9 months after…

 It has been a long time since my last post on this blog. Don’t worry; I am still well alive, for now. If I die you are not going to know anyways, since this blog is fairly anonymous and I am not a very famous person, despite my some 600 friends on Facebook.  

But well, after this atypical intro, let’s stop beating around the bushes here. Life has changed a bit since the last time. After extending my stay in the US for one more semester, I eventually came back home with the idea of staying in the family home for some two months maximum and then head to Madrid, or Barcelona, preferably.

Unexpectedly, a month after Christmas and without any search, I found a job in the industry sector in my small city. It’s a well-known and traditional (family) company in this area that is turning towards foreign trade and French-speaking countries in particular (after extensively exploring Latin-America).  So I have been working as an International trade assistant for six months now. And during this time, I have managed to search and find a nice apartment to rent, a spacious loft-attic at a-20 minutes walking distance from work. This means I am officially emancipated now, although I have been in and out of my family house for some 10 years, (since I left for university). I would live away during academic year and return home in summertime and some bank holidays. Most of those summers past while I was working to save some money for school. Some others went by with me travelling abroad to learn English. But this also means that I am a weird family member, because I have decided to live alone, without any understandable reason. My family does not quite understand why I, as a single adult, would want to live alone with no family member or partner. They find it weird. Especially since I am not married, nor have children and I am reaching thirty.

However,  I think this worldview is common to many Africans I have met, and also to many Spaniards, who are quite family-oriented amongst the more individualistic European mindset. I used to see it this way as well. But after enjoying some 7 years sharing flat while studying, living alone for one year in the US was enough to convince me that I was ready for this.  Also, I have become more and more introverted, silent and reflexive with the time, and I really enjoy quietness, silence and empty space in my bedroom. All of this is impossible in my family home. I share a small bedroom with my brother, who is not very clean or tidy,  in a 50m2 typical Spanish flat for working class people with 3 bedrooms for 7 people.  Of course, they suspect that I am a homosexual, but I never confirmed this. I wanted to have a totally self-sufficient and independent life before making it official. These two reasons made the cohabitation quite violent for me. I would spend most of my time out working, out with my friends or in my bedroom reading or procrastinating on my mobile phone. And each question about me marrying or finding a wife would make me react aggressively.  The only reliefs were my siblings, especially my 3-year- old sister who just lovely. My mother realized I was not happy, and let me go. The Saturday I was packing, she told me: “I wish you are happier now, because I have seen you very sad lately and life is not meant to be that way, you know. You should be happy”.  Of course, she knows me. She is the person I love the most in life, the person I owe everything to, and I am sad this social taboo had come to divide us so much. As for my father, this is a different story. My biological father died when I was less than a year. I have grown up with my stepfather, who has not been very close to me. He treated my differently, I think he never got to consider my as his own biological son, my brother. He was never really involved.  But at the same time, he’s the man I call dad, the only one I really know.

He is one of the most complex human beings I know. A nurse by profession, he is capable of extraordinarily humane actions towards his patients and acquaintances, but also of the most despicable actions towards his wife and family. Very sociable,  smart and adventurous.  My dad was not allowed to work as a nurse in Spain, instead he dad to work in many fields that would feed us and guarantee our legal status as immigrants. He would come home angry and very sensitive and quick to yell at you for the smallest things. He was fired several times, leaving with the task of being the main breadwinner for long periods of time. ( So far mum has being in dole one month in 20 years)

He is someone I am grateful to for adopting me, enraged with for not doing so wholeheartedly, and sad for because I know how hard it was for him to adapt to a new country and culture in which was considered just another low-skilled immigrant from Africa,  a country where women are legally equal and financially independent. This is something my brother sometimes fails to understand, but I guess he does not feel as grateful as I do, and did not really know dad when he was in his glory times back in Africa.

They eventually separated when he hit my mum for the last time. That time I intervened and separated them.  Mum called the police and he was arrested. I still remember my mum and I waiting for the police to come, standing in the parking lot under the eyes of some neighbors staring pityingly at us. She later dropped the charges under pressures from fellow countrymen, but that was the last the straw that broke the camel’s back. They separated, she bought her house’s part and he left to rent by his own. Ever since, he’s continued to being even less involved in our lives. I have seen him not more than 5 times. Our relationship has being even weirder. I still try to understand him. I still feel betrayed when every time I visit him for any important event, people around him don’t know about my existence, but at times he brags loudly to others about my university degrees and achievements when it suits him,  I still resent him for not letting us completely alone but missing all the important moments of our daily lives. No accountability, no responsibility, but wants the power to appear all of the sudden and turn your life upside down, influence it and remind you that he is your father, make you smile and say how much he loves you. Currently, after spending all the millions he was given from his mortgage part, he is living in France, and once in a while he calls us for money. I never thought I would have to send remittances to Europe instead of Africa, and to my father. But this life is unpredictable. I don’t know whether to ignore him, to help him or what to do. For now, I try to keep an eye on him. I sent him money twice, when I thought he really needed it.  But I don’t want to make it a habit. He can still work, although he has been acutely seek recently, and looks quite tired now. We had to travel urgently to France because he was under coma. Fortunately, he is well alive as me. He keeps calling and making the same jokes, and- oh surprise- now asked me about marriage at grandchildren. ¡Another one!

So yes, people. I have moved but still carry the family story with me. I have learned it does not matter where you go, your deeper issues travel with you.

But I feel the right moment has arrived. I have been dating a Spanish guy for a time. Last Monday was  our first anniversary. My grandma is back to her country. Everybody is in good health and working again (Dad does not count). The Spanish economic crisis is reversing.  Maybe they should know that they son, “the teacher” as they call me, is gay. Not that it’s a complete surprise, but let’s try it. First,  mum and my hermanito. Then,  the rest.

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España, ese querido país…

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S

oy una persona melancólica. De esas que de cuando en cuando echa la vista atrás y se recrea en los momentos vividos, en las personas que formaron parte de su vida y las mil huellas que han quedado marcadas en nuestras fotos, nuestros recuerdos y nuestra identidad.

