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White vs. Black: Africans in Spain

By Carmina Osuna

            After a couple of hours in Spain I was excited because I felt somewhat at home.  This is because just like at home with my parents, I had to speak Spanish in order to communicate.  After the first two days however, I found myself in a country much like the United States in a global sense, and realized that I felt at home not only because I spoke Spanish but because the patterns of migration and globalization were as apparent in Spain as in the U.S.  Spain, the country known for its bull fights and flamenco dancers, is as culturally diverse as is the U.S. 

            Two of my friends and I booked three beds from two different hostels in Madrid.  The first hostel was located in what reminded me of a small China town in the U.S.  The streets surrounding the hostel were filled with Chinese and other Asian restaurants.  While we were looking for a costume for my friend, who said she’d need them while in England, we managed to stumble upon wholesale stores owned and run by Chinese people.  When I first stepped into the store I wasn’t sure if I should speak English or Spanish or maybe ask if they spoke English or Spanish in the little mandarin that I know, ni shuo ingwen ma?  I asked the shopkeeper in Spanish first and she spoke Spanish pretty clearly.  I have to admit that at first I was shocked that they didn’t speak English, but then I realized that it made sense for them to learn Spanish before any other language because we were in Spain, not the U.S.  This was the point in the voyage when I experienced first hand that migrants do in fact adapt to the culture of the country of immigration. Photo

            The next day, on our way to the Sofia museum, we stumbled upon an outdoor market.  The vendors were mainly from Latin American countries like Chile and Peru.  I was surprised to find so many Latin American people.  Perhaps my surprise was because our global studies course on the ship had ingrained in my mind that Spain is a European elite country, which I associated with very light skin and light colored eyes and no real interest in welcoming any foreigners.  During my shopping I came across a female vendor who was originally Chile.  She told me that she had only been in Spain for a year and that she and her family traveled to different countries selling their wares.  On the table in her stand she had earrings originally made in Chile along with items from India, Egypt, and Spain. 

Later on that night, my friends and I decided to do some shopping in the downtown of Madrid. After all the stores had closed and the people were walking to coffee shops to have their traditional churros con chocolate, we noticed about seven dark skinned men who appeared to be of African descent.  They had placed square white sheets on the ground, just like the Filipinas in Hong Kong had done, but instead of spending some quality time they began to place handmade jewelry and perfumes on the white sheets for sale.   The native Spaniards became apparent because they just looked down the road without turning and walked right passed the African vendors.  The foreigners, including ourselves, were so shocked and curious at this obvious routine these men regularly go through.  I pulled out my camera to take a picture and when they noticed they began to yell at me to stop.  I quickly turned around and my friends said they, “must be doing something illegal”. photo

            My reflections of this day reminded me of Liliana Suarez Navaz’s book, Rebordering the Mediterranean, where she talks about those who belong in the community in Andalucia and those who do not (6).  In her introduction she describes how the locals saw the blacks and moors as “weird” people and understood why Navaz would be studying them yet when she started to study the Spaniards themselves, they became uncomfortable (14).  I thought back and saw myself in a difficult place.  I was caught between being the girl who had blended in because she spoke Spanish and had some Spanish blood in her from long ago, and the one who could relate to the black men who were seen as outsiders.  In the Los Angeles area I see and experience discrimination in many distinct places and situations much like the African immigrants do in Spain.  I can’t help but wonder where the ideal of “white” superiority over the “dark” was generated and how it became this ongoing problem.  I’ve been in their shoes as a member of a migrant family, but where do we go from here?  

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