Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Negro, Negrita, Morena: What is it Like to Be Black in Spain?

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

I need your help. I'm working on a lecture for a university audience about being Black in Spain. Much of the discussion will be about my own experience living in Salamanca, traveling around the country, and of course, visiting my in-laws in Andalucia. I will also discuss my findings of African slaves in the Iberian peninsula. But every time I give this talk, I feel like I'm doing a bit of a disservice.

How can I, one person, speak for the totality of the Black experience in Spain? Obviously, I can not. And I don't pretend to, and yet, invariably people want to take what I say and claim it is The Truth. It is only my Truth. So, I'm asking you today, dear readers, to chime in with your own experiences. If you happen to be Black or Brown, and have travelled to Spain, either recently or many years ago, would you mind telling me in a word or two how was your experience? How were you treated? Did you feel the love or did you feel unwanted? Did you fall in love with the culture? Why or why not? Compared to your experiences traveling to other countries, where does Spain fit?

Clearly, I'm not looking for one answer, I'd just like to pepper my talk with the variety of experiences that I know people have had. Everything helps. Thanks for sharing. And in the meantime, if you'd like to read about the Black experience in Spain, besides my experience, here are some websites and blogs that might be of interest.

Afro-Europe: Black Women in Spain Today
Being Black in Spain: A Current Student's Perspective

And below, check out the video from about Madrid.

Hasta Pronto!


Anonymous said...

I am white, so I can just tell you what it has been like to travel with a brown daughter who happens to be adopted. We have nothing but good experiences. I have been told by many a Spaniard, "We Spaniards love adoption". Per capita we have the highest number of processed international adoptions. They have taken to my daughter and showered her with gifts. We were in Spain for a summer when she was 2 years old. She was adored. We were in Spain while she was 7 she was adored.
I have had heard several negative comments about Latinos (Sudaca) while in Spain. The movie "Princesas" might offer a good point of reference.

Sometime in 2007, I only remember the year because it was during the half of a year I lived in Arizona, I read an article in a woman's magazine about a young Black woman who wanted to teach English abroad. After being turned down by Japan or China for being Black, she applied and was accepted in a program in Spain. She wrote about how her experience was positive. Another classmate of mine spent last year teaching in Cuenca in the same program. She didn't write a thing about race in her blog. And yes she is black.
Anon, Colombia Mami (too lazy to write that part sometimes)

Amy said...

Hi Lori,

I think this link will be of interest to you:

AnaCeleste said...

Well, overall, besides adjusting to differences in the culture and food, I had a wonderful experience in Spain. I didn't encounter any blatant racism or animosity. I remember the woman who worked at an estanco making strange gestures about my hair, which I brushed off (it was in twists), and at my homestay, the woman who hosted me, said my hair was "extra├▒o.” There were a few moments when I would get stares, but I didn’t dwell on them. I did several language exchanges with Spaniards who were very friendly and helped me understand so much about Spanish culture. One of my language partners actually invited me to spend time with her and her family in Zaragoza for a weekend. Working in Korea now, there are certain elements of Spain that I miss, such as the language, diversity (yes, compared to Korea, looking back, I feel Spain was much more diverse), and variety of movies to choose from at the cinema. I know this is more than “a word or two” so please feel free to take what bits of this you want.

LT said...

Thanks for the story. And for the Spain love.

Thanks! I saw that a while ago, but thanks for the memories :)

Thank you for sharing your experience. FYI, I loved Zaragoza!

theTravelingNatural said...

Greetings! What a wonderful blog. My friend just introduced me to it. I hope it is not to late to share my experience. I lived in Madrind in the falm of 2010. I was there finishing a graduate program with five other classmates, all of whom are black women. My experience in Spain was a good one but one thing that I could never get use to was the staring. On thr bus, train, while walking around town it was quite annoying. And something we discussed at school often. I remember one incident when I was walking to my home stay mothers apartment (Guzman al Bueno area). I was behind another young spanish girl who lived in my building and she was fumbling around for her keys. It just so happened that an older man was coming out to walk his dog and opened the door to left her in. I was going to enter to but he quickly closed the door and said something to the effect of I don't know you and looked at me in disgust. As he walked off I shook my head and proceeded to unlock the door with my key. Later that day I was headed out with my host mother and roommate
and we saw the guy as we were leaving. My host mother said hello to him as we were leaving. My eyes met his and then I quickly looked away. I didn't really care what he tho

theTravelingNatural said...