Quizá por eso, cuando pienso en España como ese concepto abstracto que representa parte de mi infancia, mi adolescencia y mi época más transformadora (la universidad y lo que la rodea), me emociono (sí, como David Bustamente). Digo esto porque hace una semana tuve mi último encuentro con los alumnos de instituto con los que me reuno para ayudarles con el español. Están preparándose para el SAT (prueba estandarizada que sirve de Selectividad en EEUU). Les he dedicado casi 10 meses de mi vida: hablando, tomando un café, conversando y respondiendo a sus preguntas. Esa ha sido mi aportación social en este país. Y como siempre ha sido en el campo de la educación. En fin, el caso es que me preguntaron qué echaba de menos y qué significaba España para mí. Y al echar la vista al pasado, me cayeron lágrimas de emoción. No lo pude evitar. Eran tantas cosas…

Me emociono porque al pensar en ello aparecen las caras de los amigos que siempre han sido tan humanos en su trato y de tantas madres -y padres-que me han ayudado con una palabra de ánimo o con libros de textos, las imágenes de los niños de mi vida que han nacido allá y de lo importante que resultó para nuestra historia aquella decisión de mis padres de abandonar su vida de clase media acomodada para emprender un camino arriesgado. ( Recuerdo con infinita gratitud el caso de mi amiga, “mi hermana mayor”, cuya madre de origen argentino le echó tremenda bronca cuando un año repitió  de curso y no pudo pasarme los libros como acostumbraba! ¡La pobre niña!).

Tengo casi casi la seguridad, como diría Raphael, de que si hubiera crecido en mi país natal centroafricano, mi vida habría sido muy distinta. No sé si peor o mejor, pero no sirve de nada hacer historia ficción. Lo cierto es que cambiar de país me impactó muchísimo.

De un país donde casi todo el mundo era negro, a otro donde casi todos eran blancos. De ser mayoría a ser minoría. De ser hijo de dos profesionales (enfermero y auxiliar de enfermería) a ser hijo de inmigrantes pobres que trabajaban en lo que fuera (construcción, recolecta de frutas, camarero, limpiadora de platos, ayudante de cocina, obrera de fábrica..) De entender el idioma a no entender casi nada. Para mis padres tampoco fue lo mismo. No volvieron a pisar una clínica como profesionales, ni mucho menos tener una. A veces me cuesta comprender por qué lo hicieron. Por una vida mejor, seguro. ¿”Solo” por eso? No lo creo.

Pero todo avanza. Uno aprende que la sorpresa y la curiosidad que le producían los niños blancos y mulatos es universal y no sienta tan bien cuando eres tú el observado y tocado. Pero lo entiendes, porque has estado en la otra posición. Todo avanza y te das cuenta de que también puedes ser buen estudiante en otro país cuyo idioma no dominas, cuya historia no te menciona y cuyas costumbres te resultan extrañas.

Todo avanza, y cuando menos te lo esperas, te das cuenta de que ya no echas de menos al pasado, ni piensas en la gente al otro lado del charco con frecuencia. Que los llamas en Navidad o escribes alguna carta de vez en cuando y ya está. Que te sientes uno más.  Que has hecho amigos, te has apuntado a un equipo de baloncesto y entiendes perfectamente el idioma como para sacar muy buenas notas -para la sorpresa de algunos profesores que nunca dejaran de verte como extranjero por tu piel y tu acento- Que ya no te sorprende ver a parejas besarse y meterse mano en el parque. No te impresionan. Todo vuelve a ser tan familiar que pareciera que siempre fue así.

Y pasa el tiempo sumergido en una estabilidad bendecida por la lluvia y el frío cotidianos. Vas creciendo. Te vas formando. Encuentras tu rutina y tu lugar. Tus series de TV favoritas, tus presentadores, tus autores preferidos.  Tus padres se van amoldando. O los amoldas tú para que no piensen en otro cambio.

Llega la adolescencia. Empiezan las crisis de identidad. Y te das cuenta de otra capa de la realidad. Que siempre estuvo ahí, pero no te percataste de su amenazadora presencia. Hacerse un hombre negro en un país de blancos sin mucha experiencia en diversidad racial es cuando menos interesante. La inocencia de la niñez ya no te protege. Vuelves a recuperar tu condición de extranjero de una manera brutal y abrumadora. Ahora te miran como si fueras un recién llegado que acaba de cruzar la frontera a horcajadas. Te paran por la calle para pedirte los papeles, que nunca has sentido la necesidad de llevar encima. Nunca serás uno más. Simplemente porque tu piel te delata como de otro sitio. Y das igual lo bien que hables el idioma. Da igual que te sepas la historia de España como cualquiera. Da igual lo bien que te hayas integrado, simplemente eres un extranjero autorizado a vivir aquí. Y no es irrevocable. Y no puedes hacer nada al respecto. Te das cuenta de que los libros que lees y el mundo que has adoptado como tuyos no cuentan contigo. No estás allí. Y cuando apareces, no es de modo muy bonito.De das cuenta de que tus padres también tienen su mundo aparte, con otros extranjeros. Otros africanos. Sin importar idiomas o mapas. Es otra burbuja de la que te has ido separando sin ser muy consciente.

Diferencias perfectamente los dos mundos (aparentemente) irreconciliables en los que vives, que comparten territorio pero cada uno en su burbuja. Entras y sales en los dos, pero no acabas de encontrarte completamente a gusto en ninguna. Crece tu angustia al sentirte diferente. No solo de piel, sino también de impulsos y afectos. No todos tenemos los mismos gustos. Pasas de Bécquer a Cernuda. Y te cuestionas las diferencias biológicas, sexuales, históricas. Te lo cuestionas todo. Y buscas libros de autores africanos en la biblioteca del barrio. Sin mucho éxito. Y te das de bruces con la soledad. La peligrosa soledad para un adolescente infeliz.

