereief samay xarit.

I want to give special thanks to my supervisor Dr Kristine Krause, for her commitment, guidance, patience, goodwill, trust, support and insightful comments. She gave me indispensable theoretical knowledge as well as moral support. I also appreciate her decision to merge Merel’s project and mine. It has been great to share this journey with her too. Muchas gracias to both of you.

Thank you to my new friends from the UvA. We met during very weird times. However, we managed to build a strong bond. Thank you for all the insightful conversations, support and drinks! Special thanks to Claire for the French lessons and Michaela and Meg for the corrections! Big gratitude to my familia platense for receiving me the way you did. No doubt that whenever you are, I will feel at home. Les quiero. Particular gratitude to Mati (part of the familia), who not only hosted me but gave me valuable insights for this thesis (and for other things too). Thanks to La Triada Transnacional for always being there for the debates and the support. Thanks also to my transnational Amsterdam family. Thanks for the beers, the bbqs, the laughs, the support, the insights, the kayaks, the love and the Estadio. Thanks to my friends in Rosario who remind me why I miss that city so much.

Last but not least, I want to thank my family from Rosario and from San Juan for always being there. The love and support (and the food) are truly invaluable. I want to express special gratitude towards my abuela Carmen, my mother and my father. Throughout their love and trust, they always have encouraged me to pursue my happiness. Esta tesis está completamente dedicada a ustedes. Les quiero mucho.




I started teaching the Spanish language to Senegalese migrants in Argentina in 2012.

Without knowing it, I was already ‘in the field’, a field that would first develop into my bachelor’s thesis and now into my master’s one. During my years as a Spanish teacher and as an activist, I got to spend quite some time with Senegalese migrants in La Plata. I often heard about relatives living in Europe with steady jobs, and from time to time, I would listen to some of them commenting on the opportunities overseas. In 2018, the year I migrated to the Netherlands, I remember reading news about migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and other horrors regarding African mobility towards Europe. Sometimes mass media depict African migrants as desperately fleeing their countries, escaping from war, starvation or extreme poverty, and thus generating imaginaries of Africa as a place of misery and conflict. I knew this was not the case of the Senegalese at all. However, I was puzzled about the idea of people crossing the sea by rafts or boats, risking their lives just to find a good job. This is how everything started.

I prepared my research proposal aiming to explore Senegalese migrants’ ideas about European societies. However, during fieldwork my topic took a turn and shifted to explore the ways in which they imagine migration. So, what happened in the middle? I believe I got ‘dragged away by the field’. The more I talked to them, the more I got puzzled by the unexpected information ‘popping up’ in the interviews. For example, I heard an interlocutor saying that he thought he would work in an office once in Argentina. I asked myself, how is it possible that someone would not ask in-detail questions about possibilities abroad? Moreover, why would a person already abroad not at least warn others about obstacles, hardships and possible suffering one might experience in the host country? More importantly, I realised they were keener to talk about their own experiences and ideas rather than about the ‘unknown’ (for some) and ‘hostile’

Europe. Therefore, their stories enabled me to ask them what they expected and what they thought of the migratory project; without knowing it, I asked about their imagined migration.



Anthropologists have approached imagination as a concept different to fantasy, illusion or artistic process. Instead, imagination has been studied as a social fact. In his famous

“Modernity at Large”, Appadurai (1996) calls studying imagination as a “social, collective fact” and as a “social practice”. To highlight the social aspect of his understanding of imagination, the author compares it with the notion of collective representation coined by Durkheim (1924). The latter defined such representations as the constitution of social life, which results from individuals and groups interacting with each other, thus creating something different and beyond individual consciousness. They merge, and when becoming collective, the representations “(...) transform into partially autonomous realities” (2006:30).

Durkheim could not have envisioned the further development of electronic mass media and the effects of globalisation in modern societies. Neither was he interested in highlighting individuals’ agency and capacity to challenge social structures. In a more contemporary approach, Appadurai (1996) argues that modern subjectivity is crossed and shaped by the effects of migration and media through the work of imagination. The author calls us to look at imaginaries as cultural and socially constructed from where actors think and move through; he states that “(...) imagination has become an organized field of social practices, a form of work (in the sense of both labour and culturally organised practice), and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility” (ibid:31).

Following these lines, imagination as a social practice is thus the realm where negotiations and decisions take place. Studying collective imaginaries is relevant because they “(...) provide us with an analytical lens or perspective on how people make sense of their life worlds, their individual lives, their pasts, presents and futures” (Bal & Willems, 2014: 254). In other words, studying imaginaries allows us to ‘gaze’ at the ways in which people understand life. Moreover, researching collective representations is crucial because they are the realm where individuals evaluate possibilities and make decisions. Drawing on such notions, in this thesis I will take an approach that conceptualises imagination as a way of knowing & as a way of doing.

Research about imaginaries of migration have started to gain attention in the last few decades (Appadurai, 1996; Römhild, 2002; Teo, 2003; Riccio, 2005; Vigh, 2009; Salazar, 2011, 2020;

Fall, 2011,2014; Bal & Willems, 2014; Uberti & Riccio, 2017). In recent years there have been insightful findings about imaginaries of Europe, migration, and migrants within the Senegalese population. These studies have placed special attention on the ways in which imaginaries are embedded by media and different cultures of migration (Riccio, 2005; Nyamnjoh, 2010,


Willems, 2011, Uberti & Riccio, 2017). However, researchers have focused mainly on collective representations from potential Senegalese migrants and those left behind. Little attention has been paid to the imagination of those who migrated, especially to more recent destinations, such as Argentina. Therefore, not much is known about how imaginaries evolve before and after migrating. More importantly, not much is known about how Senegalese migrants understand migration. Thus, this thesis will shed light on imaginaries before and after migrating, and the ways of putting imagination into practice.

Positionality, Interlocutors & Ethics

My approach to the Senegalese community in La Plata was through Spanish lessons organised by two classmates and me in 2012. Since then, I have been in close contact with this collective, mainly as a Spanish teacher but also as a researcher, as a photographer, as an activist, and, for some, as a friend. As a result, I found myself in diverse situations with them; from religious festivities to spending long evenings in a police station, doing a photo exhibition, helping with legal issues, organising and performing demonstrations, or sharing dinner.

