My great-grandfather was a slave

I am a grannies and babies’ person. I have always been that way. Especially with kids.  Anecdotes abound in my family about my naughty tricks. I once got so attached to my baby cousin that, when summer finished and he had to leave, I hid him in big suitcase. Fortunately, they finally found him when he started to yell…  This is terrible, I know.

Well, currently my grandma is at home with us, in Spain. She is above 70 and has no social coverage in her country because, as many women her age, she did not go to school and did not have formal work, and has no pension from whatsoever company. Obviously, a widow, well above life expectancy in Cameroon, after a life of child-caring, from generations to generations, her own, but also of her daughters and brothers who left much sooner than her… My grandma deserved a rest. And so, we decided to bring her to Europe, so that she could get to know her other grandchildren born or growing beyond the Mediterranean Sea. Also, we can all take care of her as a real queen, satisfying all her tiniest whims and desires. She loves acting out as a baby, complaining for every single malaise she may feel. Any pain in the back,  in the arms, the head… the stomachache, toothache, so on and so for. It can be difficult at times, especially with her granddaughters who were born in Europe and do not speak their native tongue or Cameroonian pidgin English, which is very popular back home. Not being able to communicate directly with your grandma is the price you have to pay for being some of immigrants. My cousins and brother already speak Spanish and French as native speakers. Adding patois to this is proving itself difficult. It’s difficult because it’s hard to intend that they learn all the languages at the same time. Then, some kids are better at learning multiple languages, and every now and then my little sister says some work to her grandma. They have their particular language after years of seeing each other interruptedly. Another cousin has proven to understand pretty well after two years of living with her in France, yet communication is weak. They cannot speak. They don’t really need to; she is the only one that does not communicate fluently in French or Spanish around them.  This generational gap has unavoidable emotional price. They don’t really get along. She tries. She yells. They are sure to understand what’s going on. They need inter-familiar translators. Globalization is crazy!

Being illiterate, she can only hardly communicate in French, which is an issue for international flights. She always needs someone to travel with her, or a flight assistant to make sure she does not miss the connecting flights! You can only imagine, every time grandma travels, everybody is in alert. She got lost in her first connecting flight because she did not wait for the steward and left the plane as everyone else, then got lost in the terminals of Paris. Second time, she got out of a coach for toilet and did not return in time, so the bus driver just left and did not remember there was a lady missing. These things are part of our recent anecdotes with grandma, things that now we can all laugh about, fortunately.

They are other perks of her presence: she brings tradition to Europe. Apart from her pressure so that everyone gets married and has as many kids as possible, apart from her plots to find me a wife I never asked for… she also tells us stories from our forefathers, our ancestors, as she calls them. She has a very animist side, which I rather love, that says we are to devote and keep our ancestors happy because they the ones who take care about us up there, once they die. She narrates stories about how to pay tribute to them, how she got married to the older son of her dead husband because she was the youngest and needed to be taken care of once she had babies and the dowry was made lawfully.

But last weekend I learned yet another heartbreaking family story. It turns out my Great-grandfather was a slave from a neighboring village. I could not believe it! My recalled quite naturally that they ‘bought’ him from another tribe, and that he was renowned for being a great traditional healer. He would receive suffering people from far away who came to our village to meet him. Apparently this practice was quite common and spread. People from different tribes would wage war against each other, and after war, those who won would take captives/prisoners/slaves from the defeated tribe. Henceforth the captive’s life did not belong to him or his tribe anymore. He could be forced to work for his new tribe, to marry there and settle with his family as a regular member, thus wining his place.

In our case, my great-grandfather was renowned and enjoyed and respectable life, he became wealthy and had several wives and children, as it was the norm back then. They told me, that from time to time, he would go visit his original tribe. They would come in his search, for healing or for rituals. People were more animist back then and believed mainly in the protection of their long-gone forefathers, who lived in a kind of limbo between heaven and earth, between dreams and newborn children who would sometimes reincarnate them to fulfill a mission under a kid skin. Our people believed in spirits and souls, hence the name of Animism. Ancestors were in charge of protecting the upcoming generation’s wellbeing and success. And we ought to show them respect by praying to them and giving them offerings as a tribute for their protection. That’s why each lineage had in their hometown, a house of cranes, where the living members of the lineage would throw food and beverage to feed the ancestors. That’s why, we tend to drop a bid of champagne and leave an extra dish on the table during celebration banquets: we have to share our wealth and happiness with our ancestors, for they are the hidden hands behind our success and fortune.

