Yesterday My Daughter Emigrated

What future awaits a society in which the youth only have two options: disappear, or adapt to work conditions that are more often than not abusive, and which require the support of their parents?
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"Today I'm not going to talk about science or R&D policies; I'll get back to that in the next post. Today I'm going to talk about something happening in my house, something that surely reflects what's happening in many other homes, because the fact is that today I can't think about anything else.

Yesterday I said goodbye to my daughter. She emigrated in search of a future she couldn't find in her country and that society, or her parents, didn't know how to give her.

It is extraordinarily frustrating for a father to watch his children leave -- but keeping them close is no longer an option, because it would mean trapping them in a situation with no future.

Living abroad is not new to her, nor does it intimidate her. In the past five years, she lived and worked in Canada, France, and England, though all those times it was about developing her professional credentials. Now it's about rebelling against those who refer to her generation as the "lost generation." Leaving has cost her her partner, the hushed sobbing that I heard last night from my bedroom made the situation even more bitter.

Like many young people her age, my daughter was caught by surprise upon completion of her professional training. In the spring she returned to Spain with the intention of looking for a job here -- it didn't really matter what, as long as she could "do her thing." She got a few interviews, but the conditions that were offered to her always seemed to be abusive: a mere salary, 400 € a month, for a person with a bachelor's and a master's degree, who speaks four languages, and who has worked abroad. Such salaries aren't enough to eat or rent a room in the cities where they're offered. She would have needed help from her parents -- something we were willing to do. But our daughter didn't want to keep being dependent on us -- as this support would in fact subsidize the same employers that are taking advantage of our young people.

This summer, many of her friends stopped by the house to say goodbye. Their conversations always came down to the same thing: the depression of the crisis, layoffs or fear of layoffs, companies that take advantage of the crisis to impose unfair conditions, laying off a good part of the workers so that "supervisors" end up doing everyone's part of the job, intimidated by the threat of being let go. It seems to me that they feel guilty, and maybe they are somewhat responsible -- as we all are -- but not for the excessive burden we've unloaded onto them.

In Mallorca, where I live, it has been a spectacular year for tourism, with record numbers of travelers and profits. A friend of mine who has a restaurant told me that this summer his revenue was 15 percent higher. Nonetheless, many businesses in the sector have laid off large parts of their workforce, once again forcing everyone else to do the jobs of those let go, taking advantage of the fear they have of losing their job just to increase profit margins. Is this what our so-called labor reform has achieved?

A good number of her friends have also emigrated, some to Germany -- not speaking a word of German but full of illusions and grit; others to Uruguay, where they can get by in Spanish. Others have gone to Canada, Australia, England, Norway... I'm sure that many left under conditions much more difficult than those of my daughter and her friends, just as there are people who wanted to leave but couldn't, because they had dependents they couldn't abandon.

Emigration is not new in our country, but we thought we'd left it behind in the 20th century, trading it in for international mobility. We thought that our young people would grow up and be educated in a modern, advanced country, a standout member of the European Union -- and, with euros in their pockets, make a bid for the G8, much to the world's surprise. This was all an illusion, a facade made of paper-mâché.

As a father I feel frustrated and unsuccessful. Parents always want children to have a better life than their own.That's how it's been at least since the Civil War brought us to rock bottom. Eighty years later we're going into a tailspin because of a political and economic regression which, as I wrote a year ago, is threatening to drag us down a tunnel back in time into the Spain of my infancy in the 1960s. In many ways, we are already getting there.

I also feel frustrated as an educator of young scientists, although I feel certain that my students have a better future. The long education of researchers, which they finish in their late 30's, means that these young people, who are the same age as my daughter, and headed towards a master's and the Doctoral thesis, will continue to progress as scientists and complete their education when our country has dug itself out of the deep hole -- or so I hope -- it finds itself in. However, it won't be easy for them, and they will also have to be tough and resilient to keep moving forward.