The number of Senegalese in La Plata ranges from one hundred to one hundred fifty approximately, which is not a large number. The fact that there are not many of them made me get to know, at least by sight, a large percentage of them. At the same time, many of them know my classmates and me. My perception is that the ones who know about me, trust me, and hold me in high regard do so due to my years of teaching and activism. At first, this might sound like an advantage for my research, and indeed, it was. However, it put me in a situation of even more unbalanced power relations. I hold a privileged position, such as doing a master's degree in Europe, having a salary in Euros, not having to provide for anyone, and not being discriminated against and exoticised by my social class and ethnicity that much. I felt that most of my participants were willing to participate in my research, even when very tired, because they appreciate me. I had to be very insistent that there was no absolute obligation and wary about spotting when they might feel too tired or just bored. Firstly, due to the outcome of the data, but mainly because my intention was not to bother or make anyone feel uncomfortable.

The topic of migration is a delicate one. My interlocutors had friends or relatives who have been repatriated, and some passed away while trying to reach European shores. In addition,


some participants have been deported from Europe and have experienced shame, exclusion, racism, and suffering while being a migrant. Therefore, I needed to be conscious about these issues during interviews and reminded my interviewees that we could stop at any time.

The names of the participants have been changed to preserve the anonymity requested by them.

All the data here shared is under their approval and trust.


I have conducted fifteen in-depth semi-structured interviews with thirteen Senegalese1 migrants for this thesis, representing my primary data source. I agree with Marradi et al. when stating that “the interview does not have fixed rules, and therefore it cannot be done following a recipe (…) However, this does not mean that it is a totally anarchic practice2” (2010:197).

Following these lines, I elaborated a set of seventeen-to-twenty open questions that I formulated and re-formulated as the research was developing. The length of the interviews varied depending on the interlocutor, ranging from twenty minutes the shortest to two hours the longest.

Three of the fifteen interviews were held online. This method was advantageous. One of the obvious benefits was that geographical boundaries did not limit me, I reached out to three participants that it would have been impossible for me to meet in person. However, it lacked some features of the face-to-face interview. For example, sometimes connection problems like delays or slow internet speed would hinder the flow of the conversation, making it hard for me to interrupt in key moments, or sometimes my question would overlap with my interviewers’

question, making the chat sloppy. Moreover, making eye contact during online interviews is not as powerful and binding as in person. Although interviews were the most effective method, they would not have been possible without creating a rapport before. This bond could be created while doing fieldwork, activism, or just having dinner. I am not saying that it is impossible to conduct in-depth interviews with someone you do not know, but my interviews touched on sensitive and private topics, which I believe strong trust and rapport are needed for. Overall, I agree with Lo Iacono et al. when stating that online interviews are a powerful method for

1 I interviewed two interlocutors twice.

2 Translated from Spanish.


gathering information. However, by no means is it an adequate replacement for face-to-face interactions, rather a complementary data collection tool (2016).

Furthermore, I spent six weeks doing participant observation and having informal conversations with my participants. This method consisted mainly in spending time with them while they were working, sharing coffee or lunch. That time was very special to me because it allowed me to reconnect and catch up with some of them. I felt that my relationship strengthened. Also, through informal conversations, I got to hear different aspirations and achievements, such as building a house and pictures of actual houses they built, complaints about the current Argentinian situation, such as the devaluation of the currency and the problems they were having with the photo assignment (I will explain this further at a later point).

I also utilised visual methods. The main procedure was a hand-on-camera, or as Faccioli &

Lossaco (2009) calls it, subjective creation of images3. This consisted in some of my participants taking pictures upon mutually agreed guidelines on the topic of imagination, to further discuss the images. The epistemological core of this approach is that cameras do not take pictures by themselves (Collier, 1979 in Faccioli & Lossaco, 2009). Therefore, photographing involves subjectivity from the one who photographs; when creating images [with cameras] we select and interpret reality (ibid:6). As Berger describes it, “The photographer's way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject” (1977:10). The issues mentioned in the previous paragraph were due to my participants’ engagement with the task.

Only four of them completed the photo ‘game’. I felt that it was a burden for many, and others would complete it just due to the good relationship we have. Moreover, two of them argued that they do not do much more than working ‘all day long’, so they would not feel inspired to take pictures. Acknowledging these difficulties, I decided to rely on more ‘traditional’ in-depth interviews and leave the photo assignment for those I considered interested in the idea. In Chapter 3, I will present some of the outcomes obtained from this visual method.

Lastly, virtual spaces also provide valuable insights on issues of identity, community, processes of negotiation, challenge, and social interactions (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2019). Considering the relevance of online spaces, I aimed to address issues on self-representation and its link to

3 Translated from Spanish: “creación subjetiva de imágenes”.


the imagination through online ethnography. I examined my interlocutors' WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube pages & profiles. This method allowed me to confirm what some interlocutors told me about Senegalese migrants’ behaviour in social media and explore what private life means for some. Finally, I did an online ethnography on Facebook groups for Senegalese living in Italy, France, Spain & Argentina. This last method contributed to the discussions about how migrants self-represent in social media and the effects on imagination.

The complete fieldwork was conducted in Spanish with occasional words in Wolof. I had some limits due to language barriers with three interviews. We did have fluid conversations, but sometimes I could not go as far as I wanted with the questions. All the rest spoke fluent Spanish, and I did not have any trouble at all. They would pause to think of the words from time to time.

Sometimes they would have a strong accent or make grammatical mistakes, but nothing disruptive for the conversation. Considering that their mother language is Wolof, and then what they said in Spanish was translated into English, I acknowledge a linguistic hiatus which I cannot fill. Considering this, I made the effort to translate their narratives as reliably as I could.

This means that I took into account the context in which such things were said, voice tones and body gestures. The analysis was placed in more contextual meanings than in specific words or grammar.


