Author: Kaley

Hey! I'm a 27 year-old woman married to a Spaniard. We live in Madrid, but our hearts are in Indiana and Zamora. I like reading, writing, blogging, cooking, and binge watching TV series.

How Speaking Spanish Influences My English

I was having a conversation the other day with Mario—in English this time. (It varies.) We were talking about my trip out west and an animal I encountered along the way: a chipmunk. In Spanish, the word for chipmunk and squirrel is the same—la ardilla. Note the article. It’s feminine. So, I was talking, and I said, “He had a mouth full of twigs. It was so cute!” And Mario replied, “I think you mean she. It’s la ardilla, after all.” Of course, he was halfway joking, but it still made me laugh. It made me think too. It’s so funny how learning Spanish has helped me understand my own languages: the quirks, the interesting word origins (etymology is so fascinating!), and just grammar in general. Guys, we do have a subjunctive tense in English. So pay attention.

Tamias striatus

The Whole Gender Thing

In Mario’s worldview, all animals with a female article should be referred to as females. I once called a snake a “he.” I don’t know why; it just came out. But nooooo, he insisted, snakes were shes. Same goes for la cigüeña (the stork) or la nutria (the otter). It made me wonder why, in English, we refer to cars and boats as she and most animals as he (until we know better).

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Your Spain Experience—Interview with Sarah

Hey everyone! I really liked the response I got to Erin’s interview. (Well, except for one, but when you bring up anything even semi-controversial, I suppose you can expect some of that!) So I decided to reach out to another woman of color in Spain, Sarah. Again, we “met” on Twitter, and she has lived in Valladolid for the past year. Now she’s coming to Madrid! But I’ll let her do the introducing.

Just as an aside to any Spaniards reading: With these interviews, I aim to highlight a different side of Spain and blogging about Spain. In no way am I saying racism here is worse than in the U.S.; it’s just different. And, yes, it exists in Spain as well as the U.S.! The women I have interviewed here like Spain, even love it.

Sarah in Spain

Describe how you first got interested in Spain.

When I was in elementary school, my hometown was predominantly white.  However, by the time I got into high school, the school was 70% Hispanic.  The huge influx of immigrants into my town made me really interested in learning about Hispanic culture and of course the Spanish language!

Going into college, I was most excited about studying abroad.  During my junior year, I studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain. I chose Spain because it was a semester long program versus the other countries that were only short four week programs during the Summer months.  I had no idea what to expect upon arriving.  It was by far my favorite semester of school.  Within four short months, I had fallen in love with the laid back lifestyle, kind people, rich culture, and delicious food–set a plate of croquetas in front of me and I’m basically in heaven.  Since that semester, I was aching to go back to Spain and live la vida española again!

How good was your Spanish when you first got to Spain? Do you feel like your level of Spanish affected how people treated you?

When I first arrived to Spain, I could not speak Spanish at all even though I had studied it for YEARS. I remember getting in the car with my host family for the first time and barely being able to form sentences correctly!  Haha.

I definitely had occurrences where people would treat me poorly or rudely because my Spanish was subpar.  For example, going into the supermarket or a shop in general and asking for something but you can’t remember how to say it in Spanish, you get a lot of eye rolling or general attitude.  This constantly happens in my bank! Ugh.

However, my personal favorite experience happened this past year in Pamplona, I was in a shop with a friend talking to the shopkeeper.  He had asked us where we were living in Spain.  I dread getting this question because it’s quite difficult to properly pronounce “Valladolid”.  Anyway, he asked us and then didn’t understand us.  We repeated it multiple times.  My friend even tried spelling it.  We said it slowly, we said it quickly, we articulated it, but he just did not get it.  Finally, when he understood us (after about 10 million tries) he yelled at us pretty intensely saying that we need to properly learn how to speak Castellano and that we were an embarrassment.  He yelled so intensely we dropped everything we were looking at and just ran out of the store.  That’s probably the worst I’ve been treated here in Spain.