Pero incluso entonces, siempre hay gente que te apoya. Tuve la suerte de hacer algunos buenos amigos. Fueron los que le dieron sentido a mi particular burbuja vital. Y  mi madre. Mi madre que se merece un templo. Esa persona que sin entenderme, me entendía. Que sin obtener respuestas,  me comprendía. Sí, eso y un poco de sentido de lucha, del deber de corresponder a tanto sacrificio invertido en mí… todo eso me impulsó a seguir luchando. Estudiando en mi mundo. Trabajando en lo que podía para no depender de mis padres.

Sí, todo avanzó. Y fui a la universidad. Con matrícula de honor, es decir, gratis. No pudieron negarse a que me fuese lejos de casa. No les costaría ni un duro. En teoría. Y empezaba la etapa más crucial para mi salud mental. Estudiar algo que me apasionaba, en un ambiente de jóvenes de mente abierta y compartir piso con gente más abierta aún. Compartí piso durante 6 años con españoles de todos los rincones del país. Pude comprobar que teníamos muchas cosas en común. Pude viajar y conocer sus pueblos y ciudades, ir de fiestas locas en casi todas las comunidades. Estudiar como un cosaco en los períodos de exámenes y luego seguir como si nada descubriendo el mundo.

Pude ir de Erasmus, gracias de nuevo a mis buenas notas, mis ganas de aprender inglés y la valentía exploradora que heredé de mi padre.

Y llegó otro momento crucial. Cuando estás en el extranjero  representando a un país que te considera a su vez extranjero. Es una sensación paradójica. (Ya lo decía el escritor Carryl Philips, británico de origen caribeño, que se sentía más inglés fuera de Inglaterra)

Por un lado, quedó claro que tengo un lado profundamente español que me hace sentirme en casa cuando me encuentro con uno, o simplemente cuando puedo hablarlo con cualquier hispanohablante. Formamos piña inmediatamente. Por otro lado me di cuenta de la ventaja que me supone estar acostumbrado a lidiar con lugares desconocidos y del vínculo no escrito que existe entre todos los extranjeros en un país. Tanto es así que alguien con quien no te habrías entretenido ni 10 minutos en tu país pasa a ser tu refugio y amigo compatriota en el extranjero. Eso sin contar la suerte de poder estudiar en unos de los países más caros y solicitados del mundo, donde pude conocer a estudiantes de todo el mundo, aprender de sus realidades y ser capaz de entenderme con los que venían de países ricos o pobres. Me descubrí como un ciudadano del mundo, con todas sus ventajas. Reafirmarse de que no  se necesita elegir. Está bien no ser completamente una cosa u otra. Ser culturalmente ambiguo no puede sino ser una ventaja en un mundo globalizado. No te ubican, no te clasifican, les sorprendes, los entiendes y os reís juntos. Lo mismo te unes a un grupo de latinoamericanos, que a unos nepalíes que a unos congoleños. Los idiomas, como las identidades, fluctuaban. Ser africano sin serlo totalmente. Representar a España sin serlo del todo. Y no pasaba nada.

Podía entender las circunstancias de los estudiantes africanos, de los pobres cuya brillantez académica les había llevado hasta allí; y  los ricos que siempre habían sido privilegiados del sistema  de clientelismo y nepotismo africano, pero de repente se enfrentaban al estatus de ser negros del “Tercer Mundo” para algunos. Discutir sobre los efectos de la crisis económica y política de España con amigos de Jaén o de Galicia, y aprender y escuchar historias y vivencias de mexicanos, argentinos, indios, trinitenses, neozelandeses, etc. El mundo se tornaba pequeño, tangible y casi a nuesto alcance…

6 años después, el mundo ya no me ilusiona tanto. Quiero descubrirlo, pero de una manera menos elitista. Porque ser estudiante internacional en Londres no es una experiencia muy representativa de la existencia del común de los mortales. Tener una educación superior no te abre todas las puertas. Ser una minoría te supone demostrar siempre que también puedes, incluso en el siglo XXI. España está entre la normalización y el rechazo.

Hace un año y medio que vivo entre EEUU y España. Esta vez por trabajo. Ahora parece que se termina mi aventura estadounidense, y me encuentro otra vez ante la situación de volver a España. Me encanta. Y me aterra. Es el síndrome del inmigrante inseguro. ¿Habrá vida después de lo conocido. Encontraré trabajo en España. Tendré que irme de nuevo?

Y calibrando  qué hacer con mi vida en un país con un 21% de desempleo, donde los licenciados en Letras lo tenemos realmente chungo. Me planteo coger mi colchón ahorrado y lanzarme a montar una empresa. O tal vez seguir buscando trabajo como profesor de idiomas: ¿Español, Inglés, Francés? De español lo dudo, por eterna condición de extranjero pero no es imposible. Tampoco pensé que fuera a enseñarlo en EEUU. De inglés, más probable, especialmente tras pasar más de dos años fuera en los países que consideran estrella (sí, así lo vemos); de Francés, posible por el simple hecho de que soy nativo, a pesar de que eso no signifique casi nada a efectos lingüísticos, a pesar de que  no me sienta tan cómodo con su gramática… Es la dictadura de la lengua materna en un mundo postnacional.

O quizá por fin tenga el tiempo para lanzarme a escribir aquel libro que siempre he querido escribir. O a intentar ser periodista freelance después de tanto tiempo (5 años) si tocar la comunicación y en un país donde no hay corresponsales de medios africanos. Muchas posibilidades, ninguna seguridad y pocas respuestas. Lo único que tengo claro es que, con la nieve que está cayendo aquí en el Oeste, quiero entregar las notas finales lo antes posible, coger mis bártulos y plantarme en esa  España querida.

Donde me siento tan en casa y tan extranjero. El punto de referencia al que siempre regreso. Aunque sea para ayudar a mi madre a pagar la hipoteca o para hacer de voluntario en la ONG del barrio. Hasta pronto…

Cheers!