This thesis will address the migratory project of Senegalese men living in Argentina from the scope of imagination as a social fact. In other words, to understand better their ways of looking at migration and their performances, I will reconstruct and explore Senegalese migrants’ imagination as ways of knowing and ways of doing. Throughout this research, I will introduce a set of social and cultural values -such as ‘being a man’-, and practices -like don’t ask-don’t tell or self-representation- that shape imaginaries about migration, and at the same time, such practices are a way of putting imagination into practice. Furthermore, for a more encompassing analysis, I will include the role of historical, global and local contexts as informing imaginaries as well. Moreover, I will show how some of my participants’

imaginaries about migration have shifted by the act of migrating. In this sense, I will understand migration as another dimension from which imaginaries are shaped.


Chapter 1 will give background information vital to understanding the contemporary Senegalese diaspora. The aim will be to bring together historical and economic considerations, cultural values and structural factors that contribute to shaping imaginaries about migration. I will sketch out how colonial heritage influences contemporary Senegalese socio-economic reality and migration towards both Europe and further to Argentina. Later in the chapter, I will bring theoretical considerations about the cultures of migration and their symbolic meanings for the Senegalese. Finally, I will introduce the reader to the ‘here and now’ of the migrants in Argentina by shedding light on current legal and labour contexts.

Chapter 2 will be a reconstruction of my interlocutors’ imaginations before becoming migrants. Firstly, I will show the interplay of aspirations, obligations & decisions in shaping their ideas about migration. Next, I will present how the practice of don’t ask-don’t tell is a crucial dimension of shaping imaginaries and vice versa. Moreover, I will shed light on how migrating entitles people to receive more accurate information than those who never did it.

Lastly, I will introduce the reader to a more explicit description of what my interlocutors imagined to find abroad and its relation to media and a ‘migratory context’.

In the final chapter, the reader will find my interlocutors’ imaginaries after arriving in Argentina. The crux of this chapter will be to show how migrating informs imaginaries. The first section will contrast their past imagination with what they found abroad. This way, I will show how imaginaries develop within their experiences. Moreover, their current situation often does not match what they imagine people in Senegal expect from them, resulting in putting imagination into practice by self-representation management methods towards significant others. Finally, the chapter will end with a reconstruction of their ‘imagined Europe’. In addition, I will discuss recent studies about shifting perceptions of the EU.

The main arguments will be that: a) imagination as a social fact is a shared way to understand the world and act in it. b) Senegalese imaginaries about migration are shaped by historical and economic dimensions, embedded in cultural values, influenced by migratory contexts, conditioned by regimes of mobility and nation-states policies, influenced by media, social media and television, enriched by migrating and interpreted, enacted & challenged by individuals. c) Imagination can be put into practice by understanding that one should not ask many questions about life abroad or by self-representing in social media in a way that matches


or challenges imaginaries d) Imaginaries are dynamic and social representations and practices changes as a result of local, global (Hernández Carretero, 2015) and personal transformations.


Chapter 1

Contextualising Senegalese Migration


We cannot pretend to grasp Senegalese migrants’ ideas and practices about their migratory project if we do not acknowledge basic economic-historic and cultural elements from their origin society, as well as global and local regimes of mobility. This chapter aims to introduce the mentioned elements and claim that they contribute to shaping collective imaginaries about migration.

The first section will explain how colonial heritage is still influencing contemporary Senegalese socio-economic reality and its migration flow to Europe. I will also guide the reader through a brief history of Senegalese transnational migration towards European countries while interweaving some main migration and economic policies that affected Senegal and channelled its emigration. Next, I will show how the high risks and monetary value of going to Europe by boat and the EU's increasing tightening of migratory policies and enforced repatriations created a climate in which Senegalese people decided for different destination countries. In the next section, I will introduce a discussion, an illustration and my own inputs to the notion of cultures of migration, widely used in migration studies. The aim will be to understand what migration means for diverse Senegalese migrants. Finally, I will introduce the reader to the ‘here and now’ situation of Senegalese migrants in Argentina. First, to give the lector an understanding of the structural conditions in which this community finds its way out in South America.

Secondly, as I will develop in Chapters 2 & 3, to argue that governmentality plays a significant role in the way migrants imagine the migratory project.

1.1 Colonial Heritage & Transnational Migration

Cross-border mobility has been and still is highly common in Senegal. For example, in the sacred Senegalese city of Touba, more than 90% of the population has migrated at least once (Arduino, 2011). Migration for Senegalese people then is best understood “(...) as a phase of continuity in which mobility and sedentariness are a concrete «outcome of a relation»”


(Adey, 2010 cited in Uberti & Riccio, 2017:344). Although mobility within the African continent is highly significant (De Haas, 2007), as mentioned in the introduction, my goal is not to present an encompassing history and Senegalese displacements through time and space and its economic developments. Instead, the aim here is to build historical context to understand today's presence of sub-Saharan immigrants in European and Latin American societies.

The French colonisers crafted Senegalese's production structure with main products linked to the primary extractive sector. The colonial administration introduced peanut cultivation in Senegal in 1841, and it extended far and wide across the territory, making the Senegalese economy highly dependent on groundnut crops (Espiro, 2019). The droughts at the end of the 1960s affected the traditional peanut farming system, leading several people to emigrate to African countries such as Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Guinea. This fact also created significant internal migratory waves, from rural areas to urbanised ones within Senegal.

The massive displacements and the subsequent loss of the former French West Africa market -due to independence from France- contributed to the ongoing impoverishment of urban cities (Fall, 2002; Riccio, 2005; Zubrzycki, 2009; Uberti, 2014). Drawing on post-colonial thinkers, I have understood the mentioned economic and social factors in Senegal due to the colonising structures that shape the mobility in the region and beyond up to now. Following Mudimbe, the "colonizing structure" (1988:15); refers to how colonialism was organised. The author argues that the colonising structure meant "the domination of physical space, the reformation of natives' minds, and the integration of local economic histories into the Western perspective"

(ibid:15). Olaniyan builds upon this theory and expands Mudimbe's idea that the colonial structure tends to transform its colonies into "'fundamentally European constructs"' (Mudimbe, 1988 cited in Olaniyan, 200:270). The scholar claims that this transformation never actually happened; instead, the African continent was looted and depredated and further unevenly included as peripheric from the West, inheriting what Olaniyan describes as a structural marginality (200:270) that has shaped the mobility in the region and beyond up to now.

