In José Ovejero’s novel Nunca pasa nada, the arguable protagonist, an Ecuadorian immigrant by the name of Olivia, reveals the world around her to be one of prejudice, contradictions, and both racist and sexist perceptions that, while reconstructed to fit within a modern framework, are nevertheless reminiscent of a violent colonial past. While Olivia is required by pure necessity to move and adapt to a foreign country and culture, she is caught in an endless number of tensions that appear to provide her salvation while simultaneously condemning her. In the shadow cast by the unquestionable importance of money and social appearances, Olivia’s situation raises difficult questions regarding immigrants’ rights and human rights as a whole.
The first of Olivia’s problems, and the issue that continues to drive the narrative, is her debt. Having failed to pay back the loan for her immigration and sending it instead to her dying mother, Olivia finds herself in a difficult and even dangerous situation from the very beginning. Julián constantly haunts her, demanding she pay him what she owes. While Julián explains that he cannot cover for her debt and that charity simply does not exist in his world, the reader might begin to question the ethics of the society beyond this single character. A young girl forced to move to a “first-world” country to find a job that pays for her mother’s chemotherapy is certainly an indication that the system in her own country is broken (and the history of this problem is, of course, all too clear). But when she encounters an equally difficult, and significantly more dangerous situation in the very country where she hoped to find economic aid, the disguised but ever-existing power relationship between the historic colonizer and colonized rises brutally to the surface. As an illegal immigrant, Olivia cannot seek government aid (if any where to be available) and those surrounding her who could help her place her instead in the inevitable role of victim.
The monetary solution to her problem could, according to Julián, be solved if Olivia were to work nights. Her religious and moral convictions, however, prevent her from doing so. When she seeks aid from her priest, he fails to understand the extreme necessity in which she finds herself and is unable (more likely unwilling) to help her solve any of her problems, although continues to encourage her to look to God for her answers. The pressing need to pay back the debt and the knowledge that she can never do it while staying within her moral rules of conduct disables Olivia from moving in any direction and surrounds her with harsh judgment and threats from all sides.
Nico appears to provide a possible exit to this violent situation, albeit providing an equally violent alternative. Nico’s “educated” views on the colonial relationship between their two countries instill in him a sense of guilt and a desire to relieve that guilt by offering to provide Olivia with an official education. Although seemingly progressive and thoughtful, Nico’s offer is saturated in ignorant stereotypes and driven by personal satisfaction. For the same reasons that he sees Olivia as socially inferior, he is also attracted by her aura of innocence, ignorance and genuine honesty. He justifies many of these sexual advances as providing comfort to Olivia, thereby alleviating his conscious. Olivia, finding herself in another morally questionable circumstance, attempts to convince herself of the relative harmlessness of the situation, aware that her alternatives are more than likely worse. Her death, while explained by natural causes, is evidently triggered by this emotional abuse and, while tragic, serves to expose the human rights injustices that immigrants are forced to suffer. The circumstances may have changed, but they simply hide the underlying colonialist relationship underneath.