La foto perdida

What did you know about Spain’s diversity and treatment of POC before going there? Did you read anything specific to help prepare yourself?

I didn’t know much about Spain’s diversity in general before arriving.  I had never read anything or even looked anything up.  I guess you could say it wasn’t even on my radar to look into any of that kind of stuff.  I’ve never lived in an area where I have felt aware or been treated differently because I’m a POC.  So, I never even considered that I would have to prepare myself to be a POC in Spain at all.

What’s different about racism in Spain vs. the US?

This question was particularly difficult for me to answer.  I think this is particularly because I haven’t been personally attacked for being a POC in Spain.  However,  I’ve had conversations with Spaniards about the racism in Spain versus in the US.  I had a friend in particular defend Spain by saying that what Americans would view as racist and unacceptable is viewed as acceptable and normal in Spain.  Take for example when the Spanish basketball players posed in a picture during the 2008 Beijing Olympics with their eyelids pulled back portraying a Chinese person.  Many Spaniards didn’t see the issue with that picture at all.  I’m not saying that all Spaniards are blind to what’s racist and not.  I would just say that this is a clear difference between what is considered racist in the US versus in Spain.

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Did any aspect of your experience surprise you?

At first, it greatly surprised me that there are some racist things that occur in Spain that Spaniards don’t realize could be even the slightest bit offensive to POC.  I’ve heard people say that Spaniards are just ignorant to racism.  I don’t think this is ignorance.  However, I think it is just the difference between how the US views racism versus what Spain views.  In America we have such an intense history of racial maltreatment that we are much more sensitive to racism.  I constantly have to remind myself that Spaniards weren’t brought up with the same racial sensitivity that Americans are.  It doesn’t make it okay, but it’s just something to think about.

What have been some positive experiences you’ve had? Negative?

Positive-ish:

I wouldn’t say this is necessarily positive, but it’s quite funny that this happened.  I worked in a small pueblo of Valladolid called Medina de Rioseco.  Let me first say, I love this town with all my heart and now refer to it as my own pueblo.  I stick out in the town for a multitude of different reasons.  One of the main ones is that I was the first auxiliar de conversación to ever come to the town.  During my first month as an auxiliar, I was walking down the street to my school.  An elderly lady stopped me on the street to say hello and welcome me.  I thought it was so nice and kind of her! Then at the end of our conversation, she said to me “You’re the first black woman I’ve ever met in my life!”  I ended up just laughing the comment off and saying it was lovely to meet her.  It wasn’t an offensive comment at all.  Just something I’ve never come across in my life!

SAMSUNG

Negative:

This is probably one of the more significant racial issues that occur in Spain.  “Blackface” is when a person who is not black paints their face black in order to portray a black person.  This is common in Spain particularly during the Christmas holidays as people start portraying the Three Wise Men.  It can also be seen during the holidays of Carnival in February.  At my school during Carnival, there is a great festival where all the different grade levels (teachers included!) dress up and do a musical number in front of the whole town.  The cafeteria staff portrayed the classic Sister Act nuns.  It was hilarious to see them all dressed up until one of them came out with a painted face and black afro to portray Whoopi Goldberg.  At the time, I felt quite uncomfortable because no one else had reacted to the apparent racist nature of the costume.  It was obvious that I was the only one who wasn’t comfortable with what was occurring.  Everyone just assumed I would think it was hilarious as well.  The worst part was that I didn’t know how to react, I didn’t know where to go, who to talk to, or what to say.  I felt that if I had spoken up about how I thought the costume was inappropriate, it would be just me against the entire school and community in general.  It took another occurrence of “Blackface” for me to realize how I should have handled this situation.

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I worked at a summer camp this past year.  Each night there were different activities for the kids to partake in.  One specific night was a celebrity night.  A group of the Spanish monitors dressed up as the Spice Girls.  One of the monitors painted their face black to portray Scary Spice.  Again, it didn’t occur to them that this was an inappropriate costume–especially at an English summer camp.  However, two of the American teachers took it upon themselves to appropriately speak up about the situation.  By speaking to our immediate boss who then spoke to his higher up, the situation was resolved.  The monitor removed the face paint was explained to why “Blackface” is racist and inappropriate.