During the 50s and the 60s, France's economy started to boom after the recovery from World War II. In order to supply the ongoing unskilled labour-force demand, the French government made use of work recruitment importation, mainly from southern European countries but also from its colonies. As Massey et al. state, international migration is especially likely between powers with a colonial past and their former colonies, based on cultural, linguistic, and


administrative ties that have already been established, implying the formation of transnational markets (1993:255). For example, in 1960, France announced the law Convention d’établissement that permitted recently independent people from Senegal to enter, reside, and work in France (Vickstron, 2019). As Mann (1999) highlights, immigration policies were “(...) also the result of African states like Senegal negotiating the project of nation-building in the era of decolonisation by claiming its citizens as members in its national polity” (cited in Maher, 2017:83). Thus, the decade of the 60s experienced a rise in international emigration, mainly towards France, the former metropolis. The main jobs Senegalese were offered were low- skilled positions in the sectors of textile, automotive, and hotel industries (Fall, cited in Vickstron, 2019).

By 1970 there was already a significant Senegalese population established in France (Baizan

& Ferrer, 2015). During 1974 the French government responded to the increasing flow of immigrants by suspending labour migration and thus starting a “legal production of illegality”

(De Genova, 2005). By 1980 migration policies were tightened even more (Vickstron, 2019), resulting in other destinations such as Spain, Italy, and the United States. This way, by illegalising4 migration from certain destinations, France increased irregular5 migrants as a side effect. At the same time, labour migration started to decrease, leaving the ex-colony as the most desirable destination for Senegalese students and upper-class members. (Fall, et al., 2010:2014).

The decade of the 80s gave birth to flourishing neo-liberal policies around the world, and Senegal was no exception. Senegalese government liberalized the economy, privatized and downsized State enterprises (Baizan & Ferrer, 2015). According to Mutumbe (2007), Senegal lost one-third of manufacturing jobs between 1985 and 1990 after decreasing tax on imported goods (cited in Langan, 2018:133). Following the IMF and the World Bank's instructions,

4 I regard that the Nation-states actively illegalise migrants by depriving them from access to basic civil rights.

Furthermore, their illegalisation goes beyond a legal condition, it needs to be understood “also as the ideological effect of a discursive formation encompassing broader public debate and political struggle” (De Genova, 2004:167). Thus, the precarious material conditions come with public stigmatization and racial and ethnic prejudices. Moreover, as I will show in further chapters, their illegalisation also shapes the ways in which they self-imagine and the ways in which they understand migration.

5 I find the term 'illegal' an indirect word for criminalizing migrants, therefore I will use the word 'irregular' in order to describe migrants who find themselves outside legally defined frameworks for residence or work outside their country of origin (Vickstrom, 2019)


Senegalese politicians cancelled economic aid to agricultural cooperatives. In a mainly rural country, the majority experienced a drastic reduction of resources to generate income (Perry, 2005). On top of this, devaluation of the national currency and policies hindering substitution of importation "(...) rendered the costs of imported goods such as fertiliser, agricultural machinery, and rice prohibitively expensive" (ibid:213). The mentioned policies taken by the Senegalese government, and pushed by aid institutions such as the IMF and the WB, can be interpreted as classic neo-colonial ways in which developed countries maintain their position of power by managing specific policies in developing regions. Nkrumah's (1965) writings on neo-colonialism emphasise that although multinational companies and external donors can benefit the African States, they, due to their economic power, have the resources to influence and corrupt African politicians in favour of their own foreign interests. Aid money thus frequently represents a threat to the sovereignty and well-being of most people in Africa and can be understood as a neo-colonial mechanism (cited in Langan, 2018). Lagang follows Nkrumah's ideas and draws on more recent experiences of aid money and external investing in Africa. The author argues that such policies posed a barrier to poverty reduction in African countries (2018:62) and left Senegal highly impoverished and with scarce formal jobs.

Following Fall, "The state's disengagement from the job market seems to have stimulated a boom in the so-called informal sector and modified the labour market structure" (2002:35). As Espiro suggests, external factors play a significant role in Senegal’s economy but “(...) it is also necessary to add the internal operating logics, such as corruption, patronage, or the concentration of power by elites (in the form of public office for their family or import/export licenses)6” (2019:273).

During the 90s, the main African destinations for Senegalese migrants also experienced a severe economic crisis. Ivory Coast, Gabon and Guinea thus developed restrictive migration policies, making Senegalese people look for 'greener pastures' outside Africa (Schoumaker et al., 2013), mainly to Italy and Spain who were in search of a low-skilled workforce (Mahen, 2017).

Considering the economic and labour context described here, it is no surprise that Senegalese youth -which represents 55% of the population who are under 20 years old (Fall, 2010, cited in Espiro, 2019)- feel disappointed about finding competitive salaries and imagining their

6 Translated from Spanish


careers in Senegal. This way, remittances sent from abroad started to be considered as

‘Senegal’s lounge economy’ (ibid:279) or “one of the main engines of growth in the Senegalese economy today” (Dahou and Foucheras in Fall et al, 2010:9. Migration thus started to be rendered as a “collective national success”, and migrants as “national heroes” (Uberti & Riccio, 2017).

From a macro perspective, I will argue that structural and economic factors in Senegal contributed to ‘push’ people from their country, or in other words, contributed to considering the possibility of leaving. On the other hand, countries recruiting labour force can be understood as pulling migrants from developing countries by offering low-skilled jobs.

However, I do not stand for the classic economic approach that states labour markets offer and demand would balance through this articulation. This approach has been criticised for being deterministic, not acknowledging collective migratory dynamics (Espiro, 2019), or assuming that individual motivations are statics (De Haas, 2007). Furthermore, push-pull theories often overshadow cultural aspirations and ways of “livelihood” (Benson and O’Reilly in Salazar, 2011). This is why in section 1.2, I will include a cultures of migration approach to complexify the understandings of imaginaries in mobility.