Racial profiling in Spain

Racial profiling is a common practice in Spain, as this Cameroonian man can testify, he was stopped and arrested for more than 160 times! I had a friend that used to be pulled over almost every single month, taken to the police station, only to be released soon after. This is a practice that have penalized people of non Caucasian appearance in Spain, from the African American  lady (Rosalind Williams)who first took this practice to higher courts. It is currently a trending topic once again, because of the case of stop, search and police abuse against a Pakistani citizen living in Barcelona.

As you can see, this has a been a widely spread practice, approved explicitely by Spanish authorities, even though the United Nations and other Human Rights organisations have publicly urged them to stop using skin color as a presumption of illegal immigration status or crimes.

My particular case. As you all know I am a black African raised in Spain who feels at home here because of time, cultural and emotional bonds. Personally I had so far been pulled over 3 times in the last 16 years. All of them, in my home city, where everybody knows me, except, apparently, the police officers who never appear in their uniforms but as civil citizens.

The first time, I was about to travel, in the coach station and carrying a big bag of belongings to my student flat for the new academic year. Well, I did not take it personally since so many things may have seem ‘suspicious’.

The second time, I running towards a bank office to pay some university taxes, and in the middle of the race, I saw a Brazilian friend talking with other two guys. She is mixed-race and was accompanied by a black African guy I barely knew. For my suprised, the third person turned out to be a police officer who stopped me to ask for my ID. Well, you judge.

The third time, I was going to give some private lessons to a high school student and was also in a hurry. All of the sudden, a man blocked my way and showed his badge and asked for my ID. I gave it to him while telling him I was in a hurry to work. He was brief and courtious.

All these three stops happened at the same area, the Stations Plaza (bus and train). They were brief and educated.

 

But this very summer, comming back from the US embassy in Madrid on my way home, inside a coach full of people, we stopped to pick some people at the airport and to me suprised only two people got in the bus. I was in the last row, reading a book and not paying real attention. I noticed a young man coming towards me, so I moved to my right to let him take a seat. ( How naive). But that would be…

the fourth time Police would searched me. He came straight to me as asked for my ID. I couldn’t believe it! Why me out of all those passengers? Everyone was paying attention to me, of course. I shaked my head while I was opening my wallet. I was tired. Once again. He said in a conciliatory tone: Don’t be mad, man. I said nothing. I just felt humiliated for no reason. Then I noticed another one was also doing the same to a man who seemed to have a Latin America accent. After that this second me came to take to ID card, and call to they headquarted ( I suppose) and verify the name of the person, loud voice. Not only did he do that, but he also look above my head and asked if the bag over there was mine. I nodded. He demanded me to open it and search it. At this moment I was feeling totally harassed. Why out of all the personal bags over there, he thought only mine would have something wrong? After this unfortunate scene, they turned back and left.

NOW. Some people may justify this for security reasons, especially at places like airports and bus stations. Also, I am aware that terrorist attacks have been happening recently in Europe. But, let me remind you of something. There is something call presumption of innocence. You cannot presume that because someone is of a different ethnic group, he is a criminal or whatsoever, without other criteria. Racial profiling is a clearly discriminatory act that make people feel unfairly targeting and harassed by the police. Remember that police is there to protect, not the abuse minorities. It is very easy, lazy, and ineffective, to stop and searched all those who don`t look ‘Spaniards’ or Caucasian. And, in my opinion, it only creates feelings of untrust, distruct and resentment from those who feel harassed. So far I have no especially bad opinion of police officers, because I have been lucky until now. Or also because I understand their job, and humanise then, since some of my friends and classmates are now part of that body. And I understand that orders come from above, as it has been proven. However, this persistent pervasive practive does not do us any favor as a society which is increasingly multiethnical.

Being dark-skinned is not a crime. If it were so, some 3 million people in Spain would criminals. This is the number of people from non-EU countries that live legally in Spain nor those almost two millions who have acquired Spanish citizenship. Amongst these people you can find basically Colombians, Ecuadorians and Marrocans, who make more than the half. Rest of countries, including China, Senegal, Peru or Pakistan make the rest.

Is it fair to target everyone who looks non-white, when statistically most of them live here legally? How many hundreds of thousands live ilegally in Spain? Should we be harassed for them? Isn’t it there a more effective way to do this? Without harassing part of the population? I have spent a year in England and in the US, and was never stopped by the police to demand my ID. And, be certain that they have my travel history and my biomorphical information. Security is important and respectable. But legitimaticy and perceived non-discrimination is even more important. I wonder how do they expect us to collaborate with this national task if they treat us this way? Really?

And finally, just when I had just forgotten the bad experience, on my way back to the US, it happened again. For the second time, in the same airport, and by the same officer, I was “randomly checked” again at the Frankfurt International Airport. I was not surprised. This time it took more than the last time. And I was taken together with a US guy of Latin American origin. We sat close to each other. After body check by the machine, they my hand baggage and took EVERYTHING OUT, every single book and pen, and my computer. Well, I guess this is the world we live in. Some of us have to endure this for others to feel safe? Didn’t they see me already in their computer? Or the previous visa in my passport? couldn’t they check my empty criminal record from the Spanish system? Why me in the whole waiting area?

And yes. I know that this shit happens everywhere, even in the US, tough I heard it is ilegal. I have also heard of similar things in certain African countries, although not against Caucasian in particular. I just want to be treated with respect, since I am a low abiding person. Discrimination only fuels hatred and resentment. They should know best.

 

 

 

 

Breve actualización en verano norteño/Short update from northen Summertime

Releyendo el última entrada me doy cuenta de que os hablaba de mi deseo de volver a casa y de las evaluaciones.

 

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Pues bien, ya estoy en casa. Volví a España a las 2 semanas de terminar mis clases y poner la última nota en el sistema informático interno. Y sí, como me suponía, el segundo semestre fue infinitamente mejor. Pude terminar todo el temario, me organicé mejor, y además hicimos muchas más actividades con los alumnos.

