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Coming of Age in Madrid

An Oral History of Unaccompanied Moroccan Migrant Minors

Susan Plann is UCLA Research Professor of Chicano Studies and Spanish and Portuguese, having retired in 2017. She is the author of three books and numerous articles. Her study of the Spanish Deaf community as a linguistic and cultural minority called for comparison of Spanish Sign Language with Spain’s co-official languages (Basque, Catalan, Galician, …), and this sparked an interest in the status of the Arabic language in Spain. The result was an important article on this topic, which involved qualitative interviewing which in turn led to the research presented in Coming of Age in Madrid.

Coming of Age in Madrid is a longitudinal study of twenty-seven Moroccan youth who migrated to Madrid as unaccompanied minors, passed their adolescence in the Spanish child-care system, and embarked on their lives as young adults; interviews were conducted over a period of six years in Spain and Morocco. The stories begin with narrators’ lives in Morocco, contextualizing their migratory experience, then follows them – children traveling alone – as they across the Strait of Gibraltar and make their way to Madrid; the study also engages with those who were deported, crossing the Strait once again as they were returned to Morocco. Using qualitative interviews to capture narrators’ accounts in their own words, this oral history examines their identity trans/formation, integration, and acculturation in Spain. Their individual voices and their collective wisdom contribute to an understanding of their experiences and by extension, that of unaccompanied child migrants everywhere, revealing larger lessons to be learned. Documenting their transition into adulthood, the book poses the crucial question, What becomes of unaccompanied migrant minors when they come of age?

Unaccompanied minor migration is on the rise throughout the world, it is the new normal. As Spain and other nations grapple with increasing numbers of unaccompanied children on their borders, the importance of this study has immediate relevance for government policies and migration research. The history of unaccompanied Moroccan minors coming of age in Madrid contributes to the broader geographical discussion by responding to calls for contextualized, micro-scale, local research and the foregrounding and centralizing of the young migrants themselves.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-941-8
Hardback Price: £65.00 / $85.00
Release Date: December 2018
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-981-4
Paperback Price: £29.95 / $44.95
Release Date: March 2019
Page Extent / Format: 340 pp. 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: Yes



Chapter 1: Introduction

  • About this Research
  • Moroccan Migration: A Historical Overview
  • Moroccan Emigration: The View from Morocco
  • Moroccan Immigration: The View from Spain
  • Organization of This Book

Part One: Moroccan Boyhood
Chapter 2: Life before Migration
Chapter 3: A Culture of Leaving

  • Reasons for Leaving: Push
  • Reasons for Leaving: Pull
  • The Outliers

Chapter 4: Preparing to “Burn”

  • Parental Attitudes toward Minor Children’s Migration
  • Living Arrangements
  • Breaching the Port

Chapter 5: Perils of the Port

  • A Primer on Unauthorized Emigration
  • Survival Lessons
  • Bereaved Families, Disappeared Children

Chapter 6: Departure

  • Try, Try Again
  • The Crossing
  • Toward a New Life

Part Two: MENAs in Madrid
Chapter 7: Arrival

  • In a Strange Land
  • Calling Home
  • The Un/Kindness of Strangers
  • The Police Station
  • The Age Assessment Test
  • Entering a Shelter, Leaving a Shelter
  • Welcome to Madrid
  • Choosing a Path

Chapter 8: The Crucible: Life in the Child Protection System

  • Residential Life
  • Practicing Islam
  • Learning Spanish, Going to School, Learning a Trade
  • Skirmishes with the Police
  • Repatriation

Part Three: From MENAs to Men
Chapter 9: Aging Out: Twenty is the New Thirty

  • First Things First
  • Continuing Education
  • Encounters with the Law
  • Vakansya: The First Trip Home
  • Dreams Deferred, Dreams Come True
  • Looking to the Future

Chapter 10: Coming-of-Age Stories

  • Idris
  • Farid
  • Rayan
  • Samir
  • Walid
  • El-Habib

Part Four: Integration, Discrimination, Acculturation, Identity
Chapter 11: Negotiating Integration

  • Negotiating Social Relations
  • Negotiating Romance
  • Negotiating Marriage

Chapter 12: Navigating Prejudice

  • Navigating the Spaniards
  • Navigating the Moroccan Community in Spain
  • Navigating Public Language Use
  • Navigating the Metro

Chapter 13: Negotiating Acculturation, Negotiating Identity

  • Negotiating Acculturation
  • Negotiating Gender Relations and Gender Roles
  • Negotiating Language
  • Negotiating Islam
  • Negotiating Identity

Part Five: Lessons Learned
Chapter 14: Taking Stock

  • Worth It?
  • Advice to MENAs-in-Waiting

Chapter 15: Conclusion

  • Clandestine Emigration from Morocco Today
  • Moroccan Child Migrants in Spain: Lessons Learned
  • Final Thoughts
  • Postscript

Works Cited

* MENA is the Spanish acronym for unaccompanied foreign minors (menores extranjeros no acompañados).


