2. Stories of integration: migrant women in Europe

Lucia Marcano: integration through spirituality


By Yoselina Guevara López

Mytiline is a fascinating Greek city, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with a port that has always been multiethnic, from which you can quickly reach the center of city life, full of narrow streets that resemble a labyrinth that Lucia Marcano knows by heart. She guides us through the passages of the agora, among craft stores that make us feel the warmth of the village, cafes, ouzerie always with the elderly sitting and sipping ouzo, the Greek drink par excellence. We go into the twists and turns full of bustling people, until we reach the small Catholic church “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary”, flanked by makeshift stores and houses in what was probably once a monastery of Franciscan fathers.

“To integrate myself I started attending this Catholic Church, which was open once a month, the priest in charge gave me the keys so I could help him organize, change the flowers, etc. Then I started to open the church every day for two hours and passers-by started to come in, other Latinas arrived, and the church has become a meeting point.”

It is truly a meeting place, not only for the few Latinos who live on Lesbos Island, but also for Africans, Africans, Arabs and in general for the migrants who come to Mitiline. This is one of the results of the openness of the priests who guide the temple, but it is also an achievement of Lucia, even if she does not like to admit it because of her modesty. They managed to turn the Church not only into a tourist destination, but also into a place of spiritual support for foreigners, of welcome with respect and solidarity for those who need a word of encouragement, even if they are not Catholic. During the year 2015 the island suffered a real humanitarian emergency, arrived in Lesbos, quantities of precarious boats, overloaded with migrants. Lucia experienced firsthand how the island was filled with desperate migrants wandering the streets without a place to sleep, women, children, girls, Mitiline was a chaos of humanitarian tragedy.  The Church “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary” became a center for the collection of goods, because of the dimensions of the temple they could not receive migrants. Lucia tells us about the moments she experienced:

“We saw them from the shore of the beach, other volunteers like me, we received them, we gave them clothes, blankets, they arrived cold, with wet clothes because of the sea, the waves, the rain. It was desperate because these boats did not stop arriving, they arrived during winter, summer, the island was overcrowded”.

Now in Lesbos there are refugee camps, the island is a target for migrants because it can be a gateway to Europe, a temporary passage; however the migratory flow has decreased due to governmental controls. Many migrants arriving on the island speak only their native language, others can communicate in English or French; there are very few workers who can help them in case they need a translator.  For a migrant, one of the main barriers to overcome is mastering a new language, Lucia tells us how difficult it was for her to learn a new language, which differs from her native language down to the spelling:

“To integrate, the first thing I did was to try to learn the language, which is quite difficult. At the time I arrived there were no public or private institutions that offered Greek courses for free. I started to study in a self-taught way with books from my children’s school… I continue to study Greek, because it is essential to communicate, I have helped some migrant women with Greek. But there is a need for longer courses that allow you to have a better command of the language”.

Lucia makes a reference to her concern about communication, especially with migrants coming from Africa.

“I have learned some words in English, and I understand some in Portuguese. Many Africans come to the church here, and in order to communicate with them I had to learn on my own”.

Language is a barrier not only for communication, but also for continuing studies or getting a job, hence if migrants are not provided with free and accessible tools to learn a new language, it is impossible to think of integration. Hence the importance that at the political level those who we elect in the elections are sensitive people and have knowledge of the real needs of migrants, without limiting themselves to see them as a problem. This is one of the main challenges: the development of migration policies that are not limited only to the creation of strict mechanisms to control irregular migration. But the implementation of public policies that allow migrants to fully integrate in the receiving country.

Migrants come from the island’s refugee camps to the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, but the fact that they belong to a different religion does not prevent them from gathering in this small church. Some of them come from distant territories, where entire populations have been decimated in a war exercise of unprecedented barbarism, which has left them without a place to live. Lucia knows the emotional burden that many of the migrants carry with them, that is why she tries to make the moment they spend in the Church a pleasant one, of spiritual recollection, of collective sharing, beyond languages, nationalities or religions. She takes care in detail of the organization of the religious service, the cleaning, the flowers and the order of the altar, she takes care of the preservation of the ancient paintings of the temple that were discovered in 2013 and that were declared archaeological heritage, and she even takes care with special dedication of the original relics of St. Valentine that rest in a small golden box. Every year in December Lucia places the nativity scene, an allegory of the birth of Jesus Christ, which she proudly shows us is a tradition she brought from her native Venezuela:

“The nativity as we call it is a tradition that reminds me of my mother, my grandmother. I always keep the link with Venezuela through my family and some friends who are like family. I remember a lot of Venezuela’s food and family customs, I speak Spanish at home, now that my children do not live with me I still speak Spanish with them. One of my sons married a Greek girl, and she likes Venezuelan food. In a few months I am going to be a grandmother, because my daughter-in-law is pregnant. I always try to keep the traditions, the festivities, the celebrations of Venezuela, and the food, I cook a lot of Venezuelan food”.

To integrate is also to share the nostalgia of what has been left behind, but it also means to enter into the memories of the community to which one arrives and to establish a bond that also makes our own experiences vibrate. By recognizing ourselves in the other, illuminating the bonds that unite us, we can find the keys from which to imagine a common horizon.

Yoselina Guevara López: Venezuelan social communicator, political analyst, columnist in different international media, whose work has been translated into English, Italian, Greek and Swedish. Winner of the Simon Bolivar 2022 National Journalism Award (Venezuela), special mention Opinion; Anibal Nazoa 2021 National Journalism Award (Venezuela); I Comandante Feliciano 2022 Historical Memory Contest (El Salvador) Third place. X: @lopez_yoselina

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *

Este sitio usa Akismet para reducir el spam. Aprende cómo se procesan los datos de tus comentarios.