MADRID — Spain’s economic crisis, including 25 percent unemployment, has hit members of its Latin-American immigrant community particularly hard. During the boom years in the 1990s, Spain absorbed more than seven-million Latin-American immigrants, increasing its population by nearly 20 percent. And when the economic crisis hit in 2008, most of the jobs they came to do in construction and household work disappeared, leaving few with money to send home or even enough cash to make a call.
As a result, it is a slow morning at this cafe in Madrid’s largely Latin American Tetuan neighborhood. Ecuadorian Waitress Rosario Leon has been in Spain for 16 years. She still has a job, but she is concerned about the future for herself and her two teenaged daughters.
“It worries me a lot, and it hurts me a little, having to contemplate going back to my country," said Leon. "We came here in search of a better future for our children and we managed to more or less succeed.”
But the past four years have shown just how fragile that success was. Unemployed mechanic Miguel Poeda, 64, came from Ecuador 14 years ago and worked mostly at construction sites.
“I am taking the ‘Voluntary Return’ program," Poeda said. "I will get all my unemployment benefits. We are given this opportunity to be able to return home because the situation here is going from bad to worse.”
Millions of other unemployed Latin-American workers in Spain are facing the same difficult decision, as they seek help at shelters and soup kitchens, and desperately look for work.
Unemployed Colombian domestic worker Blanca Africano hopes holding up a sign will help her find a job.
“Because of the crisis you can not find work. I have been in this crisis for four years already. I take care of seniors, I can take care of a baby, or I clean, I cook, I can do all the domestic chores of Spain," she said.
But her chances of finding work in Spain’s depressed economy are slim.
Forty kilometers and a world away at Madrid’s Autonomous University, the fate of Latin-American workers is on the mind of Economics Professor Federico Steinberg, who came to Spain as a child from Argentina.
“It is expected that an important number, I cannot give you a figure, would leave," Steinberg said. "[They] would either go to their home countries in Latin America or to other developed countries. That is going to be the only way to solve that situation because it is unlikely that we are going to see another real estate bubble in Spain for the next 30 years.”
Experts say it will not take that long to turn the country’s economy around, but after four years of recession even a few more years would be too long for many of Spain’s immigrants.