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 parent’s house in North Carolina with the windows open during the summer and the Temptations playing over the loud speakers. I miss community. I miss my friends that understand right off the bat when I tell them how I feel. 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, young Black 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, greatest friendships I’ve ever had in my life, and I learned a lot about life and myself. I miss the warmth of Dominicans.
I come from a very interesting family. My parents, both Black, come from different backgrounds/ worlds. My mother was born in Portland, Oregon. Growing up, she was raised in a diverse environment and went to private schools. My father was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. He participated in the Civil Rights Movement, going to jail and participating in boycotts. He is for the Black Man and Woman. My parents have very different experiences with race, both overlapping and separate, as they come from different places of The United States. As for myself, I was born in California, but grew up in Connecticut and North Carolina. North Carolina is my home. There is such a rich culture and history, home to The Hayti Heritage Center and once home to The Black Wall Street in Durham.
My mother is the happiest, optimistic, loving, and freest person I’ve ever met, my father is the strongest, most tough loving, honest, and realistic person I’ve ever met. My brother and I are a mix of our parents.
Because of my parents, I enjoy meeting new people and exploring new places. After living in The Dominican Republic, I got the opportunity to move again, this time to Madrid, Spain, in the middle of 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 f*** 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 Couchsurfer. Couchsurfer 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.
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 by 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 doesn’t see color 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 tú piel, es perfecto. Sería diferente si era 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. It is about ten minutes from the Madrid airport on the outskirts of town. I’ve moved three times since the end of September. The first apartment was amazing with great roommates but an hour on the metro (subway) each way from work. Second apartment was too far from work; about an hour commuting on the metro each way.
Now, I’m in Sanchinarro and about an hour and 15 minutes from the center of Madrid. The center of Madrid or downtown 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 in Madrid. I realize that.
I’ve been living in Sanchinarro since right after Christmas, mid January 2016. Just by chance and luck, I live with a young family from Argentina. I have my own bedroom and do my own thing, but am close with the mother. We talk in Spanish everyday, I spend time with her and her 3-year-old adorable daughter, and we all watch TV together and eat dinner once a week. I feel very lucky to have met them, as they remind me to stay positive and regularly check in on me and make me feel loved. Every night I play with their daughter and we practice our colors in English. This week she’s been singing the “Happy Birthday” song in English, even though it’s not anyone’s birthday. This family has been amazing to me. They are one of my favorite parts of living in Spain.
Since January, I have not seen anyone who looks like me and is of color that actually lives in this neighborhood. There is one Dominican woman who is a caretaker of three small children, but lives in the center of Madrid. My job is a ten-minute walk from my apartment, so I walk to work every morning and I see her. She always smiles at me and says hello. It makes me feel good and very happy.
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,” when I stood in line in front of them.
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.” He often gloats about his white, male privilege and has asked me if I’ve ever wanted to be white. 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?”
I really assume my issues with Madrid are because of the neighborhood I live in and the ignorance of some of my coworkers and the people who live here. I could of done more research on Spain, but you never really know until you actually get to a place and experience it first hand. Sanchinarro is mostly upper class Spanish families and grandparents, that all drive the same model of cars, have 2.5 children, and a dog. It’s not what I expected. The mundane lifestyle here reminds me of what it was like when Squidward moved out to the suburbs in that episode of Spongebob Squarepants.
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 and oppressed, took away 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 to North Carolina. It’s so strange that the world copies Black culture but no one wants to be Black. Or being “too” Black is not beautiful, but lighter/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 to step outside of their small bubbles into 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. Some friends I’ve met live in Paris and Barcelona and I’ve had the pleasure to go visit and spend time together. Living in Madrid has afforded me the opportunity to travel all around Europe for cheap and even meet some amazing people last week while backpacking around Thailand on Easter holiday. The travel aspect of it has been amazing, to say the least.
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 positive, despite the circumstances at hand.
How to be strong.
How to be by yourself and not run home when things are difficult.
I’m damn near fluent in Spanish and proud- working to accomplish that goal.
Setting goals and surpassing them.
I’ve taught myself how to perm and cut my hair.
I can probably make any body scrub sold in Bath and Body Works at home.
I’ve taught myself how to cook.
I figure by the end of this experience, I will have learned more about what I’m wanting and what I don’t want in my life. The things I need. The friendships that make me feel loved and add to my life.
I know that because of these experiences, that when I have my own business one day, I will have diverse and educated 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 since its nothing but peaks and valleys.
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.