I wish I had had the courage to speak up about my hurt feelings during carnival, but I’m grateful I now know how to handle this type of awkward situation. I believe that by educating people (in an appropriate way) on the racist aspect of “Blackface”, it hopefully won’t occur as much.

Did any of your coworkers treat you differently because you weren’t what they expected?

Apart from the Carnival incident, I never had any wrongful experiences with my school.  My coworkers were all extremely welcoming from day one. I’m grateful they never treated me differently in any way.  They were all very supportive of everything I did at school.  Additionally, the entire town welcomed me with open arms.  It’s nice to know that even though racism is a very real problem in Spain, it’s clearly not an innate trait of all Spaniards.

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What have you learned this year?

I’ve learned that it’s definitely okay to voice your opinion if you see something that you believe to be racist or inappropriate in any manner.  Sometimes Spaniards (as well as people in general) don’t realize that what they are doing can be hurtful.  Education is how people learn, grow, and change.  Stand up for yourself, speak your feelings, and help others realize that racism is a real issue here in Spain.

Any advice for future WOC (and/or POC) who come to Spain?

Don’t be afraid to turn an offensive, uncomfortable, or awkward situation into a learning experience.  If you’re feeling personally attacked, make it known–don’t just let it go and move on.  Sometimes the racism in Spain occurs because Spaniards are unaware that what they are doing or saying can be offensive.  If the racism isn’t directly targeted at you, but you still find it offensive, it’s okay to find an appropriate way to voice your concern.

Finally, remember that what’s seen as inappropriate and racist in America could be viewed differently here in Spain.  I’m not saying that makes it okay, it’s just something to think about.

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Thank you, Sarah! You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram!

What If Your Dream Isn’t Traveling?

Travel bloggers love to talk about travel. And, of course, why shouldn’t they? Their audience is wide: from fellow travelers to wannabes to those who live vicariously through them and their blogs, there are a lot of people who want to read them. While I love reading blogs about Spain, I’m not really into travel blogs as a whole. Why?

My dream isn’t traveling.

I know, you probably think I’m nuts or weird or an oddity. I like traveling, to be certain; I will forever cherish my memories of my trip to see my brother in California or my honeymoon to Italy, but I don’t dream of traveling like some do.

Not everyone shares the same dreams, I’ve come to realize. Not everyone wants to spend their 20s on a whirlwind round-the-world trip or living as an expat in Spain or Italy. Some do. And those people surround me! It’s a bit like being in the middle of a large crowd of people but still feeling utterly alone. I read some posts about prioritizing travel or doing it while you’re young or disparaging people who worry about their 401Ks while only twenty-four years old. Oh, and there’s this terrible photo that has made the rounds of ALL THE SOCIAL MEDIA:

People Having Babies Travel

To be honest, sometimes I want the babies. (Shhh!) I really do. I want to see the world too, but I also want a house to decorate, a yard to mow, a garden to weed, a family to feed (well, I do have Mario to fatten up) … Does anyone else feel like this? Am I just getting old?

They say travel while you’re young. And I have. I haven’t done 30 countries before I’m 30 yet. (I suppose I still have time.) I haven’t seen Africa or Asia or South America. There’s time for that too—if I want. If I can.

They say anyone can do it—quit their job and travel the world. But I say that’s a privileged thing to say. Most of the people encouraging this sort of behavior are white and middle class with family and resources to fall back on. You don’t see underprivileged people making these claims, and the expat community is kind of short on people of color, if you haven’t noticed. (All this coming from, of course, a privileged white woman. Grain of salt.)

So, those of you caught up in the travel-blog world feeling like you’re all alone: You’re not. Me too.

