I have to admit that when I made an appointment to talk to Antonio Aniorte I was not expecting him to be a young man of eighteen.

Antonio Aniorte
I have to admit that when I made an appointment to talk to Antonio Aniorte I was not expecting him to be a young man of eighteen. I had been told he was the Public Relations officer for the Inmaculada church in Torrevieja who has a lot of contact with different nationalities. I then learnt that he is also the church's Master of Ceremonies, the creator of the church's website, one of the organisers of the International Habaneras Music Festival, as well as being a contributor to Television Torrevieja. Considering a work record like that, and even after a brief phone conversation, I was imagining a man of about thirty years of age. So my first surprise was to discover that Antonio has just finished at secondary school and will be starting university in the autumn.

I found Antonio surprising in a number of other ways. He has a concept of Torrevieja as a city, past, present and future, a clarity of vision about his own role in the wider scheme of things and an ability to communicate his ideas which would be the envy of most people twice or three times his age. He was also a very easy person to interview. I asked the questions and then sat back and enjoyed his articulate and expansive responses.

Antonio is one of the original "Torrevejenses" born and bred. I knew that the number of these rare animals was small and Antonio confirmed the statistic - in the last census only 10 per cent of the current population of Torrevieja was actually born here. The other 90 per cent is made up of over 150 other nationalities, and of Spaniards from other parts of Spain. I started by asking the obvious question to this original Torrevejense - "Do the 10 per cent resent the presence of the 90 per cent?" Antonio was emphatic that this is not the case. "We are all, the 100 per cent of us, Torrevejenses together. We are Torrevejenses who originate from all over the world, and that is what makes Torrevieja such a special place." I was half convinced. "Yes, that's your opinion, but what about the rest of the 10 per cent? Do they see all this expansion and development as positively as you do?" "Yes, definitely." "Because of the money they earn from us?" "No, definitely not." Antonio insisted that only a very small minority of locals resent the invasion of foreigners into their town, or only regard it in economic terms. The majority see it as a way of making Torrevieja a bigger and better place - it has already changed from a small fishing community into one of the most important cities in the Alicante province and is set for still greater things. This is thanks to the huge population expansion it has undergone in recent years and is for the good of all Torrevejenses new and old.

"What about all the local traditions - aren't they threatened by the influx of outsiders?" "No they're not because one of the strongest traditions in Torrevieja is its openness to other cultural influences. Also we are finding that many of the people who take up residence here make a positive contribution and help us to maintain our traditions." One of these traditions is the singing of the "Habaneras". These are gentle, poetic songs which originate from centuries of contact between Spain and La Habana in Cuba and are performed by polyphonic choirs. The annual International Habaneras and Polyphony Competition which takes place in July is the biggest of its kind in the world and has choirs participating from literally all over the world, for example Russia, India, Wales, and South America. The festival is a fantastic demonstration of integration in which all cultures are united through the medium of music and singing. Another important date locally is the "Día de Europa", European Day in which every year more and more nationalities participate and Antonio hopes will continue to grow in importance.

I then asked Antonio to tell me more about the role of the church in Torrevieja, and its relationship to the foreign community. He told me about the main religious ceremonies at Easter and Christmas, in which the gospels are read in English first, followed by French and finally Spanish and hymns are sung is various languages. The Inmaculada Church saint's day is on the eighth of December and during the "novena" or nine-day period leading up to the main date, the mass is said in two or three languages. If English-speaking people wish to follow normal services, they can purchase an English/Spanish translation of the mass in the vestry for one euro. Antonio is constantly updating the Chuch of the Inmaculada's website www.parroquiainmaculada.com

. Over the last two years the site has already had 10,000 visits from all over the world which is a remarkable achievement for a church website. One of his next projects is to have the pages translated into English.

Inspired by the positiveness of Antonio's vision I ventured the next question: "How do you see Torrevieja developing over the next ten years?" "I see Torrevieja becoming a great, prosperous city. There are already many new projects for things like a new theatre and hospital. I think that there will be more and more integration between different nationalities and cultures. There are already groups, such as the charity Help Torrevieja, which are cooperating with local institutions to improve services but we are still only at the beginning of the process. I think that more groups will form and initiate new cultural activities and I think this integration will become stronger and more united."

"Have you got a message for the people living in Torrevieja who read this newspaper?" "Yes. Welcome to this part of the world whether you are here just for the summer or to live permanently. We are not against foreigners, on the contrary, we welcome you all. You are all part of life here, all Torrevejenses from different parts of the world." Somehow I think Antonio Aniorte will be playing an active role in this Torrevieja of the future, and that with his strength of personality, positiveness of vision, and openness to all forms of cooperation, he will help Torrevieja become the great place he envisages.

This article is published courtesy of CB Friday in association with thinkspain.com

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