From Planes to Boats

From 1975 till 2008, the number of Senegalese migrants has decreased in Africa and increased towards Europe (Vickstrom, 2019). Studies show that since the 90s, there were ongoing flows of Senegalese immigrants in Italy and Spain, reaching close to 45.000 in the former and nearly 40.000 in the latter by the year 2008 (Schoumaker et al., 2013:12). According to De Haas, the ongoing legal restrictions for migrants led to a significant shift in African migration to Europe (2007). I refer to what scholars call 'pirogue' or 'boat migration' (Nyamnjoh, 2010; Uberti, 2014). This phenomenon consists of crossing the Mediterranean Sea by fishing boats or even inflatable rafts from the coast of Senegal or North Africa's seaside to enter the EU through unauthorised borders, thus avoiding migratory controls. In 2006, boat migration from the Senegalese shores gained mass attention in the media7 and within scholars’ research (Cullenward, 2008; Nyamnjoh, 2010; Willems, 2014; Schoumaker, et al., 2013; Ifekwunigwe, 2013; Ikuteyijo, 2014; Uberti, 2014). It is estimated that about 23 thousand African migrants arrived at Spanish shores in one year (Ikuteyijo, 2014). By 2010 Senegalese people accounted



for the biggest volume of Sub-Saharan migrants in Italy and Spain, with a total of 23% in the former and 27% in the latter, while being in third place in France with 13% (Vickstrom, 2019:201).

The increasingly severe entry restrictions to the European Union, such as the Return Directive, an agreement signed by the twenty-seven member countries and approved by the European Parliament on June 18, 2008 (Jarochinski Silva, 2009 in Maffia, 2010: 12), made it difficult for migrants to access the continent through authorised borders. At the same time, the EU's increasing tightening on migratory policies and repatriations fuelled hostilities in the hosting societies towards illegalised migrants. Moreover, Senegalese media8 would broadcast images and news about the Red Cross receiving migrants at EU’s shores and sinking pirogues full of migrants. (Nyamnjoh, 2010:15; Uberti, 2014). Thus, Uberti & Riccio point out that, although, the overall economic success of Senegalese migrants in Europe contributed to imagine them as

“national heroes” and Europe as “El Dorado”, recent local and global changes contributed to the formation of ambivalent representations of Europe as a desired place for migration (2017), resulting in the emergence of different destinations such as Latin America. Especially Argentina and Brazil.

1.2. Cultures of Migration

“I… like… change. I live in many, many countries.

I live in Brazil, Italy, France … Dubai, have you been there?”.9

For a better understanding of Senegalese people's mobility, we need to shift the focus from macro perspectives and address the notion of cultures of migration. This concept highlights the socio-cultural and historical elements embedded in shared representations of migration. (Degli & Riccio, 2017). Thus, a cultural approach allows us to zoom in on migrant’s aspirations and put them in perspective with notions such as kinship, manhood, networks,

8 Research shows that Senegalese media adopted an ambivalent position regarding the migrants crossing the Mediterranean, depicting them as victims and other times as heroes. For a more in-detail analysis of Senegalese media consult Degli Uberti, 2014.

9 Senegalese interlocutor. Field notes, 2015.


status, social class or success. Such notions are at the fore of Senegalese’ imaginaries on mobility.

As discussed in the previous section, push-pull theories focus on the economic dimension of migration, stating that lacking economic opportunities pushes people away while wealthy countries pull them in. Indeed, economic implications play a significant role in migration and are often present in migrants' narratives as a reason or motivation to migrate. It is because migrants’ testimonies account for the relevance of the economy in their motivations that, as researchers, we cannot ignore them. We should include them. Therefore, I acknowledge the global inequalities and migrants’ aspirations to improve their economic situation through mobility. However, I do not share the push-pull theory’s deterministic approach and aims to predict migration flows. Furthermore, economic motivations are just one facet of the multiple dimensions involved in the migratory process. Following Salazar (2010), “migration, in the broadest sense, is much more than mere movement between places; it is always embedded in wider processes of meaning-making” (cited in Di Martino et al. 2020:113), and push-pull theories are unsatisfying in grasping the symbolic and cultural dimensions.

The concept of cultures of migration refers to different aspects of the migratory process that go beyond the mere act of migrating. For instance, Ali highlights the importance of reinforcing the celebration of migration and migrants among a community. These celebrations could involve symbols, myths, the celebration of migration on media or material goods (2007:39).

As Kandel & Massey states for the case of young Mexicans wishing to go to the US, "The essence of the culture of migration argument is that non-migrants observe migrants to whom they are socially connected and seek [or wish or just say so] to emulate their migratory behaviour" (2002:983). I partially agree with the latter; I often found that some of my interlocutors manifested the desire to migrate because someone else did it, although it was not always the case. As I will present in Chapter 2, sometimes the initiative for mobility comes from the family's obligations on contributing to the household’s economy, and not because they wanted to mimic someone else’s behaviour. Moreover, I do not try to find the "essence of the culture of migration" here, if there is any essence at all.

The word 'culture' is often problematic. It tends to flatten differences, conceal doubts and conflict of interests, and often end up essentialising identities through its use (Abu-Lughod, 1991). Aware of the implications of the culture notion, and following Degli & Riccio, talking


about “cultures”, in plural, can help us account for the "(...) multiple historical variations and meanings resulting from people's daily interactions'' (2017:342). Moreover, as we will see throughout this thesis, imaginaries on migration sometimes are matched, and other times challenged and re-produced by its participants. Following these lines, I agree with Klute &

Hahn on not explaining cultures of migration by emerging patterns of mobility flows, but rather understanding the concept as

(...) established by discourses, and sometimes even conflicting negotiations, among migrants themselves and between them and other groups of actors (...) the people who stay back home, people migrants encounter in transitory places, or those they deal with in their respective host societies (Klute & Hahn, 2007:14).

Understanding the notion of cultures of migration as expressed so far enables us to approach culture more dynamically, allowing us to integrate Senegal, the host destination and transnational spaces that include migrants and non-migrants, virtual spaces, images, and discourses. I am, therefore, not pursuing essentialising activities or identities. Instead, I aim to describe dynamic practices and narratives around migration that will help a better understanding of mezzo and micro levels of Senegalese mobility. For example, I found practices among my interlocutors about not asking specific questions to the contact person abroad, who usually does not share this information. I have denominated this practice: don't ask, don’t tell. I argue that this particular way in which information flows is part of their culture of migration. Moreover, don’t ask-don’t tell is not only at the core of shaping imaginaries, but it is also a way of putting imagination into practice.

One of my participants stated that "In the city, they only talk about that [possibilities abroad], it is the topic of the day, hahaha, yes". Therefore, migration is something that people talk about.