So yes, as I was saying, I have a difficult relationship with my grandma. Long time apart, a difficult bridge. That’s why, when she calls me ‘her husband’, although I know it’s a compliment, I don’t fully understand the traditional threat of thinking behind these words. She always says I very much like her husband. We look alike. He was reborn in me: isn’t it scary?

Now I understand more than ever this sacred status we African assign to elderly people, our elders and closer, if not yet, to that ancestral limbo, that place from which they can look at us like small ants wandering through life and making mistakes or triumphs. We ought to be in peace with them so that to ease their transition to their new status in our lineage, in our clan. Thereinafter, they are like demigods, who are close enough to us to understand our voluble souls, and their memories are fresh enough to have a vivid grasp of what is like today.

My grandma is probably in her last years of life. Should we believe this paradigm, it would mean that she won’t be offended when her next grandchildren can talk to her in our native tongue, because she, too, has live in this era of ‘voluntary’ emigration to foreign lands. She, too, has noticed that her daughters can work and raise a family, regardless of being under the protection of a man. That marriage is not the only path for women. Maybe, she will convince other skeptical ancestors who may be looking at us relentlessly right now.

I, personally don’t know how to feel. I never imagined I too could be a descendant of a slave. I may comfort myself by saying that he wasn’t sold to foreign lands,  that he was well treated and allowed to prosper and have a family, but the fact is still there. And a friend of mine just told me that some people in his family participated in the transatlantic slave trade as a way of earning money. I know I cannot look at this with contemporary eyes, but I want to vomit. How do I know that some of my Black friends from the Americas are not the grandchildren of those men and women sold by us? Isn’t this terrible as story? How do I look at their face? This story is not as far as I thought. Only four generations before. A bit more than a century ago.

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Cameroon’s decay into civil war… and my boring life

I normally try to not to single out a single African country of origin. Basically for two reasons. I grew up in a binational Central African family, thus I feel like choosing one country over the other is always incomplete and incorrect, because I am the result of both.

The second reason is ideological. Again, ever since I left my hometown in Cameroon, I encountered and lived amongst Africans of many origins, languages, religions and skin colours. I learned to love them and to recognise what we have in common, as human beings, and also as Africans. Also, since I started learning about African history and modern International Relations, I discovered Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and his Pan-Africanism. I am a strong supporter of this movement. I mean, looking around and the way international affairs and realpolitik works, I truly believe the only option African countries have to rise is unity in order to speak with the same voice in many issues, from International trade, the UN Security Council to Cultural dignity and Education. I get very upset each time I see the divisions and blood-soaked fighting amongst brother countries and territories whose borders were traced by foreign invaders, and preserved by domestic selfish governors.

But I guess the early indoctrination at Primary School has worked well. Cameroon has been in an internal war since November 2016. There is plenty of information on the Internet about the escalating violence, the videos of schools burned down by the radical pro-separation; the videos of Government’s soldiers humiliating and torturing civilians, or burning entire villages with people within. This is the same old sad African story. A dictatorship considered ‘acceptable’ by a corrupt elite inside, and but and hypocritical international community, who has been going on smoothly for some 35 years. Many advancement were made. Especially regarding education access, but corruption and political repression have been their major issues, along with basic utility access like water or lighting. Repression is in fact the main cause of the war. The English speaking minority has been protesting against discrimination in the access to the countries budget, civil service, political power, equal access to justice and to education… All evident by the language. 80% French Speaking over 20 % English speaking. An officially bilingual country where all the power is concentrated in one side, and the president doesn’t speak a work of English.

