The Canary Islands, a crossroads magnet in the Mid-Atlantic

by Rosalia Avila-Tàpies and Josefina Domínguez-Mujica

Port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain). Photograph used with permission of Claudio Moreno Medina.

Port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain). Photograph used with permission of Claudio Moreno Medina.

The geographic location of the Canary Islands has determined its historical importance in transcontinental trade and maritime traffic as a crossroads of routes in the Mid-Atlantic. For centuries, the close ties that were forged between the shores of Africa and Europe on the East and the Americas on the West ensured the position of the archipelago as a major Atlantic meeting point for different peoples and cultures from these three continents.

Moreover, due to their proximity to highly productive marine waters and their system of free ports, this location was also valued by the faraway Japanese. Therefore, as of the 1960s, the Canary Islands became the operational base of the Japanese fishing fleets in search of tuna. This gave rise to a small Japanese settlement made up of fishermen, ship repairers, traders and civil servants, who were supported by the Consulate General of Japan in Las Palmas and other institutions such as the Japanese School, the House of Japan, and even Japanese nurses at local hospitals. Despite the gradual decline in numbers, Japanese presence and social interaction left a positive impression on the islands, especially on Gran Canaria. Conversely, the migration of Japanese to the Canary Islands also has had some profound implications for them, as we have argued in our Area article. In this respect, and by using a biographical approach to the study of Japanese experiences of migration and cross-cultural processes, we confirm the acknowledgement of migration and mobility as transformative experiences that shape identities and have a deep impact on every aspect of the migrants’ lives.

During the past decades, however, the Canary Islands have become one of the most important Southern maritime borders of the European Union, a fault-line that delimits wealth and poverty. As a consequence, they have been acting as a powerful magnet for the hopes of young Africans, who enter into the territory in dramatic and vulnerable situations.

Concurrently, the Port of Las Palmas has become an important logistic platform for services for and cooperation with Africa, dispatching the most urgently needed humanitarian aid to disaster locations. In 2009, the Red Cross International Federation and Red Crescent Societies established one of their four world logistic centers in the port area of Las Palmas and the World Food Program (WFP) will create its sixth hub of the network of the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) inside the port precinct. Thus, the proximity with the African continent implies challenges and opportunities for the islands, stressing their border location as a place for the development of cooperation policies concerning migration flows and emergency responses to humanitarian crises.

The authors: Dr. Rosalia Avila-Tàpies is Researcher in Doshisha University-Japan and Dr. Josefina Domínguez-Mujica is Permanent Professor in the Department of Geography, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria-Spain.

books_icon Avila-Tàpies, R. and Domínguez-Mujica, J. (2014), Interpreting autobiographies in migration research: narratives of Japanese returnees from the Canary Islands (Spain). Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12081

books_icon Domínguez-Mujica J. and Avila-Tàpies R. (2013), The in-between lives of Japanese immigrants in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 20-7 896-913

books_icon Avila-Tàpies R. and Domínguez-Mujica J. (2011), Canarias en el imaginario japonés: el análisis de tres narrativas contemporáneas Anuario de Estudios Atlánticos 57 525- 62

60-world2 Red Cross to use Las Palmas as logistics base, IslandConnections.eu, 26 November 2008

60-world2 WFP Joins Forces With Spain In New Initiative To Fight Hunger Worldwide, World Food Programme – News19 July 2012

 

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