Not goodbye, just au revoir

“I would there were no age between sixteen and twenty-three, or that youth would sleep out the rest”

It could be my advancing years making themselves felt, but it seems to me that we are increasingly critical of young people these days. Despite living in a society that idolises youth, where middle-aged men walk around in hoodies and mature women have firmer breasts than when they were 20, our disdain for youth comes across loud and clear.

Of course, this is nothing new. In Shakespeare's, A Winter's Tale, the old shepherd enters the stage muttering: “I would there were no age between sixteen and twenty-three, or that youth would sleep out the rest.” The old guy goes on to list the faults of adolescents. These days, rather than “wenching” or “wronging the ancientry”, the 'crimes' we attribute to young people go from laziness (video games) to self-entitlement (living off parents) and everything in between.

What is new today, and no fault of youth, is the lack of opportunity facing young adults. As can be seen from our series of articles starting on page 26, increasing numbers of young Catalans feel forced to seek work abroad, not because they necessarily want to live in another country, but simply due to the lack of opportunities and employment back home.

No matter how you spin it, the current dire economic situation cannot be placed at the door of 20-year-olds. While bubbles were exploding and financial systems imploding around the world, most of these youngsters were still at school, studying to ensure a bright – illusory – future promised to them. We, the older generation, told our young people that as long as they better themselves they will be fine, inaccurate as it turned out.

While it is true that the statistics suggest that a university-level education makes it more likely for young adults to find work here – despite the 50% unemployment rate for people of their age – there is no guarantee, and we should not be surprised if they decide to try their luck somewhere that appreciates their hard-won knowledge and skills. What's more, it is not unusual for young people to want to travel and experience the world, but the problem is not having the option.

It is too late to do much about it now for those who have already taken the step of emigrating. Labour reform, investment in education, public spending on research, such things are urgently needed, but even so, it will be the generation still in short trousers who will benefit. In between is an entire generation of young people hung out to dry.

However, as the best strategy for dealing with thorny issues begins with the right attitude, we have to make the effort to be positive. This is not the first time that Catalans have left their homeland in large numbers to seek their fortunes abroad. It happened under tragic circumstances following the Spanish Civil War, but it also happened after the Age of Discovery opened up the Americas to Europeans. It is well documented how Catalans were among the first to try their luck in the New World, and some of them did very well out of it (Bacardi, for example).

Yet the best lesson to take from that historical experience is that many of those emigrants to the Americas eventually returned to their homeland, wiser and richer. What's more they came home determined to make use the knowledge, experience and money they had accumulated. Today, perhaps the most visible sign of this phenomenon are the 'Indian' villas built by returned expats in the style of the adopted homes across the ocean, which today are seen as a national asset.

My hope is that a similar thing might happen with the young people boarding planes today. That having gained experience, training, qualifications and funds, they will return to Catalonia and use the advantages they would never have had access to had they stayed to improve society and ensure the story has a happy ending, at least for some of them.

Generation in exile Pages 26-30
We look at the future of Catalonia's young people. With unemployment at 50% in Spain among 18-25-year olds, many youngsters are choosing to go abroad to look for work, with no guarantee they will ever return.
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