It all started with the lawyers and teachers protesting and striking. The government acted the only way they know. Using our armed forces against us, the citizens they are supposed to protect. Then the students participated. And then other public figures such as civil associations and journalists… They were arrested and charged with terrorism and hostility against the nation… The radicaled said that, since the government is not open to dialogue, but to oppression as always, they would fight back, using firearms and all possible weapons…

At first the government acted as if nothing had happened. There was no problem at all. Then it blocked access to independent media to the two regions. It launched a propaganda campaign to convince the majority of the populations that our Anglophones brothers hated us, wanted to divide a country by violence, they did not want our children and neighbors to study at their schools and universities because they were Francophones. Now, it seemed the territory  borders inherited from France and UK were sacro saint, intouchable. So intouchable that even discussing about federalism deserved death.

I am beyond heartbroken. You cannot imagine how painful is to see fellow-brothers die because of elderly politicians who only care about their power and pride. People who will die in the near or midterm, but have hold the country hostage during decades and want to continue doing so. It’s frustrating because the use language as an excuse, when we all know it’s about much more than that. These people are complaining against being the last class citizen in a country drowned in systemic corruption and nepotism. Language is just the visible tool used to marginalise them. It could have been their ethnicity or skin color. Yet language is a the human tool of communication and understanding. Having a bilingual country is a blessing many people don’t have. It should make us proud, not divide us further.

But well, dear readers, please search for more information and accounts about this tragedy. This is only my interpretation, of course I am subjective. Try to read news in both French and English, both from African and extra-African media outlets. And share. If you see a Cameroonian out there, sobbing or absent-minded, remember we are in sorrow these days. Maybe tomorrow things will change.

As for the personal level, well things have not changed a lot lately. My status as an open homosexual is still a troublesome topic within my family, much more than I expected. Some violence has been going on. I was sent a video of transvestite being lynched in Cameroon, as a threat wo that I could see what expects me, which saddens me a lot… But well. Such is life, right? We are meant to deal with the violence for being the first ones. Many people in the continent suffer worse faiths, as I could see.

Yesterday my mum sent me two pictures of the girl my grandma ‘picked’ to be my wife. Itis the beautiful daughter of dear friend of our family. A man I respect and hold dear to my heart because he took care of my dying uncle. She looks so young, so fierce and innocent. I wonder if she is even 20. If she had time to finish college or even high school. What are her dreams. I wonder if she has been asked her opinion about marrying an man she only met once at most, someone who grew up in a different culture and for whom she may feel no attraction at all. I wonder how would I feel if I accepted to marry her despite feeling deep down that I would never desire her the way she deserves.  That I would likely cheat on her with a man. I wonder how would she feel if I told her that I am a gay man. Everything is so intertwined and so complicated. I said ‘ no more pictures, please’. If I accepted this deal in order to have a child, it could well be the beginning of a wonderful life of social acceptance and domestic suicide, involving two families in the drama, maybe children and grandchildren. Another generation formed on lies and hypocrisy.

It’s mind-blowing that these ideas of arranged marriages still persist in our culture. Of course, this is how it was for her, so I can’t really blame her. Besides, I had decided not to tell her, it would cause unnecessary pain for an elderly person. For what purpose? But maybe I have no options…  This is delicate.

What’s your advice? If you are a parent, would you accept this for your daughter?

Sometimes I feel like I am almost dying…

Don’t panic, people. This is just a piece from one of my favorite songs and singer, ever. I am in a suicidal mood or anything like that. I just felt like writing a bit here.

Truth is life has been quite boring and aimless these last months. After my coming out to family, things have improved slightly, but still have to deal with awkward moments. I feel the distance from my family and this hurts me a bit. Well, life. Continue reading

Spain not so white: a difficult dialogue

There are not ethnic census in Spain. It’s therefore very dificult to really know how many non-white people live in this country. But we do know that about 15% of us have foreign origins. Mostly latin American and Moroccan, as well as Eastern European and Chinese. If you visit the country or live here, you will be astonished for the diversity of people and origins cohabitating mostly peacefully. However, if you watch the societal represented on the media, this diversity is almost absent. No wonder why a lady asked me in the US if there were black Spaniards. I could not understand her question… but looking at what we show to the word…

I have noticed that each time a black person is on TV, it’s because there are talking about immigration, or about their foreign status or racism. There are no black or Arab Spaniards on a daily basis, apart from certain professionals who are gaining more and more attention.

