In Barcelona’s expanding tourist economy, street vendors are the targets of racist demagoguery. This project depicts the dignity and struggles of a street vendors’ union.
Las Ramblas, the tree-lined mall George Orwell described as Barcelona’s “central artery”, is usually clogged with tourists. Once the site of flower shops, Sunday strollers and elaborately costumed street performers, today it trades in vulgar T-shirts and gaudy souvenirs. Pushy waiters steer visitors towards kitschy restaurants serving oversized beer, sangria and tapas. The small flower shops have been taken over by a franchise. The street performers and artists who’d brightened up the spaces between kiosks have been regulated and relegated to a strategic spot at the far end. A few Sunday strollers remain, but they’ve been drowned out by the people pouring in from the luxury liners.
It’s like this throughout the city center, but it’s especially intense by the harbor. Over recent years, tourism investment has spilled over into its surrounding areas, displacing residents and businesses. In the process, it has become a major source of political conflict and mobilization. But the people most vulnerable to these conflicts are also its most demonized subjects. Their mobilizations are criminalized by a dominant culture built on racist tropes, rumors and a pernicious media mythology.
Intermittently throughout the day, Barcelona’s tourist areas are temporarily occupied by street vendors. West-African men stand behind knockoff football jerseys and D&G handbags.
The street vendors’ union formed in response to the criminalization of their livelihood and their demonization in the press. Since 2015, the city and regional governments have increased police pressure on their work, often through police violence and racial profiling. Mobilizations intensified after the August 2015 death of Mor Sylla, a Senegalese street vendor in the resort town of Salou.
“The Blanket” documents their struggle. By working with the Popular Union of Street Vendors and the community organizations, the project counters a near-constant stream of misinformation and unconfirmed reports that are uncritically reproduced in both political discourses and mainstream media accounts of the street vendors’ lives and work.
text: Carlos Delclos