En cuanto a las evaluaciones, fueron mucho mejores. Alguno se quejó de la cantidad de trabajo, pese a que fui mucho más benevolente que el semestre anterior, pero no hubo comparación. Tuve un caso delicado de acoso estudiantil que me dejó trastocado, pero bueno. Y en mitad de mis vuelos de regreso a Spain, sorpresa…. Me llaman 20 veces y me escriben un correo electrónico para ofrecerme volver a la misma universidad con mejores condiciones. Una auténtica sorpresa! Tras dos semanas de negociaciones, decidí volver, para ahorrar un poco; y porque en España no encontraba más que ofertas para hostelería y comercial (en fin).

Así que amigos, la aventura estadounidense continúa…

De mientras, estoy trabajando en la tienda de siempre, pocas horas, mucha familia y algo de fiesta y playa… ¿Qué más le puedo pedir a la vida?

IN ENGLISH

After reading my last post I noticed I was talking about how much I missed home and also the students evaluations.

Well, I came back to Spain two weeks after I entered my last grade to the system. Eventually I was able to finish my program and do more activities with my students. We sand less, saddly, but I hope they did learn. I was very happy with my 101 class.

As for their final evaluations, they went very well. Much much better than the previous semester, although there will always be those who complain. I also experienced my first case of  one of my students being harrassed and bullied. I was horrified. And halfway back home, still in my stopover in London (UK), I saw more than 20 lost calls and an email from my university offering me to stay longer with better conditions! What a surprise…

 

After weeks of negociations, I accepted because I had not found any better in Spain (unfortunately).

And right now I am in my home city, working in the same shop, with sufficient free time to spend it with family, family, and some fiesta and playa (party and beach). What else could I expect?

 

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

A medio camino de casa… (traducción)

En español

Como indica el título, ya estoy a medio camino de mi estancia aquí en los EE.UU. No me puedo creer que llegara aquí a mediados de agosto y ahora sólo me queden 3 meses para terminar. Ha sido una travesía con sus altibajos, como cualquier otra travesía que merezca la pena mencionar, ¿verdad?

Apenas una semana después de mi llegada, me soltaron en frente de mis nuevos alumnos. No es que fuera mi primera experiencia como profesor, puesto que ya había trabajado como profesor de idiomas en varias academias en España, mientras iba estudiando de un lado a otro. Sin embargo, era mi primera vez como profesor universitario, en un país extranjero, con compañeros, estudiantes y un sistema universitario desconocidos… Emocionante! Me gustan los desafíos. Soy de esa clase de personas. Le puse mucho empeño casi todo el tiempo, intenté que mis clases fueran entetenidas e instuctivas al mismo tiempo, intenté huir de la gramática, aunque no del todo. Había que reforzar la base, animarlos a hablar, a cantar a Juanes, debatir, escribir… osea, engancharse con una asignatura que o bien era opcional ( y supuestamente un Sobresaliente fácil) o bien era obligatoria (para los especializados en Lengua Inglesa o en Estudios Internacionales). En España, no regalamos sobresalientes tan fácilmente. De hecho son bastante poco frecuentes. Si consigues un Notable, eres bastante afortunado. Pero aquí las cosas parecen diferentes. Son clientes que se pueden perder… Es una cuerda floja de la que no se puede tirar demasiado fuerte. Es lo que tiene lo privado (aunque lo llamen Public University). Así que acepté ser geneorso y poner buenas calificaciones, a cambio de que trabajaran realmente duro. No pierdo nada por poner sólo notables y sobresalientes. Pero tenían que ganárselo. Después del primer examen, suspender dejó de ser un tabú. Les daba la oportunidad de recuperar y de mejorar si querían mejor nota: pero tenían que alcanzar el nivel. Muchos estaban en el nivel intermedio con contenidos de básico sin saber… Después de muchos reveses lo conseguimos. Aprobaron todos, aunque unos 6 de 30 con un aprobado. Algunos pocos abandonaron el barco. Pero desde luego, ya no darán por sentado un Sobresaliente en español.

Al final del semestre llegaron las valoraciones de los estudiantes… de todo. Primero, me di cuenta de que la mitad de ellos no se dignaron a opinar. Esto es como lo de las elecciones y las abstenciones, ¿verdad? ¿Cómo se valoran? Y de los que sí lo hicieron, dieron o muy buenas calificaciones, sin explicar por qué, o muy malas, quejándose de lo exigente que era y lo difícil que era. Y algunos comentarios eran claramente ofensivos…. los estudiantes pueden ser muy cabrones, pero bueno, así es la vida. No se puede gustar a todos, ¿no? Con todo, me parecen bien estas evaluaciones. Está bien tener una crítica y poder aprender de ella. Sí me sirvieron para ver lo que les había gustado y lo que no. Ojalá este sistema existiera también en mi universidad en España. Espero que el siguiente cuatrimestre sea mejor… Ya veremos.

Así las cosas, este nuestro cuatrimestre es totalmente distinto. Me siento mucho más cómodo y tranquilo. No es que sea un experto, ¡pero cómo se nota la experiencia!. He cambiado la estructura de mis clases, intentando encontrar el equilibrio entre la parte  cultural/ divertida y la parte ‘aburrida/gramatical’. Y se les nota en la cara cuando paso de hablar de la situación política en España, con sus casos de corrupción, a hablar de los verbos reflexivos o de la particularidad del verbo gustar en español.. Aquí se aprenden los idiomas quizá de una manera más interactiva, y con menos peso del escrito y de la lectura. Hay mucho material audiovisual, gramática automatizada y mucha conversación: y muy poca lectura. No se se lee nada. ¡No lo puedo comprender!

No obstante, no todo es negativo. Estos estudiantes son por lo general muy trabajadores. Casi todos estudian y trabajan paralelamente. A los 18 ya están fuera y se buscan la vida. Todo lo contrario al contexto español (recuerdo ser uno de las pocas excepciones, y no siempre). También es verdad que el mercado laboral no es el mismo, aquí sí tienen trabajo para emanciparse y pagar esas tasas astronómicas para los bolsillos de cualquier estudiante de Europa o incluso de Latinoamérica.