Laura Mijares, Professor of Linguistic and Oriental Studies, Universidad Complutense, Madrid

Coming of Age in Madrid is a work of thoroughly done research, showing the complex, difficult, and in some ways also fascinating lives of unaccompanied Moroccan minors who migrate to Spain. Susan Plann, a sensitive listener, prompts us to pay attention to the voices of those who are usually silenced. Through personal interviews over a period of six years starting in Tangier and ending in Madrid, this study encourages us to rethink our ideas about what democracy and justice mean in the global North. In a context of growing racism and Islamophobia, this is an incisive and indispensable book that could not be more timely.

Teresa Barnett, Director, Center for Oral History Research, University of California, Los Angeles
Coming of Age in Madrid is oral history at its best. Plann developed trusting relationships with her subjects; conducted rich, detailed interviews that documented the particulars of their lives; and followed them over half a dozen years as their dreams flourished or waned. She then made the inspired decision to place the narrators’ own words squarely at the center of her account so that we understand their experiences through their own eyes. The result is an engrossing and enlightening book that demonstrates the value of oral history in illuminating the crucial issues of our time.

Moha Ennaji, President, Professor, and Co-founder of the International Institute for Languages and Cultures (INLAC), Fez, Morocco
This is a wide-ranging account of the situation of children who migrate illegally from Morocco to Spain. It reveals the ill-treatment, the prejudice, and the discrimination they encounter in both countries. It is a well-written book which has the merit to analyze--through oral history and the lived experiences of these children, following their trajectory into young adulthood--what happens to them and the dangers they face in both countries. It also shows the inadequate migration policies in the Euro-Mediterranean region and the failure of the development project in Morocco.

Roberto G. Gonzales, Professor of Education, Harvard University and author of Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America
Susan Plann has written an extraordinary book on the experiences of Moroccan youth navigating adolescent and adult life as migrants. Based on an impressive longitudinal study, Coming of Age in Madrid examines the complex ways in which unaccompanied young people traverse borders, bureaucracy and belonging. Incredibly timely and relevant to contemporary understandings of migration and its implications for life course development, this important book is a must-read for scholars, policy makers, and practitioners alike.

Russell King, Professor of Geography, University of Sussex
Often compared to Mexican migration to the United States, Moroccan migration to Spain, across the ‘Mediterranean Rio Grande’, is long-standing and multi-faceted. This insightful book investigates an under-researched and hard-to-access element of Moroccan migration to Spain--that of unaccompanied minors. Based on oral-history testimonies of 27 teenagers and young men, Susan Plann weaves a rich and detailed account laced with drama, tragedy, courage, survival, and for some of her informants, ultimate success. Her book represents a significant contribution to the ongoing story of migration into Southern Europe.

Dris Soulaimani, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages, San Diego State University
This vivid oral history draws on authentic stories told in original voices by unaccompanied minors who made the dangerous journey from Morocco to Spain. At times both haunting and inspiring, the work masterfully weaves together the stories of these young men as they navigate issues of culture, identity, and religion in Spain, putting a human face on the complex political and economic conditions that shape their experiences. This is an incredibly timely study in an age of increased global migration and the tightening of border controls.

Irum Shiekh, Faculty, Clark Honors College, University of Oregon
Through detailed and nuanced life stories of Moroccan ex-minors, Coming of Age in Madrid reveals global inequalities that force migrants to undertake an arduous journey across continents. The book captures the spirit of hope and resilience and attests to the agency of Moroccan youth and their determination to carve out space for themselves in diasporas to escape the bureaucracy and economic stagnation at home. Combining structural analysis with ethnography, Susan Plann complicates the mainstream discourse around migration and makes a significant contribution to contemporary global and transnational migration studies.

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