Latter this week I was watching the TV news while eating at midday. In all the news, I saw no person who was not a white Spaniard. Then at night,  there was a political program where citizens from all over would ask question to one of the mayor political figures nowadays nationwide. Different ideologies, different regions, sexes, but all entirely white. I was somehow shocked by the representation they chose to make of the country, it was so mono-racial. I do pay my taxes and have concerns beyond immigration issues or racism. I care about minimum wage, about mortgages for the youth, about culture and education…

Spain just got its first black deputy of the parlament one year ago. It wasn’t a big deal unlike in Italy. But, two events have called my attention recently.

An online campaign was launched by Spaniards who were fedup of their non representation on the public arena and imaginary. The hashtag was: España no tan Blanco (Spain not soWhite). This was very aggressively criticized by people who clearly did not accept this possibility and said there are no black/asian/arab/mixed-raced Spaniards but all foreigners.

One of their supporters was Moha Gerehou, a journalist and activist quite known nationally for his controversial videos about racism in Spain from his position as a public person. Well, some bastards responded auctioning his body on Twitter. Of course, he sued them. The verdict was recently  made public. Fined.

Another issue that came across is a massive blackface in the town of Alcoi. The feminist group Afroféminas complained about their desire to get declared as a Cultural World Heritage activiy by the UNESCO. They started with an article written by a historian proving the original connection of this festivity with slavery. The reponse was a massive denial and refusal to even listening to them. They received threaths online, on Facebook and even on Change.org. I can not say I am surprised. But I was astonished by the virulence of the denial, and by the lack of almost any support from media- who were very biased about this news- and the politicians, where the only black deputy first supported their claim, but later was presured by her peers and party to remove it! Incredible.

Well, all in all, I am optimist. We are at a level where it’s true that most non-white people come from recent immigration ( some 50 years), and a big amount of us were born abroad, which technically makes many of us fall under the label of “foreigners”, in the neutral meaning of the word. I do see this as scary sign, because some parents transmit this ‘otherization’ of non-white spaniards to their children, who go to school and play with children of all colors and origins everyday.

This reminds me of when my little cousin, a Spanish-born beautiful girl, was told by a class-mate that she could not be Spanish because she is black. Or the Spanish embassy in France asking her mother  by the phone wheter she was sure their children were Spaniards. I told her to let me contact them, so that I could send them a copy of citizenship laws.

And no, Spain is not only white. It’s also black, yellow, brown, blue and green. All colors in one.

How do gay/lesbian Africans survive homophobia?

As you can tell, this post is very straight and goes to the point.

As promised in my last post in November, I felt ready at 30 years old, to tell my parents that I am gay and intend to live my life as openly as I can. ( Do not think of me as a pictoresque exhibitionist, but yeah, once in a time I hug and kiss my boyfriend when we reunite).

November was a good month. Midway that poetic Fall month was my birthday. I decided to let the celebration time pass. To have a last happy family portrait in my memoir and after that, I wrote a lenghty letter to my mum telling her what’s was like to be gay all these years and what I have gone trough.

November passed. I had a wonderful and birthday party full of love and presents. All looked so perfect after some many years celebrating always abroad, famililess. And them came December. I printed the letter and kept it home for some days. And then a Saturday, I went to visit them and took the letter with me. Before come back, I dropped the letter in the mailbox and later called my brother to make sure mum did read it the next day after work.

I told her of the many times I thought about suicide. I told her how sad and lost I felt when I turned 18 and realized I was actually gay and started to envision my future life, which was unthinkable, despite the governement had just passed a law legalising same-sex marriage. I told her how hard it was trying to focus on my studies, keeping safe and feeling so alone in so many cities and countries far away from home. That I had decided to assume this aspect of my life fully and live an authentic life under any circumstances. After all, we are born alone and definitely die alone. And I told her I have been dating a guy for more than a year now. Above all, I told her I would keep on fighting as she had taught to do during these many years. And that I would wait for her to be ready to talk and express our views and feelings.

And Sunday arrived. She read it. Together with my brother, cousin and her current partner.