Ahora bien: ¿cuál es el siguiente paso? Ya os conté que por primera vez en mi vida había pensado en emigrar -legalmente, claro-. Pero, siendo sincero, estar en un lugar tan pequeño y con menos de 25 mil habitantes (más de la mitad de ellos estudiantes) y sin mucho que hacer… No tengo muchas ganas de quedarme aquí. Sería posible quedarme en una ciudad más grande y con más ambiente, pero eso implicaría encontrar una empresa que apoyara la extensión de mi visado, dentro de la misma categoría, en otra oportunidad laboral similar… La otra posibilidad es hacer un máster de dos años, con la opción de cambiar mi estatus a trabajador después, ya con un título estadounidense. Y qué quieren que les diga: después de dos licenciaturas y un máster en España, no estoy para otro máster. Uno ya va para los 28 y quiere tener un trabajo decente adecuado a su preparación… No me convence del todo. Por otra parte, echo mucho de menos a mi familia. A mis amigos. Estar en un país que entiendo y sé dónde poner los pies. Ya sé que soy un afortunado por no tener que estar desesperado y aceptar lo que sea. Lo sé. Pero todavía tengo ganas de volver.

Dicho esto, ahora entiendo por qué los africanos que residen aquí están sobrecualificados. Es una condición para poder quedarse (es un hecho, comprobadlo). Un ejemplo claro es el otro único profesor africano que hay en mi Facultad: licenciatura en Togo, otra más en Francia, luego otro máster y doctorado en EEUU… Dios bendito. ¡Son más de 15 años de formación universitaria! Bueno, si a él le sirve… De momento ya he comprado el billete de vuelta… aunque la puerta está abierta. Ya os iré contando.

Halfway Back Home

Dear friends,

As the title suggests, I have already the halfway of my stay here in the US. I cannot believe I arrived here the last mid-Augost and currently only have 3 weeks left in here. It has been journey with ups and downs, just like every journey worth mentioning, right?

Barely one week after my arrival, I was pushed in front of my new students. It was not my first time as a teacher, since I had taught foreign languages before at several academies back in Spain, while studying here and there. But it was the first one as university teacher, in a foreign country, with unknown colleagues, students, university system… Exciting. I like challenges. I am that kind of person. I did put a lot of effort most of the time, I tried the make my classes entertaining and informative at the same time. Running away from grammar, yet never being able to go without it totally. The basics. Encouraging them to talk, to sing, to discuss, to write… in other words, to be engaged to a subject that was either elective (and supposedly an easy A) or mandatory (for English and International studies majors). In Spain, we do not give As as easily. They are actually pretty uncommon. If you get a B, you are quite good /or lucky. However, it seems that things are different here. So I agreed to be generous, but in exchange, they need to really work hard. Many of them had never failed a Spanish exam… until I got there. Failures and reassessment became no longer taboo. If you wanted a B or an A, you got the opportunities to reach it, but you had to actually achieve the level. And most did. Few quit. But they never took an A for granted after the first exam.

… And then comes the students’ reviews/evaluations: when I realized that about half of my students did not bother giving feedback… come on, what about me not correcting and grading your compositions? And those who did: awarded an A, with no explained reason, or they complained of the hardship and demanding of the instructor. Students can be very mean… I guess we cannot be loved by everyone, right? I especially remember a student’s review saying that she/he experienced anxiety for a subject was NOT even mandatory for her/him, because I was too demanding. Come on! Anyways, It’s good to have an instructor evaluation of some kind… better than nothing. I hope our reviews at my Spanish universities were kind of similar. I did learn things and got ideas to improve. Let’s wait for the next one…

So this semester is another story. Of course I am not an experience instructor, but I do feel more confortable and at easy. I have restructured my classes and intend to be balance between the ‘cultural-fun part’ and the ‘lingusitic-boring part’. They can interchangeable, but that’s boldy how student see it. You can read it from their faces, when you say, now let’s stop talking about the new political panorama in Spain and its many corruption scandals; and let’s talk about reflexive verbs and the particularity of the verb ‘gustar’…  Language is taught differently here. Less focus on grammar, writing and reading, and more on talking and interactive communication. I can abide the 2 last ones, but Reading. We must read to learn the internal structure of languages, to learn how to write,  to develop so many dexterities…

However, not everyting is negative, at all. I have found students to be generally respectful and committted to their studies, and their JOBS! Most of them work and study: this almost the opposite of the Spanish case. And they leave their parents’ home way earlier, at 18, while in Spain, some still wander from dad’s bedroom to the kitchen at 30! Obviously: the job market is not comparable, but even when it was…; and second, tuition fees cost a fortune! unthinkable for a Spanish (and I would dare saying a European or Latin American student: Argentina, Ecuador or Mexico to name just a few,  have university access for free).

Now: what is next? I told you that for the first time I thought about migrating and staying- legally, of course. But, to be honest, living in such a small place, with less than 25 thousand inhabitants and very few distractions… is not very fun. Also, in order to stay and actually have an opportunity to find a job later, I would have to take another master’s in the US. That means: two more years studying while teaching as a TA (a bittersweet figure in the US highe ducation system). Am I desperate to stay?: No. Do I think that I need another master in Education after the one I got in Spain? No. At least not yet. I mean, I am going to turn 28, with 2 bachelors and a master, how much can someone over certify himself before deserving a decent job? I guess it also depends on your specialty. The case is, I want to work. My temporary visa does not allow me to do unless I am sponsored by the exam kind of the enterprise I work for right now… And, I miss my family. Deeply. And the country, the ability to know where you are, how things work and where to put your feets… Maybe I am just too fortunate and I can choose to migrate or not. Anyways, no wonders why the African immigrants in the States are overqualified, standing as the most degree holding immigrants in the US (check it out). The only other African teacher (naturalized American) at the university actually is a clear example: bachelor’s in Togo, another bachelor’s in and master’s in France; another master in the US, and then a predoctoral program, and then a Ph.D. This means, more than 15 years os university studies… Really? Well, if it works for him…

I have already bought my return flight ticket… just in case. The door is open though…

Happy New Year! Feliz Año Nuevo! Bonne Année!

