The majority of Spanish emigrants who have arrived to England in last few years are young people with excellent qualifications. They have left Spain because of the crisis and inability to find any kind of job in their home country. They believe that England might give them a chance to have their first working experience and at the same time give them the opportunity to improve their English. Alejandro García and Beatriz Freijeiro don´t match that description at all. The sum of their ages is almost a century; they have been working as freelancers for longer than two decades: he´s an architect, she´s an interior designer. Besides, their are married and have six children: Reyes (22), Paula (18), Alejandra (13), María (11), Pablo (9) and Lucas (7).
In August 2013 the couple packed their belongings, they said goodbye to their relatives and friends and quit their jobs. They moved to Bournemouth, looked for a house for eight people and set up a restaurant business on their own, The Spanish Taste.
The restaurant has a huge glass window facing the South which lets in the rare sunlight of England. Beatriz´s touch is evident in the restaurant’s decoration. Cinnamon and mustard colours dominate the space. It is elegant and simple. There is colour and light, like in Spain. On the wall in the East side there is a large scale wall mural that shows a narrow street and people sitting in a terrace drinking cañas (beer) and eating tapas. `That´s Valencia,´ Alejandro told me the first time I was in the restaurant.
After he had set up the outside tables and before she started to cook the paella, being interrupted now and then by a customer who asks for a coffee, they begin to tell me how they took their six children, locked their house in Madrid, said their farewell to friends and started new life in a new country.
One can think that they must have been desperate to do something like that. ‘Everyone says we are crazy,’ Beatriz explains. The couple see the humour in their story. They are not in their twenties, they don´t make decisions lightly. On the contrary, they reflect a lot on their plans. They work together, just like a team, facing life with determination, conquering their fears.
Their financial situation was not a major concern when they decided to move to England, however they were worried. ‘It was the uncertainty that didn´t let me stay in Spain,’ Alejandro says meaning that they were experiencing a sharp drop in the amount of work they were in charge of. They decided to pack up ‘before the situation got really bad.’
They made a plan. They knew England a little bit; especially Beatriz. When she was a child she used to come to antique markets and buy goods for the family business. So they came to Bournemouth and explored it. They liked the environment and looked for places to open the restaurant. ‘We couldn´t come here to do nothing’ Alejandro explains when I ask him where and how the Spanish Taste business idea came about. ‘I thought Spanish food would be a good selling proposition,” continues. The idea comes from their attitude towards life, their determination to reinvent themselves, face the situation and act upon it.’ Although they didn´t have any experience in hospitality, they started to work in García-Freijeiro´s way, ‘with joy and happiness.’
Just like that, with lots of happiness and strong will, Beatriz Freijeiro became a chef and Alejandro García a waiter. Their efforts are resulting in peace of mind as there were no losses since the opening of business and they are gaining fame as a good place to eat typical, home-made Spanish food at a reasonable price, and there is no ‘pretence of being professionals,” they point out.
Going back to Spain is out of their short and long term plans. In their opinion the economic crisis will finish but many years will pass before the high standard of life is recovered. They remark the lack of opportunities for those who finish university, like her daughter Reyes, who has just received a degree in Sociology. ‘It´s the generation of people who keep studying, but what for?’ Alejandro wonders. The couple is happier with the English educational system, because it´s focused on practice instead of learning by heart and taking exams, like they do it in Spain.
Giving better education to their children, not to mention that they will be bilingual, is giving them more opportunities to develop their careers in the future. They say that their children are ‘open-minded’ and want to travel. ‘We are the kind of parents who send their children to study abroad, with the difference that we have come altogether,’ they joke. After a year their children have learned to speak English, the little ones have improved a lot their knowledge and Paula has been granted a place at Bournemouth University to study Media. ‘The fact that they get a degree from a British university is going to give them more job opportunities’ in any part of the world, Beatriz says.
Moving with the whole family has helped them with the adaptation process. They feel comfortable, they like Bournemouth. They are surprised with the quality of life and with English people whom they consider kind and very sociable. ‘We’re lucky, we’re with our family and have the chance of giving them a better education whereas in Spain there are many people loosing their homes and struggling to supporting their children.’
“Everything has a positive side,” Beatriz adds. She points out that her family has left behind many things they have been attached to but in the end one realizes that a person ‘needs less than a half of the things he possesses to live happily.’
I ask their opinion about Spanish emigrants who complain because they have to work as cleaners although they have a degree. ‘The most important thing is your attitude towards life,’ they say. ‘Who complains usually keeps complaining forever, it doesn´t matter what their position is.’ Alejandro and Beatriz understand that it can be harder for many young people who are here alone and have to start from scratch so they end going back to Spain after a few months. But ‘one has to be active instead of waiting for things to be fixed for them. Ones you’ve proven your usefulness, opportunities appear,’ that´s the reward England gives you.
Acting according to your words
The García-Freijeiro tandem acts according to their words. Without that positive and active attitude towards life they wouldn´t have ventured the odyssey of taking their six children, moving to a new country and starting from scratch. Luckily they have had enough previous experience in achieving their goals. A decade ago, when their financial situation was better, they decided to have a fourth child. ‘We thought that it would´ve been selfish to have a new biological one,’ Alejandro explains, so they adopted María, who was born in China.
The happiness that she brought to the family encouraged them to adopt a fifth child, although this time it was not as easy as with María. Chinese government had started raising demands during the adoption process. From nine month in the beginning the legal procedures can now take from six or even seven years. ‘Many people gave up’. They didn’t. They had heard about Green Passport for children who have special needs (illness, disabilities, deformities). ‘The more we knew about these children, the more determined we were of continuing the adoption” because these children ‘have less chances to be adopted.’ Pablo became the fifth child and after him they thought they should stop and adopted the last one, Lucas, a Green Passport, too. He and Pablo have cleft lips, a congenital deformity that forces them to undergo several surgeries up until the age of 18.
‘Some people think that we´re rich,’ they say. And are you? I ask. ‘It depends on the way you want to spend your money. We prefer to dedicate it to them’ (the children), Beatriz explains. ‘What is really difficult is the second part, to support them’. Alejandro and Beatriz are overcoming that challenge day by day. Their marriage is the engine of the family and the family is the reason to be up every day, dealing with fried pans, trays and whatever else, with the same determination and smile.