Emma Marwood: “For many US citizens, being able to live in Barcelona is a dream”

Emma Marwood:

By Marc Amat

Emma Marwood is Acting Consul General at the United States Consulate General in Barcelona. After serving as a diplomat in Washington, São Paulo and Mexico City, she came to the Consulate in Barcelona in August last year. Since then, she has worked keenly to build cultural, political, social and economic bridges between the United States and Catalonia, Aragon and Andorra by promoting projects such as the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs -aimed at female business owners- and American Space Barcelona. The latter is a space located within the Ignasi Iglésias-Can Fabra Library that promotes cultural exchange with the United States through free activities and workshops open to the public, particularly for young people and the educational community.

The United States consulate in Barcelona is one of the oldest the country has in the European Union.

Exactly. Specifically, it was the third one to open, after the consulates in Belfast and Naples. It was created on December 29th, 1797, under the mandate of John Adams, the second president of the United States. Back then, Barcelona was a highly industrialized city and had a booming commercial spirit. For a young democracy like ours, it was important to have a relationship with a city with these characteristics. Over time, the Consulate’s functions diversified. Today, we aim to offer services to US citizens who live in or travel to our consular district; we promote our country’s values through exchange projects and educational activities; and we strengthen political and economic ties between the United States and Barcelona, among other things. Every day is different. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about working at the Consulate.

The Consulate doesn’t just process passports. What type of projects do you work on?

We work on a variety of projects, always with the aim of building bridges between the USA and the region. Lately, we’ve placed a strong emphasis on promoting the values of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. We’ve done this through the Catalonia and Aragon editions of the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, a free entrepreneurship program financed by the US Department of State with the aim of boosting the development of enterprising projects led by women. With programs like these, we’re able to open many doors for them not just in the United States, but also here: there are people who have met at our events who have later continued to work together. We also currently host exchange programs that put figures from the political, social, economic and cultural worlds in touch with professionals from the same field, but in the United States. It’s a fascinating way to spread the culture and values of North American society.

Beyond your programs, North American culture also reaches Barcelona through organizations such as the Institute of North American Studies.

Yes, and they’re very important institutions. For years now, North American culture has reached Barcelona on different fronts. There’s no need for the local population to visit the consulate to discover our traditions. Thanks to the existence of initiatives like the Institute of North American Studies, the culture also reaches the people of Barcelona through activities hosted by other organizations. For decades now, you’ve been a point of reference in the city for English teaching. We maintain a close relationship and we really appreciate all the projects you spearhead. The existence of institutions like this, which share North American culture in Barcelona, is important because they can reach where we cannot.

But, for example, you’ve reached Barcelona’s libraries, with the American Space project.

We don’t stop. We’ve been working with the Sant Andreu district and Biblioteques de Barcelona for five years now. Thanks to these institutions’ support, we’ve been able to create American Space Barcelona, located in the Ignasi Iglésias – Can Fabra Library, where we carry out activities to strengthen the skills and abilities of young Catalans who want to improve their English or study in the United States. They can also find information about the country there, and access free workshops linked to, for example, digital production, robotics, 3D printing or virtual reality.

What do the cultures of Catalonia and the United States have in common?

In general, all European countries have a rich history and culture. Each place has its own iconic elements and traditions. However, I get the feeling that people here see the United States as a single unit, with the same customs, but these are stereotypes. In the same way that Spain isn’t all ham, bulls and football, the United States isn’t just hamburgers and baseball. Like everywhere, we also have enormous regional diversity. I’m from New York and I probably have more in common with someone from Barcelona than someone from a rural town in Montana, for example.

You came to Barcelona in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. How was this for you?

In August 2020, I arrived at the consulate as Consul for Public Diplomacy. I had never visited Barcelona before. The people here are very open and friendly. They’re always happy to help you. It’s also a place with enormous cultural and culinary wealth, although I get the feeling that this needs to be promoted more. When I speak with people from the United States and tell them that I now live in Barcelona, it’s non-stop praise. For many people, it’s like a dream and there are many who view it as their favorite city. Personally, on a population level, it’s the smallest city I’ve lived in, but it has everything the big cities of the world have. When people from here travel to the United States and go beyond the more touristy areas, they see that we’re also a very warm and welcoming society.

In fact, you’ve worked in different cities.

Yes. When I was younger, my first exchange outside of the United States was in Spain, in the small Andalusian town of Conil de la Frontera. I lived with a family for a month there and studied Spanish. I also went to the beach a lot and enjoyed just how good the food was, it was fantastic. When I finished high school, I already had it in my mind that I wanted to study international relations. I did this in Washington. I loved languages and I signed up to study Portuguese and Arabic. When I finished my studies, I took the tests needed to work in the United States civil service. My first destination was São Paulo, Brazil. They then sent me to Mexico City. After a while, I went to work in Washington again, but fate took me back to Mexico, a country I love, where I met my husband and where my daughter was born. From there I came to Barcelona. I’ve always worked on tasks involving communication, the press, education, cultural exchanges, public diplomacy…

What does Barcelona get out of having a United States Consulate?

First and foremost, it gets a point of contact with the United States government. We’re here to help our citizens, but also to build bridges and foster a relationship between both countries. This is, of course, possible thanks to our local employees who, on a daily basis, help us to understand how the society and culture here functions, allowing us to deepen our ties within it. For us, it’s vital to understand it as best we can to make this relationship more fruitful. Luckily, there’s a growing number of organizations that, like the Institute of North American Studies, contribute toward this objective. 

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