It is a common theme in many Senegalese people's lives. In brief, using the culture of migration approach will enable us to grasp Senegalese displacements around the globe and their imaginaries about it. More importantly, it will give sense to the discussion of imagined migration, and it will help frame my primary research question; How do Senegalese men imagine migration? While answering this question, I will present different narratives and practices embedded by shared, contested and dynamic imaginaries that will shed light on the studies of mobility and imagination.


Symbolic Meanings and Motivations

For many people in Senegal migration is regarded as a symbol of manhood and success and therefore desirable (Goldberg, 2004), especially migration to Western countries, Senegalese's leading destinations after African countries. Research has shown Senegalese people stating their wish to get to 'know the world', get away from social and family constrictions, or just following what their families 'requested' them to do (Nyamnjoh, 2010; Pschunder, 2018).

Analysing the cultures of migration performed by Senegalese people allows us to pay attention to the symbolic significance of migration, the high regard for learning new languages and experiences, the social pressure upon migrants, and the role of the family.

According to Nyamnjoh, the culture of migration in Senegal is embedded by the way migrants present themselves while back in Senegal, they often "(...) indulge in ostentatious consumption, and of how much wealth, power, and esteem they command amongst friends and family (...)"

(2010:131). The author focuses here on the display of wealth performed by "successful migrants", the 'success' is described by someone who maintains the moral responsibility to redistribute his wealth, financially supporting his family, his community, and his networks of friends. The author also states that a true "Senegalese hunter" is expected to return to Senegal with a good "catch" (ibid) or send it in the form of remittances. Salazar explains that Tanzanian migrants present themselves as successful by hiding their economic and social struggles, which fuels the culture of migration (Salazar, 2011:589). Building on Nyamnjoh and Salazar’s arguments, I add that the culture of migration also orbits around the ways in which they self- represent from abroad, either by selecting what to show or by not telling about specific realities.

However, in this research, I show tensions and different opinions about how to portrait migration towards people back in Senegal.

Sinatti suggests that acting as breadwinner plays a crucial role in migrants' performance of masculinity. Migration thus is a way of achieving manhood and social status among their fellow nationals (2014). Moreover, as some of my interlocutors informed me, Senegalese migrants often do not share their sorrows or even do not warn other fellow nationals about harsh living conditions abroad because "they also believe that man can survive in any situation".

Senegalese migratory projects often can be understood as a transnational family project (Pschunder, 2018; Espiro, 2019). Following Riccio (2005), “(...) the migratory travel is not


necessarily the result of a choice or an extraordinary act, but rather a social practice that meets family needs and commitments and represents a form of solidarity” (cited in Uberti, 2014:89).

It is an opportunity to expand the economic foundations of the family unit by using the resource of sending remittances from the destination society. As Kleidermacher indicates, "the departure of an individual does not mean that the family nucleus is broken or divided, untying its members; quite the contrary, its flexibility and mobility are advantageous for family dynamics10" (2013:130). Moreover, since having a migrant in the extended family raises the status of all members by improving their economic capital, the inability of supporting an individual to migrate can decrease a family's social status (Nyamnjoh, 2010).

Although the majority highly values migration, not everyone regards it the way I portrayed it here. Part of the Senegalese population -and some participants- consider that crossing the Mediterranean to go to Europe is suicidal. Furthermore, some people are well aware of the precarious condition in which fellow nationals live in Europe and the xenophobic and racists episodes that they often encounter11. Moreover, Vammen (2017) found that some Senegalese migrants in Buenos Aires became "disenchanted" regarding migration. What they once thought would be a pleasant experience turned out to be a big disappointment for them. I have included these different ‘voices’ about migration as a reminder that collective imaginaries are not monolithic. They are not only dynamic and tied to historical and social changes, but they are also diverse, conflictive and sometimes ambiguous.

1.3 Senegalese Migrants in Argentina

The first Sub-Saharan migrants arrived in the Argentinian country during the late 90s12, rapidly increasing its flow from 200813 onwards (Kleidermacher, 2008). Most of the

10 Translated from Spanish

11For more information about the negative visions of migration in Senegal, consult Riccio, 2005; Nyamnjoh, 2010; Uberti, 2014.

12 Here I am not considering the enslaved people from Senegal that were brought to Argentina during the 19th century. Solomianski argues that the physical and symbolic participation of African culture in Argentina was for a long time denied, invisible and concealed, that is, Argentina’s history itself was directed from its beginnings to the ideal of a "white", European and Western Nation (Solomianski, 2003). This is why, together with the incipient African immigration of the 20th and 21st centuries, a process of hypervisibilization of ‘black’ people has been taking place (Morales, 2015), especially those who work on the streets, such as the Senegalese.

13 The same year that the EU's Parliament approved the Return Directive.


Senegalese migrants living in Argentina are men –Although the number of women is on the rise (Voskoboinik, 2017)- between 20 and 47 years of age (Espiro, 2019). They recognize themselves as Muslims and members of the Mouride brotherhood14. Most of them belong to the Wolof ethnic group, which in Senegal comprises 45% of the population while the remaining percentage is divided between Serer, Diola, and Mandinké ethnic groups. The shared language is Wolof, historically agraph, its transmission occurs orally for the most part. However, within time Senegalese people who knew how to use the Latin alphabet began to write in Wolof, using phonetics mainly in French, but also in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and English.

Legal Context

Senegal does not have an Argentinian embassy in its territory, nor does Argentina have Senegalese diplomatic representation for the African country. This situation makes it hard for the Senegalese to apply for a visa to enter South American land. One of the most common ways to enter this territory is to fly to Brazil and cross by foot to the neighbouring country through irregular borders. The second common way is to fly to Ecuador, where visas were not required from 2010 until 2016. Between 2012 and 2015 a number of 6.931 Senegalese have been recorded to access Ecuador while almost no exits are registered. Research indicates that most of these migrants left through unauthorised borders towards Argentina (Ménard Marleau, 2017). This means that migrants have to pay to a transnational network specialised in moving people through irregular national borders and complete a journey that lasts between ten to fifteen days by bus and foot.