I hope that this year has been good enough for you and that you have made the full of it. If not, you have another opportunity, we all have because we are alive. Yet, being alive currently means both to be blessed and at constant risk. I say this for many reasons I will confess later on.

I have decided that from year 2016 this blog will be bilingual (Spanish and English). The reason is that I think the matter I talk about here may also be interesting from Latin American. Those African descents  from Afroargentinos,uruguayos, paraguayos, peruanos, ecuatorianos, colombianos, venezolanos, salvadoreños, costarricenses and all other Central American and Carribean countries where we find the most of them. Even afrobrazilian, though they might not understand well Spanish. I hope that English helps here. I am learning Portuguese, promise. To all of you, know that I think of you and wish you the very best in your lives. I know that most of times it’s not easy, but we shall always look at the future and choose our fights and planify our lives.

 

This being said, I explain why I think we are lucky yet cursed. I am sad. I have cried many times while reading and watching documentaries. Reasons: most of African descents across the world do not live in the best conditions. These I have being doing research, I learned the poverty has only being reduced 26% in the Sub-Saharan Africa, the last of all devoloping continents. Looking from Spain, hundred of Afican youngsters died in the Mediterranean sea each year, between the Magreb and the coast of Spain and Italy, mainly. Slavery is yet to be effective and real in Mauritania. Black and dark skin people are being killed by police officers in Brazil, where this population were denied its share of the country’s wealth after they were freed. However, former masters were reparated with State money and passed the wealth to their European-looking children. Today they enjoy some affirmative action in access to education, but are widely mistreated by police officers, for whom their lives do not matter enough.

I am specially sad because of the situation in the US. I have seen the videos of the several shooting and it’s just troubling. The more I watch them the more I feel myself in danger in this country in which it seems that black lives mean nothing before a police officer. There is a climate of corporative cover up amongst them, it seems. I am sad that this is happening in such a beautiful country with the whole world reprensented in it. It could be a mirror for the world. This tens of gunshots are just and abomination. Today I read and watched about the kid Tamir. A 12-year-old kid! No words. Yet, what saddens me the most is the cynical comments on the media outlets. I have read people say that all black kids and their family must die….

I wonder how long is the black population going to refrain theirself. I wonder how do black police officers feel about this climate. I wonder how does President Obama feel about this? Is it true that he can’t do anything to protect his fellow citizens? Something must certainly be done. This impunity is too ominous and too terrifying to be ignored.

Because we are alive and because we can always try better for us and our children. For that I am thankful.

 

Happy New year to all of you. This year, as a genuine immigrant for the first time, I will experience this time alone. With my book. Crying and hoping for the world to be a better place. And more determined than ever to be part of the betterment.

 

Feliz Año Nuevo.

 

 

The case of African-descendant Brazilians

There was a time when there was a big incoming of Brazilian immigrant into Spain. There weren’t always well received, even if they had visa waiver rights as so have almost all Latin American citizens in Europe. You would read news of these citizens complaining of the treatment received at the Spanish international airports and the restrictions of the rights they did have on the paper. Then, as their economy grew and they became a major economic power, they stopped coming and started applying the same rules on Spaniards emigrating to Brazil. Some of these went to seek a better life back home in a context of an agonizing Spanish crisis. But some stayed because they prioritized security and the welfare state offered by Spain, they would say.

Now, one of the things that I noticed among my Brazilian neighbours and fellow inhabitants was their wide racial diversity. Many are blacks or mixed-race –what we call in Spain ‘ mulatos’. However, I realized that the Brazilian politicians I used to see on news, on media, and more strikingly, among the exchange students who came every year at my university or at those I met at other European universities, were always white and pale. Not even tanned, at times. I have only met 2 visibly African descendant Brazilians on these settings. One, two years ago, and the other one this year in the US. There are not black, but mixed, you could see that they have multiple heritages. For example, I have amongst my students a bunch of them (exchange students), all whites, coming from a country where most of its population is black or afro-descendants. What’s is going on there?

I sought a bit of information and realized that Brazil, as many other American countries, inherited the racial hierarchy established by their for European masters to legitimate the slave trade. Once they gained independence, they maintained this pigmentocracy and social system based on race, in which a white minority kept all the structural powers and set themselves as the role model of beauty and behaviour to be followed by all their fellow citizens, all while encouraging white bleaching and white immigration. This reminds me of South Africa, with the distinction of the  unofficial segregation and a large population of mixed race, which transmitted the global image of a racial democracy in Brazil. I thing it was a quest for absorbing the majority and follow the minority model.

Changes are being introduced step by step and this seems to be changing. I have read about the first ever Brazilian TV programs /series who two black Brazilians as main characters. The first ever! In 2015. Ok. In a country where  TV and soap operas a major source of popular culture, its main audience cannot recognise themselves on the films they see. This is what I call cultural and social alienation. If you are born in it, it’s hard to criticize it. It’s the only reality you know. They also have white affirmative actions favouring a minimum of black or mixed race people, which makes many white angry after centruries of privileges and negation of what was stated on their Constitution. Fortunately, changes were made, and it seems to be a growing population of this majority to the middle class, thanks to their access to education and growing awareness connected to a globalized world. I remember the shocking story of a black Brazilian doctor complaining that many of her white patients complain about being treated by a black person, or they would make insensitive remark about her hair. This in a country in which there are a minority. I swear to God I would not treat the person but better let them die. If a there are no more professional, I would just object and period. If I ever meet a student like this, I would really get them out of my class. I don’t tolerate this nonsense. Are we crazy? Do we believe that a professional is better or words based on their skin colour or hair? Stupid people do not deserve our minimum effort. There are plenty humble and reasonable people out there who need help and are of real interest for the society.

