Photo: David Prado Perucha/Shutterstock

On Being a Black Woman in Spain

by Tianna Spears Dec 1, 2016

I miss Black people. I miss my mother’s cooking. I miss fried chicken with my aunt’s fried corn and cabbage on the side. I miss being at my parents’ house in North Carolina with the windows open during the summer and the 107.1 playing over the speakers. I miss community. I miss Black solidarity; I miss my circles of amazing and loving friendships that keep me going. I miss being seen when I’m in a room.

I am a 23 year old, African American young woman. Last year, I lived abroad for a year in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I thrived there, met a lot of friends that love me for who I am, made some of the closest, great friendships I’ve ever had in my life, and I learned a lot about life and myself. I got the opportunity to move again, this time to Madrid, Spain, in mid September 2015, and I was very excited.

I’ve been living in Madrid, Spain, for the past seven months of my life… and this has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. There is not one day where I don’t ask myself- “what the heck am I doing here?”

Back in January, about a week after coming back from Christmas holiday, I went to a language exchange meet up in the center to practice my Spanish. There I met a girl I befriended on Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is a website I regularly use when I travel. You can view a person’s profile and references and request to crash on their couch or you can meet up with people in different cities to learn about their country and culture. I met up with a young White girl from California. She was very nice to me and we talked for a while outside of the bar before entering.

This has been the most racist, xenophobic, and isolating experience of my entire life.

When we entered, we sat with a large group of five or more people. I realized immediately that I was the only Black person in the bar and after 30 minutes; no one had spoken to me or included me in the conversation, even though I’d actively greeted and spoken to everyone when I sat down at the table. After another 15 minutes of the same thing, I got up to leave. It’s been 7 months of these types of experiences. The “we don’t see you” types of experiences.

This has been a week. A long week. A long 7 months. Last night I curled up with an imported, overpriced pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and cried a little bit while watching Olivia Pope struggle internally on the latest episode of Scandal.

Yesterday in class, my Spanish teacher from Madrid (who I adore) asked me about my experience in Spain and I did not hold back. This has been the most racist, xenophobic, and isolating experience of my entire life. I struggle saying these words because I know I am a very positive and outgoing person, always striving to find the best in all things thanks to my wonderful parents. I pride myself in knowing who I am and where I come from but exploring the world and discovering different cultures. I have friends of very different backgrounds and consider myself very open and loving of all people, cultures, and backgrounds. It’s how I was raised and what I’ve seen first hand with the friendships my parents have.

My teacher and I spoke for a little, she told me how she sees all people the same and has lived all over in Spain, India, Portugal, Italy, and Nigeria. That she has friends of all backgrounds. Her last comment left me speechless. “Me encanta el color de tu piel, es perfecto. Sería diferente si fuera muy, muy negro. Como el negro negro.”

“I love the color of your skin, it’s perfect. It would be different if it was very dark, like black, black.”

I could feel my blood boiling and I just put my head in my hands.

I am exhausted.

Perhaps it is the neighborhood, Sanchinarro that I live in. The neighborhood is about an hour and 15 minutes from the center of Madrid. The center of Madrid is where there are many activities, events, and young people mingling and spending time/ getting to know each other. Perhaps if I lived in the center and worked less, I’d have more of a social life and a better experience here.

On my first day walking to work, I noticed that most of the other families crossed the street when I approached them. The children of the neighborhood stared, the dogs barked. That kind of thing, that tries to make you feel small. At a coffee shop right next to my apartment, I had an incident where a mother and grandmother whispered loudly in Spanish “that I didn’t belong and should leave.”

I’ve had parents come up to me and ask me to clean something off of the floor, after assuming that I work as a maid at the school.

I’ve had instances at the school where I work and I’m standing with a group of my coworkers. I’ve had parents come up to me and ask me to clean something off of the floor, after assuming that I work as a maid at the school. It’s ignorant and disgusting. Out of 30 coworkers in the entire school, I’m the only Black person.

My coworker, a 22-year-old White male from Houston, Texas, is treated more fairly at work. My boss constantly speaks to him even though he hardly speaks Spanish, and my boss hardly addresses me (even though I am almost fluent in Spanish). We are the only two American employees, and everyone else is Spanish. I just find it absolutely puzzling how people do not realize how insensitive and racist they are. My white coworker from Texas, since September, has asked me “the best way to insult a Black person,” has commented “I want to be Black for a year, just to see what it’s like,” and “So let me ask you something, are you poor? I’ve only seen Black people be poor.” I’ve been asked too many times where I’m “really from” and “what Africa is like?” or, my favorite, “where in Africa is North Carolina?”

Also, I learned through research that Spain had a fascist dictator, Franco, who ruled Spain from 1930- 1975. Franco made all of Spain uniform, prohibited immigration, killed, oppressed, eliminated customs and cultures, and insisted that everyone only speak Spanish. Any legal documents written in other languages were deemed invalid in court and illegal. He just died in 1975 and it shocks me HOW recent that is. Immigration just became popular in the last 20 years in Spain, with most immigrants coming from all over Europe, and Northern Africa due to the proximity.

I’m tired more than anything. I’m counting down the days until my flight back home. It’s so strange that the world copies Black culture but no one who is not Black actually wants to be Black. Or being too Black is not beautiful, but lighter or whiter is always better. I love who I am, I embrace my Blackness and where I come from. I’ve never wanted to be anyone else. The world needs to be more educated, these topics need to be discussed, people need more diverse friendships where they can learn from others.

Even though I’ve had some poor experiences here, I’ve met some really great people. My closest friends live in Paris and Barcelona right now, and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting them and spending time together. Living in Madrid has afforded me the opportunity to travel all around Europe for cheap, but travel is not real life. Where do you go to feel loved?

I figure this is my time to truly focus on myself. To read, to study, to travel, and to learn about new things.

I’ve learned how to be alone.
I’ve learned how to stay focused and stay positive, despite the circumstances.
How to be strong.
Financial independence and hard work.
I’m near fluent in Spanish and proud- working to accomplish my goals.
I’ve taught myself how to perm, cut my hair, and how to cook.

I figure by the end of this experience, I will have learned about more of what I’m wanting and what I don’t want in my life. The things I need.

I know that because of these experiences, that when I have my own business one day, I will have diverse, educated, and inclusive employees and know how to make the work environment more inclusive, encouraging, and supportive.

I figure the growth from these 7 months +3 more will be beneficial. There are things in life I’d rather learn at a younger age and alone than when I’m 30 or 35. I think this will make life a tad bit smoother.

If anyone is experiencing this, share it with friends. Don’t hold it within. Be outspoken. You don’t owe anybody anything. Keep being yourself.

It’s not you. It’s not you.

These are things I tell myself.

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