Your Spain Experience—Interview with Erin

I don’t remember when, but a few years I got a notification that someone new was following me on Twitter. I used to check everyone’s profiles to see why the person was following me of all people. The new follower’s name was Erin, apparently she lived in California, and she loved … Real Madrid? Odd, I thought, but I decided to follow her back. And what a good decision it was! Erin has definitely increased my love for Real Madrid, and she has shared her experiences in Spain via her blog but also via Twitter.

Erin has a much more unique perspective on her time in Spain than most blogs. Why? Simply put, she’s not white. A lot of the “Expat in Spain” blogs are written by people just like me, and that can get a boring and monotonous, don’t you think? After reading one of Erin’s most poignant blog entries on racism in the classroom, I thought about interviewing her, because you people must get tired of so many white-chick-dating-a-Spanish-dude stories. So here you are; I hope you will find it as interesting and thought-provoking as I do.

Erin titled all her photos "Me with ____". This is "Me with Hat".

Erin titled all her photos “Me with ____”. This is “Me with Hat”.

Describe how you first got interested in Spain.

Two words: Real Madrid. Haaa, no, just kidding.

I studied Spanish in high school and I loved learning the language, minus my inability to roll my R’s. Before she died, my grandma and I also made a silly promise to visit Spain together (she’s here in spirit) since it wasn’t part of her only trip to Europe. In college, Spanish art history became a huge part of my academics. Maybe had I grown up a Boca Juniors fan and my school offered classes on Argentine art history, things would be different, but after a certain point it seemed like all signs pointed to Spain.

How good was your Spanish when you first got to Spain? Do you feel like your level of Spanish affected how people treated you?

According to BEDA’s tests at orientation I was at the B1 level, which seems about right. In Spanish conversations I mostly nod and say “vale” a lot.

At school, my coordinator and teachers knew I spoke Spanish and were very grateful for it. In general, at bars or grocery stores, people tend to assume I speak Spanish, so aside from a moment of awkward staring, I’m treated like any other stranger.

But in other situations, if my level were any lower, I think things would be extremely difficult. People look at me and assume my native language is Mandarin or Japanese instead of English, and that throws them off. When I was at an appointment to empadronar, the funcionario let out a very audible sigh while I walked up and pretty much stared lasers into my soul, speaking to me as quickly as possible. His demeanor completely changed later, when he asked for my passport and saw that I was from the U.S. He even spoke slower for me.

What did you know about Spain’s diversity and treatment of POC before going there? Did you read anything specific (blogs, articles, books) to help prepare yourself?

If someone has suggestions for all of the above, I would love to read them. I saw quite a few articles about Chinese immigration to Spain, and one about Colombians, but my research fell short after that. I do know a bit about populations in Córdoba pre-Reconquest due to thesis research, but that wasn’t particularly helpful to my situation.

Interestingly, a blogger who taught English in Taiwan probably helped me the most. Formerly “Black in Asia”, he now blogs at Owning My Truth and his experiences were really eye-opening, and I encourage everyone (especially people looking to teach anywhere in Asia) to read some of his posts.

Me with sports

Me with sports

What’s different about racism in Spain vs. the US?

In the U.S., and California in particular, I mostly suffer microaggressions and the street harassment explicitly involves my race maybe 60% of the time. In Spain, and Madrid in particular, it’s 100%.

People are very open with their racist thoughts. They’re not afraid to tell me about the stereotypes they hold against los Chinos, nor do they differentiate between the many countries in Asia in making these comments. This isn’t “harmless ignorance” as some people like to see it, and it goes beyond the typical blunt manner of speaking. I’ve been told more than once that “my people” are causing la crisis because they’re taking business away from honest Spaniards. I’ve been physically assaulted, and while all of these things have happened to me in the U.S. as well, it’s happened with more frequency here.

I’m not saying one is worse than the other, and before the #NotAllSpaniards brigade comes in, I’m not saying all Spaniards are racist either. It’s just different.

Did any aspect of your experience surprise you?

In my experience, if the person is over 65, they barely acknowledge my race, or do so in as complimentary a manner as possible. In the U.S. we have that stereotypical idea of a racist, grumpy old grandpa stuck in his ways, but most abuelos have always treated me with extra kindness. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I look young enough to be their grandchild’s friend.