But this isn't about sharing my feelings as a father or as a professor of young researchers. Rather, it's about my feelings as a Spanish citizen. What future awaits a society in which the youth only have two options: disappear, or adapt to work conditions that are more often than not abusive, and which require the support of their parents?

The media calls them -- and I find it repulsive -- the "lost generation." But isn't it rather us, my generation, born between 1950 and 1970 that have taken a beating here? We are an irresponsible generation: Some got gold fever, thinking they could get a dollar for a dime; others, and I include myself here, looked the other way. With a degraded political system based in clientelism feeding itself -- and everyone knows this -- on the real estate bubble and on superfluous, disastrous housing developments. Taxation became a way to generate enormous budgets, so they could install party members high up in municipality-run businesses and boards of directors and banks, while using public funds. They illegally financed parties and took kickbacks in the most brazen way (just look at the front pages of the newspapers). Many now say they're having a rough time -- poor dears! -- subsisting on their public-servant salaries... and that's because they're no longer receiving the "bonuses" that opportunism brought into politics. Just remember the words of a politician who, despite his commentary, managed to become president of an Autonomous Community and government minister : "I am in politics to make a killing." ("yo estoy en politica para forrarme" -- look it up in Google and you'll see who I'm talking about). I also remember another recording in which a businessman bribed a municipal employee by promising him something like (I don't remember the exact phrasing), "I can promise you the future -- you and ten generations after you." It's repugnant, but we all knew about it; we all heard those words reported in the media.

At the very least, justice is slowly but surely making these crimes surface -- even though what comes to light is just the tip of the iceberg. I also hope that soon it will also be the necessary accomplices' turn: those bankers who, instead of having to give performance reports, are probably roaring with laughter over the publication of the state's new budgets -- in which we pay the bank bailout at the cost of our health and education. With the help, of course, of politicians, who freed bankers from any effective regulation.

Nobody asks forgiveness to our younger generation. Well, I want to do it here, out of responsibility -- just the small (I hope) bit I owe.

Accustomed now to being sold a false gospel, we are no longer unsettled to hear that the unemployment rate among young people is above 50 percent (without counting, of course, the folks who've already left -- and there are many of them). As long as our national soccer team keeps scoring goals and Cristiano (Ronaldo) is happy, our senses will continue to be dulled, and we'll accept with resignation the sorrow heaped upon us, without anyone ever assuming responsibility or anyone asking forgiveness.

Some people congratulate themselves, stupidly, upon the fact that many of us remained silent for so long. But something is changing. We're no longer happy with more of the same; we're no longer soothed by calculated lies, clumsy sleights of hand, by euphemisms and the same old story: that what's happening to us is happening because we lived beyond our means, and so we deserve it.

We should all make a great effort to ensure a future for our children, because that future is ours, too. We are a society that's getting older every day, which will soon have such an enormous percentage of retirees that it can only be supported by a dynamic and productive workforce -- one including the same people we have forced abroad or discarded of the family home. I don't see any other solution to the problem of restarting job creation than for a new cooperative movement dedicated to innovation, which should prioritize our young people's initiatives (they have stupendous ideas), and support those ideas with public resources. Investing in our youth is investing in our future.

But those who are supposed to take advantage of our efforts (our taxes), to push through pro-youth employment policies are yet again distracted, trying to figure out where their political advantage lies. Our political institutions are the same as ever: as the English expression has it, it's the same circus with different clowns. Nothing has changed; but it is crucial that it does.

We have taken a beating. But let us stand up, brush the dust off, and get moving. First, though, for that to happen we must liberate ourselves from the enormous burden of the incompetent politicians who have largely brought us to where we are today.

I want my daughter and everyone else who left the country, to be happy, and, in some near future, to come home to their country to contribute, in their capacity, to our future.

I would like to close this post by reciting to my daughter, and the youth of her generation who left, a poem by José Agustín Goytisolo, "Words for Julia." But it's probably better if they just hear it as sung by Paco Ibáñez in his cover at the Olympia in Paris.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Spain and is translated from the original Spanish.

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