The first feedback was from my 26 year-old brother saying me: Incredible, but mum is well alive after reading your letter. We love you and will always be here to walk together. Be calm.

Mum cried deeply and then went to bed. My cousin called my other auntie from a closer city with cries, frightening her with no answers. In turn, she called me to get a hint on what was going wrong at home. I said nothing.

Other’s feedback were not so supportive. Auntie and cousin, two young women (46 and 32 respectively) came to my house to confirm the content of my letter face to face. There were cries, yellings, threats, emotional blackmailing, and beggings. They said it was all mental problem; that if I wanted I could really change and be ‘normal’, with a wife and children. They were in shock when I told them I had always been like that since I was a child, back in Africa. I challenged them too try and change theirselves to become lesbians. And asked them when did they chose to become straight. They kept saying it was some ‘bad influence from white friends’. Yeah, they think I ‘became’ gay by associating and assimilating too much to Spanish lifestyle. After a heated argument they left.  Well, after all it was not so bad, right?

wait. On next day, I my break from work, I received a call by my other auntie from Paris. After confirming what she had heard from her sisters, she started yelling at me. She basically threatened my with telling my grandma and making me responsible for her possible heart attack. That she would tell her daughters, my beloved little cousins with whom I am really close and treat as my nieces. They also blackmailed me as being a bad example for them and all the kids of the family. But she specially cared what other relatives would say, what people would say about a gay heir in their family, what a shame and curse! If I did not abandoned that life and found a wife and have kids, then I must forget about her and her children, said. They children I has been helping to raise and taken care of since the death of her husband some 8 years ago. Yes, those kids who love me so much. Well, I said it was her decision, not mine. She kept yelling and I hanged up.

My other 26-year-old cousin living in Paris gave me total support. And my current step-father, my mother’s partner, said nothing as always. He remained indifferent and told the other he already knew, but did not want to interfere in others’ business, which made my mother really mad.

Mum remained silent and depressed.  A week after, she came to my house on my request so that we could talk. Maybe I was impatient. And worried. I needed her to say something. And so she came.

She started crying and saying she felt deeply desappointed and sad not because I was gay, but because I did not trust her. That she had been worried about me for a long time and could not imagine what was wrong. She also thought about me being gay, but did not have clear reasons to think so, and was confused. But she also said something I never expected. She told that, she too, had had feelings for same-sex partners. And had tried and then repulsed that part of herself. She had prefered to live a heterosexual life and ‘eliminate’ that orientation. Because it was not the life she wanted, what she saw around her and also because being married to a man was her only choice to survive from a really poor family. And she was happy with her choice.

I first thought it was just teenager sexual curiosity. But she said that even today she felt attracted to beautiful women, but just chose not to speak loudly and change her mind. She also liked men, but they  needed to be special and very virile.

I was totally out of my breath. I felt so sorry for her. But she said she was happy this way. And also that I was not the first or last person to feel this way in the family. Many grandparents had sex with other men, but married to women and kept a traditional family. For generations. And she suggested that I should maybe do the same, although she would not try to convince me. She would respect my decision although she thought this was not feasable back in Africa with all the family members. And that I should try to have kids anyways, regardless of my chosen partner.

All of a sudden I felt as if I had been living in a family of hypocrites. When grandparents can be gays but it’s okay if they marry a women and have children. Everything for the lineage and the reputation.

After the cries and drama, she wanted to make sure I wasn’t just impotent with women. That I had actually tried with more than one woman and so on. I said no. I am sorry but at this age I have made all the tests before 20. Many years ago.

She left asking me to think about my life plans, regarding family and kids.

And that was it. And know I wonder how do gay Africans who live in the continent cope with this? Please if you read me and you are in this situation, share your experience.

They say being gay in Africa is dangerous and acceptable. All I see is denial and hypocrisy. I could well abide and marry a lesbian woman in the same situation and have kids, but I want this social fake to end. I want the next generations to be happy no matter what society says. This is the kind of family I want, not the one I heard.

I am sure it doesn’t matter as long as you are married and have some social power and influence. And I do not intend to give up my continent for this reason. I need to read about other peoples experiences in similar situations in ther countries. How did they succeed?

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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.

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!