What have been some positive experiences you’ve had? Negative?

The cutest family in my school must be the Madrileña mom, Catalan dad, their 8-year-old Chinese and 3-year-old Ethiopian daughters. The mom is the biggest sweetheart and she was so happy I was there for her children, because “they don’t get to see a lot of successful women that look like they them.” Whatever tiny role I played in helping shape their confidence, I am forever grateful.

I mentioned some of my negative experiences in previous questions, but the worst was probably the last day of La Liga. Atleti was playing for the title, but Real Madrid also had a game that day, and I was at the Bernabéu. Afterward I went to meet up with other friends for dinner, still in my jersey since I hadn’t had the opportunity to change, and I am not exaggerating when I say that was one of the most terrifying walks of my life. I was not making eye contact with people, focused on texting my friends to provide distraction, yet I was stopped on every block (and in the metro). At one point, two girls got into my face and started yelling obscenities I wish I didn’t know in Spanish, telling me to go back to China and take my team with me. She reached out her hand and had her friend not pulled her away, I don’t know what would’ve happened. Immediately afterward, a large group of guys surrounded me and I had to push my way out and pretty much started running.

People are going to say it was my jersey, not racism, but that’s only half the picture. I saw plenty of people still wearing their shirts without being harassed the way I was. These people singled me out because I was alone, I was female, and I was foreign. Their insults weren’t just about my team, they were about my gender and race (the group of guys asked how much a China would cost for a night, if I trabajar como un chino in bed).

I know, this isn’t limited to Spain. I’ve been harassed for wearing San Francisco Giants gear in the wrong cities. But this was another level, and it’s not something people think actually happens with frequency in Spain.

Me with babies

Me with babies

Did any of your coworkers treat you differently because you weren’t what they expected?

There was definitely an “Oh…huh.” moment when I arrived, especially because the auxiliars were shifted around on the first day of school. Some of my teachers have been sweet and welcoming since the beginning, and I will never forget their kindness. Others took a while to warm up to me, skeptical that I could teach English (Funny enough, these were the teachers who didn’t really speak English at all). A few parents were always surprised when their children introduced me as the English teacher. It took a little convincing, and teachers I didn’t work with were less than friendly all year, but the ones I saw every day ended up being great coworkers. I was really lucky.

What have you learned this year?

That I have the right to be upset, angry, and hurt. Anyone who has met me knows that I am very calm (exception being sporting events); one of my teachers asked me how I could possibly look so feliz all the time. When I talk about the racism I’ve experienced, people tend to picture me as a perpetually angry woman getting offended about everything all the time, but I’m really not. I rarely react in any of the situations I’ve been put in, except to get away as quickly as possible, and I’m extremely non-confrontational.

But it’s a relief to have my feelings validated, to realize that I am allowed to be upset that someone screamed, “Ni hao!” in my face as I came up from the metro, I am allowed to be angry that someone grabbed my ass and told me he’d never been with a China before, I am allowed to be hurt that my students mock me and pretend to speak Chinese when I’ve only ever spoken English and Spanish with them. I have the right to expect respect.

 

Any advice for future WOC (and/or POC) who come to Spain?

This is a hard one. It took me a while to understand that what was happening to me in everyday life wasn’t fair and that microaggressions are more than what they seem (Chuks, the blogger I mentioned, has a great post on this topic), and not every POC has turned this corner. Beyond that, POC is a really broad category, and what I experience as a Chinese American is not the same as a Black American, or a Mexican American, etc. Some people may never run into the things I have, or they may not process it the same way. I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s experiences; what deeply offended me might not even register in someone else’s mind.

But if I could go back and give myself advice? Whether or not I want to be, I am an ambassador for my race and my nationality. When I want to, I can turn an awkward encounter into a teaching moment. But I also have the choice to run. I am not obligated to listen to someone insult my race because of social etiquette; no one is.

Me with my mom

Me with my mom