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.

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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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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.