For 50 years, Cristina Barros lived in the same middle-class neighborhood in Cordoba, Argentina. But last year, she came to an agonizing choice: She would have to leave Argentina, or face penury.
Like thousands of other Latin Americans of Spanish ancestry, Ms. Barros returned to Spain - for the same reasons their forbears had once left it: to escape political and financial chaos.
"The situation was becoming desperate; I had no choice," says Barros. "I have two children and they have the right to grow up dignified."
This wave of reverse migration is posing challenges for both the returnees and Spaniards. After seeing a large exodus of its residents for much of the 20th century, Spain is now struggling with its current role as a magnet for immigrants - from not only Latin America but Muslim countries as well, particularly Morocco.
Experts say the lines at Spain's Latin American consulates will only grow, as countries such as Colombia, Venezuela, and Argentina continue to stumble politically and financially, and societal tensions rise.
"In the midst of all this, anyone with a European passport, or who can get one by fair means or foul, will return [to Spain]," says Michael Derham, a lecturer in Latin American Studies at the University of Northumbria in England.
In 2001, according to Spain's Social Affairs and Employment Ministry, some 48,000 people returned to Spain, the largest number since 1978, following Spain's transition to democracy. From 1999 to 2001, the number of those returning doubled, and from certain countries, the numbers increased by more than fourfold. Fifteen hundred emigrants returned from Argentina in 1999; the number surged to 6,539 in 2001.
Barros packed her bags in April 2001 for La Coruna, in Spain's Atlantic coastal province of Galicia, where her grandfather was born. She left her children in Argentina until she could make a life for her family.
It has been a difficult transition. "The idea of being Argentine is very different than being Spanish," Barros says. "The air is different. Our souls hurt."
While bigger cities like Madrid or Barcelona attract most immigrants because jobs are more plentiful, many emigrants opt to return to their familial roots, though economic conditions there may not be favorable.
Guillermo Rodriguez Garcia, the president of the Association for the Solidarity with Returning Galician Emigrants, says his group's membership tripled last year.
Argentina and Galicia have had close ties since the early 20th century. During the civil war, Argentina sent grain and meat to Galicia, and during the 1960s the Spanish province's expatriates in Latin America, known as "gallegos," boosted the Galician economy by sending money back home.
Today, shops boasting Argentine names like "Bar El Pibe" ("pibe" is slang for "guy" in Argentina) line La Coruna's working-class neighborhood, Las Conchinas.
But some of the Argentine transplants say they feel rejected by Spain - in the form of denied visas, and difficulty getting hired and renting apartments.
Barros says the transition is a bureaucratic nightmare for the children and grandchildren of Spaniards who rightfully deserve papers but did not seek dual citizenship before leaving Latin America. …