...thought because I could feel his vibes. Madrid was interesting and a bit uncomfotable at times but fell I in love with the city. However I felt most comfortable as a black female traveler in Barcelona and Granada. The people we more warm and kind to me there. Sorry for such a long post but I hope its helpful.

LT said...

Thanks for sharing your story and experiences. I LOVE Granada and Barcelona too, even though I haven't spent tons of time in either city.

Emjay said...

I have read your memoirs of your time in Spain and I would relay another memoir from another blogger - I think it is called Black and (a)broad.

I studied abroad in Sevilla in 1998 - that's eons ago. Back then, I stopped traffic literally walking along the street in Madrid at the beginning of my program. However, I was stalked and harassed on a visit to Salamanca.

Once I got down to Sevilla, I regularly met locals who had never left Andalucia ever (not even to Madrid) which I equated with ignorance. But it wasn't like that. When my host family was introduced to me yes they were shocked but they got over it and I had a wonderful time and they really became family to me. I was probably more apprehensive than I needed to be (and I was very anxious beforehand). Yes, I was called negra, negrita, morena, and the implausible mulata (I am dark skinned) often mostly by drunken students in the plaza. I stood out so much that taxi drivers knew where I lived and the staring was difficult at first but I stopped being paranoid after a couple of months. People got a kick out of me doing sevillanas (very well) in full regalia. As far as the uni, and other students I never had any problems...funny pick up lines such as " I am a communist and therefore I think we should get together" are my lasting memories. Academically, similar to you, I excelled in my class on slavery in the golden age given my different perspective and approach and the professor really appeared to appreciate my presence in class.

At the time, there was not so much Cuban/L. Am/African immigration, not like now, so I was a curiousity . So I do wonder if attitudes have changed for the better or worse. I have been back to Spain a few times but only to Barcelona and have never had a problem though Barcelona was always different in that respect and more inclusive. I am heading to Madrid in a few weeks and I will check it out.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lori. I read your book, and have become a fan. I have lived in Spain now for 5 years, and I can really say that it´s not all sunshine and butterflies. Perhaps it´s because I am not an idealist, nor am I the typical "guiri" (white skinned foreigner). I´m Samoan and Swedish, and I am originally from Montreal. This makes me brown skinned, French accented, and exotic looking. Many guys in my hometown would regard me as "hot," here I´m "different." And different has no positive connotation in a very conformist, homogenous society.

So where do I start-I guess random, what I call "passive aggressive racism." I am a nice dresser, never tacky, and you would never look at me thinking I will rob your shop or pull a five finger discount on your jewelry kiosk. CONTRARY. The other day I was in Mercadona (a supermarket), and it was blatantly obvious the security guard was following me around the store. FYI-I was in my posh work clothes. The moment I pretended to speak on the phone in English, of course he backed off and walked away." Ohhhhh, she´s not an arab or foreign morena , she´s a posh dark skinned girl from America." If I had a dime for every time this occurred.

And then there´s the fact that exotic beauty, dark skinned beauty isn´t really regarded as beauty here. I´m 29 years old, not that young, but I take care of myself. When I am in Montreal or even the UK, I have so many men try to pick me up in the most random places- bank lines, airport lounges, grocery stores, but here, nothing. Then I see how the men flip over a girl who is from the same country as me, but with a different complexion, and of course I am sitting right next to her, but I become since I am seated next to the "rubia princess".
This is not racism, I understand this, but it bothers me that they have such a limited concept of beauty- you´re either traditionally beautiful in a Spanish way, or you need to look like Scarlet Johannson.

In conclusion, I realize there´s an obvious difference between the experience as a white skinned guiri (foreigner), in Spain, to the experience as a moreno/a (dark skinned) foreigner in Spain. We live in 2 Spains. We both have frustrations with language barriers, dumb stereotypes about our countries, but in the end we receive different treatment.

I have friends in both skin colour categories so it´s easy to compare. I knew a girl who was held in interrogation by the guardia civil in Barcelona Airport because she was an American living illegally in Spain. SURPRISE, one of the guards said she was cute, and told her to leave but keep it on the downlow. She said it herself, "it´s because I´m white and I´m good looking. Had I been dark skinned this would have ended very differently." Let´s contrast this- I was in Madrid centre with a Kenyan girl, and a bunch of drunken lads decided to imitate a bunch of monkeys as she walked by. As I said, two different Spains.

Great history, great architecture, but this country has a long way to go in terms of eradicating racism.

lee woo said...

Proud to be morena. Be like. See the link below for more info.