The entryway of Espai Mescladís is jam-packed with people: neighbors, workers and visitors who come and go all day long, and waiters walking from the kitchen to the tables on the terrace. But there are also dozens of people staring out from black and white photos that cover the restaurant’s walls; some are alone, others in couples, families or groups, smiling and laughing.
All the people pictured at one point emigrated to Barcelona, and whether they’re still living in the city or have moved elsewhere, their stories are always present at Espai Mescladís. The photos, taken by the photographer Joan Tomás, were originally part of an exhibition organized by the Mescladís Foundation, a multifaceted initiative that provides tangible and sustainable economic programs, particularly in the form of job training, for migrants and refugees in the city. Now they are the striking face of Espai Mescladís, and the entire reason for this important initiative’s existence.
As the migrant and refugee crisis in Europe continues unabated, with over 150,000 individuals making the dangerous sea crossing to Europe in 2017 according to the International Organization for Migration, there’s a wide gap between official migration policy, which is often problematic, and the small-scale support from local institutions and social networks. It’s in this frontier zone that Mescladís, which means “mixable,” operates.
Working together with neighborhood organizations, the foundation has developed projects like their powerful street photography exhibition “Invisible Dialogues” (some of these photos are on display at the Espai Mescladís terrace) or their latest initiative, Un regalo para Kushbu. Historias que cruzan fronteras, a graphic novel about the incredible personal histories of some of the foundation’s students and workers. And we’ve been told that the foundation is even planning to open its own microbrewery.
“Migration is a human right and we defend this right.”
The most visible expression of Mescladís’s work, though, is Espai Mescladís, a colorful restaurant in Born serving a variety of very homey Catalan, Mediterranean and North African cuisine. Using local organic products from providers with similar social visions, the kitchen team, who come from all over the world, work together on a menu that celebrates their diverse ideas and cultures.
Whether at evening tapas or dinner, you can taste some of their excellent Catalan savory cocas (pastries), like the tasty ones topped with sardines and olives, their succulent and spiced veggie hamburgers or a flavorsome creamy hummus with toasted traditional Moroccan bread handmade by a neighbor provider called Awatef. The drinks menu includes Catalan wines from the social inclusive cooperative cellar L’Olivera and their popular homemade cold sodas, like the refreshing African Hibiscus-infused bissap, a drink from Senegal.
This special restaurant itself exists in a kind of “mixed” zone, located in between the touristic, hip Born area, and Barri de Sant Pere, a more modest neighborhood that’s home to many immigrant families. It was in here, in 2006, that locals reclaimed a square slated for development, eventually turning it into a community garden and play area for all to use. It’s yet another example of the tense dynamic between those looking to turn a profit in booming Barcelona and the city’s local neighborhood organizations.
Mescladís is trying to do its part towards easing that and other tensions, using food as a way to bring people together in an enjoyable, open environment. Martin Habiague, the founder and director of Mescladís, had this in mind when he began the project in 2005. As an Argentinian in Spain and the grandson of Spaniards who emigrated to South America, Habiague feels strongly that migration should be supported, not persecuted. “Migration is a human right and we defend this right,” he says. “From 2014 until today, more than 15,000 people have died in the Mediterranean because they didn’t have the same conditions and support that my grandparents had when they migrated from Spain and Italy to Argentina in the mid-20th century.”
His main goal with Mescladís was to create a self-financed and economically viable system to provide professional training to the immigrants and refugees who need some extra support and the tools to stabilize their situation and navigate Spain’s bureaucratic labyrinth.
The final ingredient of this system is a program called “Cuinan Oportunitats” (“Cooking Opportunities”), which has a cooking school that every year trains around 80 kitchen assistants and waiters. The program is financed by the profits made by Espai Mescladís as well as a second cafeteria, Mescladís Orfeó in the Gràcia neighborhood. Students intern and later work at these spots; in fact, the entire team at Espai Mescladís, from Soly, the current manager, to Kushbu, one of the waiters, trained in the program.
In order to make a deeper impact, the foundation also works with a wide network of other organizations, from governmental and private institutions that directly help migrants in need of assistance to city restaurants and hotels that employ the foundation’s graduates.
Over the course of the year, Cuinan Oportunitats also organizes more than 20 workshops, open to all, where people who were trained at the cooking school become teachers themselves, offering classes on everything from their own culinary traditions to sustainable cuisine and cooking for kids. “In our workshops, people from Senegal, Syria and other countries teach their cuisine to participants,” says Habiague. “By cooking together, they can better know each other.”