The growing population of Senegalese migrants in Argentina and their precarious situation was brought to public attention by different social agents, leading to negotiation at the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS). As a result, together with the Asociación de Residentes Senegaleses de Argentina (ARSA) and other civil organisations (Kleidermacher, 2013 p .119), the Dirección Nacional de Migraciones (DNM) approved the “SPECIAL REGULARIZATION OF FOREIGNERS OF SENEGALESE NATIONALITY”15 on January 4th, 2013. This legislation acknowledged the Senegalese migratory situation and aimed to regularize it. Although this population was able to claim a permanent residence permit, the

14 Mouride brotherhoods have been central for networks of new Senegalese diasporas all over the world, see Lacomba (1996) and Moreno Maestro (2005).



window for doing so only lasted six months, meaning that just a very small percentage of this African group managed to benefit from it. Nowadays the newly arrived therefore continue to lack the legal means to regularize their migratory situation, which is a key impediment to finding a job in the formal economy.

Labour Context

Selling jewellery and other products in the street is the main labour activity of Senegalese migrants, both in Argentina and France, Italy, and Spain (Moreno Maestro, 2005; Cullenward, 2008). Zubrzycki explains that when a Senegalese arrives at his destination, he is received by a family member or friend who is part of the transnational network of contacts that articulates the entire migration process, from departure to arrival. The network provides the necessary information on where to buy merchandise and the possible points of sale. Moreover, if necessary, the migrant is provided with initial capital to invest, which he will return when possible, and without interest, the newcomer thus can start work within days of his arrival (Zubrzycki, 2011).

The usual way to go is to get a briefcase -or maletín- to carry the products and start as an ambulante (peddling). After a while of being an ambulante, the migrants try to find a fixed spot in the walking path. This way is less tiring than walking for hours, and it is also more profitable.

The common way to find a spot in the street is from “mouth to mouth”, that is, from the data of a friend or relative who tells them that "there is a free place", or that “a guy left”, then he can locate there (España, 2017). As Kleidermacher states, this activity is cheap to invest in, light to transport, it does not represent a significant loss if it is taken away by the police (2013).

Finally, it does not require fluent Spanish to start making an initial small income; most of them arrive in the country without speaking Spanish, which does not impede them from starting to work as street vendors as soon as they reach their destination. However, it hinders the possibility of getting a different job. The next step, which not many achieve, is to open a shop where they often sell similar products to the ones they used to when being street vendors.

Owning a shop is highly regarded among the migrants, as it is more in line with the culturally embedded imaginaries of a successful migrant than street selling.

Senegalese work as street vendors between six to seven days a week, eight to twelve hours per day. Meteorological factors (rain, wind, very high and low temperatures) can also impede work.

Street vendors are also exposed to various situations of physical or verbal violence, racism,


exoticisation, marginalisation, subordinate treatment, and are criminalised and persecuted by local authorities (Espiro, 2012; Espiro et al., 2016; España, 2017). Despite these difficulties, some of them manage to earn more than minimum salaries in Senegal, and others manage to make significant contributions to their family household.

I will address the legal and labour contexts here described from the scope of a “regimes-of- mobility” approach. Glick Schiller & Salazar underline that by focusing on governmental agents and international policies, we can better understand global and internal mobility and immobility (2013). I claim here that the few attempts of the Argentinian State to regularise the Senegalese community’s migratory situation are a structural factor that illegalises and criminalises migrants at first, impeding them from arriving through authorised national borders; secondly by depriving them to access to fundamental civil rights, therefore leaving them with no option but to find precarious low-skilled jobs in the informal sector; and thirdly by persecuting them for working in the streets. Hence, as I will show more in detail in the following chapters, these regimes of mobility impact migrants’ imagined migration and, therefore, the ways in which they self-represent to significant others. Forcing them to take precarious jobs often halts their imaginaries of status mobility, resulting in a paradoxical situation where they upgrade their status in Senegal by lowering it abroad.


Chapter 2

Imagining Migration


As presented in the previous chapter, the Senegalese diaspora spread beyond Europe and the United States and reached Latin American countries, such as Brazil and Argentina. I showed that the migratory project for Senegalese people goes deeper than just finding better economic opportunities abroad. Exploring the notion of cultures of migration allowed a better understanding of the mobility project as a family strategy, as a desire for knowing different societies, as a way to avoid responsibilities or as a symbol of masculinity and success. At the end of Chapter 1, I introduced the reader to critical aspects of the legal labour context in which Senegalese migrants find themselves in Argentina. The irregular migratory situation heavily hinders their possibility to find other jobs than street vendors, a situation that most of them did not imagine beforehand. These legal and labour situations raise the question, how exactly did they imagine the circumstances in Argentina before migrating?

Following Salazar, researching imaginaries is limited to “(...) the post-migration phase and, thus, involves a reconstruction of the imagination at work before and during the actual migratory move” (2020:7). This Chapter then refers to their past imaginations, this is, their narratives about their ideas, practices and socio-cultural contexts before becoming migrants.

By including their ideas from before I will be able to understand better their motivations to migrate. Moreover, it will allow me to show how imaginaries shift after migrating.

The aspects of Senegalese cultures of migration come prominently back in the three cases that I will present next. In the first section I will describe and analyse my interlocutor's narratives about their aspirations, obligations, & decisions from when they were in Senegal, before becoming migrants. The goal will be to show how these three notions interplayed and shaped my interlocutors' imaginations before leaving Senegal.

In this chapter I will analyse a practice that I have named ‘don’t ask-don’t tell’, and I found it repeated among almost all my participants. Asking specific questions about life abroad is considered rude, especially to people older than oneself. Most Senegalese arrive at their


destination without really knowing what to expect abroad, and some do not even know the language of the country they arrive in. This phenomenon is in part due to not asking many questions, also not telling almost anyone that one is about to migrate. The project remains a secret until they finally reach their destination. Only close relatives and the contact person abroad know about the trip. Moreover, the person abroad would not give so much information either to the one asking for details. As I will elaborate at the end of the section, only two of my participants were informed about what to expect in Argentina. Based on my field information, I suggest that those who had migrated before had access to different and more accurate information than those who did not.