I do think these cases and those of other similar countries need some kind of structural reparation, simply because black people were slave to grow an econony they did not benefit after they were released. Nor did they have right to access the lands and resources of the country in the same level as their former slavists. So this only was a freedom to poverty and insecurity that could not bring anything such as equality. I can’t understand how can people negate this. It’s like negating slavery  and holocaust existed. Just a fact. Consequences are still pretty blatant. Face it for a better future as a nation.

An interesting article documenting this, here. It’s really worth it. A bit long but detailed and wonderfully explained.

Learning from Chimamanda’s experience in the US

I am a big fan of Chimamanda’s books since I started with Half of a Yellow Sun, some years ago. I then move back through her bibliography and have been learning both about Nigeria and the US  with her. I like several things from her books that sometimes lack from Francophone writers: simplicity and clarity of style, something very important to widen your audience to non-native English speakers; and second, maybe her biggest talent, the ability to observe and describe daily situations in a reflexive, factual yet hilarious way. Here are some quotes from her book I am reading currently The Thing Around Your Neck.

 She [the protagonist] could not complain about not having shoes when the person she was talking to had no legs.

Then he told you how the neighbors said, a few months after he moved into his house, that the squirrels had started to disappear. They had heard that Africans ate all kinds of wild animals.

I must confess that at the point I read the second citation I broke into stertorous laughs. I laughed so much that I wanted to cry. This sense of humour, plus her ability to connect with many of its readers amongst the African diaspora, by explaining experiences we go through daily or some situations we all know someone who went through them, all this while teaching us about Nigerian life, History and society, which is so African in many ways and so familiar even for those like me who haven’t spent many years on that soil… And, apart from connecting me with my African side, she is incredibly interesting on the way she describes America. With so many experiences. The complexities of some many lives often reduced to two facts: the quest for legal immigration (read the chapter about the American Embassy on this same book The Thing…), and the poverty struggle. Plus, she has many videos online talking about so many issues on Nigeria, Africa, the US and so, that she has become kind of parts of my life. Strange things today, right? Not only can we read about our authors, we can follow them on tv interview, attend to their conferences and public readings…Some even send emails and add them on facebook. I am not there… yet.

Anyway, my point is that I relate to her American stories because I feel like in the same situation. True that I came already with a job, but still I like to reading her analysis about relationships between Africans and Americans (be they black, white or latino, so far I have not read about Asian-Americans and Africans. And to be honest, I would like to read something about that.); and I have started to read more and more about my African descents American cousins. Of course I feel and know that we have many things in common, and I can relate not only for that millennial origin, but also for knowing what’s like growing black in a white dominant environment.

Many people people think that each time you raise this type of issues you want to talk about racism, and sometimes they are right. But most of the time, it’s just to make them aware of the many aspects of society in which you realise that you are not represented and not taken into account. Some of the most obvious and most influencial aspects are Mass media platforms, TV, RADIO, CINEMA, THEATHER, NEWSPAPERS. It’s obvious to anyone with some little critical spirit to realise that the portraiture of people like you (if any) is not possitive; that the heroes, Historical characters, influencial people in society, popular politicians, artits, etc. Sometimes it’s just that there aren’t any people like you in certain fields; other times the one you see play a role you can’t relate with. They are just stereotypes of what your people are, and often not very possitive. Growing within the blatant minority at many structural levels makes many things harder that it seems. Basic things such as educational achievements, security and active citizenship, ability to access country’s wealth, political engagement and power, and of course, healthy selfsteem.

To acknowledge these carences may create great sense of anger and frustration, especially when people around you seem unable to understand your reasons. But I always say that the irony of live make rich people of richer countries unaware of their fellow citizens on the working class, but these at the same time are unaware of their fellow working class colleagues in poorer countries. You can spend a lifetime trying to make them understand the privileges they inherited, but they won’t see it. Most won’t. It’s just part of the system they were born in. They feel entitled to them. If you get angry and claim what you think is your place, then you get labelled aggressive, criminal and other nicer words.

But I think there many other ways of improving things. Begining with the selfsteem. I definitely believe that every African descent person should live once in a life in Africa. I mean, live, not believe. I know this from my own experience. Your value of yourself changes and you stop being a vulnerable minority. This is useful for many healthy and pragmatic reasons. You will also get to acknowledge the good aspects of your homecountry. Travelling around the world also gives a bigger picture of how things work, pros and cons of live in another corners, learning that every place has its own issues and that you can always choose the place that suits you best. And the one you know the better is still home. I believe in freedom of movement. Especially for these cases. European Americans have very close ties with their continent of origin for these same reasons. Not only practical, but mostly emotional and cultural, and this does not make them any less Americans. This is the bless of this country, I believe. Its ability to emotions and feelings in anypart of the world. Its diversity reflects the diversity of the planet, and this is definitely and advantage, in my opinion. 

I have observed that Identity problems are more often present in the offsprings of Africans or immigrants in general who do not have a balanced sense of belonging within their two cultures. We don’t need to choose, just as between man and dad. We are both. For this move, I would urge African countries to do something useful for once and allow doble nationality for their descendants overseas. This will soften circumstances and unite people who can truely learn from each other. I also strongly advocate for  more cultural and civic ties within the two continents, by the help of international programs, professional cooperation and emotional ties between these two communities. More international couples and cultural events would definitely help, as well as common goals on matters such as educational achievements, security and political reinforcement at a global scale. For instance, most of the Africans that arrive to the US are graduate students who come to further their studies and/or work. These could definiteley collaborate in a national program to improve educational outcomes on local communitie,while the later help us integrate into the American society. The African American universities may build major exchange programs with African universities to promote mutual contact and learning. This applies also with Latin American countries with visible African descent population such as Cuba, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Perú, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil. This is the kind of things I would do. Create international and intranational meeting points and produce common goals and work for it. I would be glad to participate in programs that would help increase the number of African Americans  and Hispanics who access higher education, for examples. I been reading about and I think it needs a community-based response to sort it out. Just my naive opinion.