The chapter will finish by illustrating their thoughts about what they were expecting to find abroad. This is the kind of jobs and landscapes they were imagining to find and the visual inputs that they were ‘exposed’ to. Here I will continue developing notions of imagination and its relation to migration. Moreover, I will interweave theoretical considerations about the effects of media on migration. Lastly, I will argue that one’s migration is also a way of informing imagination.

Throughout the chapter, I will further elaborate on theoretical discussions by interweaving concepts about imagination and the influences of media and TV within my field examples.

2.1Aspirations, Obligations & Decisions

“No, I didn't want to be an immigrant, I wanted to be the best seamster in Senegal,

that’s what I wanted16”.

As mentioned above, this section will explore my interlocutors’ narratives in order to try to understand how their aspirations, obligations & decisions contributed to imagine and execute their migratory project. I will show how ideas of a better future are inscribed, influenced and part of a shared system of values (Appadurai, 2004). I have chosen three cases

16 Fragment of an interview. La Plata, 2021.


with representative aspects amidst my interlocutors’ narratives, and each case also presents a particular feature regarding the individual’s socio-cultural context.

Ibrahim is 28 years old, he comes from a rural town in the region of Petegne. His father got angry at him when he dropped primary school at a very young age. Ibrahim promised him that if he would spend ten years working as a seamster he would become the best one in Senegal, and his dad agreed. Ibrahim told me about his dedication, “(...) that is why, day by day I was working, I never missed a day. I had no Sunday or Saturday or anything. I worked all-day”.

My interlocutor had another aspiration together with becoming a seamster. He also wanted to become a professional football player, therefore he was training in parallel to his sewing labour activities.

Like all my participants, Ibrahim has family and friends living abroad, almost all of them in Europe, except for his older brother who migrated to Argentina. He told Ibrahim that he needed him there because between the two of them the household’s capital in Senegal could really improve. Ibrahim’s brother called him and offered to pay for his ticket. I asked my interlocutor what he replied to his brother.

No. The first day he called I said no. Give me that money you want to buy the ticket with and I buy the machines [sewing machines]. At that time with that money I could have bought eight machines, I could open my own store with employees.

I had to ask him what happened then that he ended up coming to Argentina. He calmly explained that his family told him that his migration would benefit the household and help his older brother, whom he respects a lot. Ibrahim’s mother also encouraged him to go and gave him her blessing. This meant that Ibrahim abandoned his plans to become the best tailor, or a professional footballer, and instead agreed upon his family’s obligation in leaving Senegal to Argentina. As presented in Chapter 1, Senegalese migration can be understood as a family strategy, it is an opportunity to expand the economic capital of the family unit using the resource of sending remittances from the destination society (Kleidermacher, 2012), sidelining the aspirations an individual might have over the aspirations of the whole family. Thus, Ibrahim decided to fulfil his family obligation and migrate to Argentina.


The following example also demonstrates how decisions to migrate are embedded in and motivated by family obligations, but in this case, my interlocutor tried to escape from responsibilities which would have been placed on him in case he would have stayed. Moreover, he envisioned migration as a way of discovering ‘new worlds’.

Bamba, is 36 years old, like Ibrahim he also comes from a rural area, a small village named Fissel in the Thies region. Bamba never really liked the idea of migrating, especially the

“clandestine migration”, he used to think, and still does, that crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat is “suicidal”. He finished high school and signed up for university to do Modern Literature studies. It was around his second or third year when he started thinking about the possibility of going to France to finish his studies, he liked the idea. However, soon after, he realised he was not one of the best students in his class, requirement sine qua non to get the State scholarship that would have allowed him to study in France. He was a good student, but it was not enough. He needed to pay everything from his own pocket, something unaffordable for most Senegalese. Although he knew that the job opportunities are scarce in Senegal, he decided to give it a try and continue with his studies in Dakar.

At some point during his third year of university, his younger brother asked him for permission to migrate17, if he had allowed him to travel, Bamba would have had to take care of the whole household on his own, until the younger brother was able to send remittances from abroad.

‘The rule’ was, ‘one migrates, the other one is in charge of the household’. This is how he explained his dilemma:

I realized that if I did not leave, he was going to do it, and I was going to remain responsible for the family. Without being able to continue my studies in Senegal, banking on the family of the one who was already married with children, and I said

‘no’, if you only want someone to be outside and you trying here, that person outside it will be me. I go out and see what I can do, I go out and see what I can do, if I can help somehow. And just at that moment as I did not want to go to any other country in Europe, and Latin America [LA] began to have, let’s say more accessibility and more people travelled to LA and there I said ‘well, why not LA, maybe it would be a new world’.

17 It is usual that before migrating they ask for permission from an older relative.


Bamba decided to migrate instead of coping with sustaining the whole family by himself, waiting for his brother to settle abroad and collaborate with the household by sending remittances. He decided to take the opportunity to migrate as a chance for helping the family’s economy, and at the same time following his desires of discovering ‘new worlds’ and finding a chance to keep studying.

He continued to explain his personal view on his choice to me:

Although it was not my decision to leave Senegal at first, I did not close myself to it, I did not close the doors of going out and looking for an opportunity and learning.

And I did not do it, like, for example, and this I emphasize to you well, like a brother or a family sometimes tells you ‘well, try, go to such a place, see if you can grow economically to help the family18’, no, in my head I had other thoughts. If I do arrive, what I am going to do is prepare, train, continue my training, and the economy we see on the go. My personal decision was always to go to know, discover, have experience of what happens outside of Senegal, even in the Gambia, get out of that community for a little, (...) get a little into the realities of, let’s say, the world, and add more experience. This was really what I had in my head. Me when I was leaving Senegal. I knew that it was not … it is not that I came to Latin America to finish my studies as was my idea when I wanted to go to France, but I knew clearly that when I arrived, I was going to make my own decision to seek how to continue my studies. How to continue my professional training, because that is what they instilled in me since I was 5 years old and I always wanted to follow my father’s desire to finish my studies and training.

Bamba somehow took one responsibility in order to avoid another. He accepted the family’s structures, but he had his own aspirations and ideas about what he would do abroad. Bamba is an example of what Willems concludes regarding aspirant Senegalese migrants,

18 Bamba is referring to a common example of how Senegalese migration starts with a person suggesting his relative to migrate to contribute to the family’s economy.




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