Spain

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

 

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Un Tinto, Un Toro—Toro’s Wine Festival

Did I ever mention to you that one time I (along with three others) won 30 bottles of wine at the Toro Wine Festival?

Wine from Toro's Wine FestivalUh yeah, that’s all ours

I’m a big fan of Toro wine, as you may have guessed. Toro is a small town located in the Zamora province, and its wine is divine! (Sorry for that random rhyming. Really, so sorry.) It’s not as well known as Ribera del Duero (another favorite) or Rioja, but the wines from Toro are some of my favorites, perhaps because I’ve had the chance to try so many of them. In fact, I know way more about Toro wine than any wine in the U.S.!

Every year, Toro holds a wine festival, la Feria del Vino de Toro, in its bullfighting ring. You pay €5, and you get five drink tickets. You want to know a secret, though? Hardly anyone asks for them, meaning we were able to try more than five. Shhh! It’ll be our little secret.

Toro Wine Festival

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This year, the Toro wine board had posted that the person who uploaded the “most original” photo to their Facebook page would win … 30 bottles of wine!

30 bottles of wine?

That seemed like, um, a lot. All for simply uploading an “original” photo? I told my companions about this contest, and my friend Luis suggested the photo—and it seemed like a winner! After all, the idea was originality, and this was original.

Un Tinto, Un Toro

We took this photo on the sands of the bullfighting ring. Do you get it yet? You can be forgiven if you don’t. Toro’s wine slogan is “Un Tinto? Un Toro!”, which means “A glass of red wine? A glass of TORO red wine!” And toro also means “bull;” thus, the bull horns.

Un Tinto, Un Toro Waterlogue

We uploaded the first photo, and then I browsed around to see others’ photos, which didn’t impress me too much. There were a few selfies, a picture of a glass of wine in the bullfighting ring, and our photo, which we all felt stood above the rest. But of course we had to wait, so we just kept drinking wine for another hour.

IMG_0934Don’t you love the handy wine-carrying pouches?

After we all were feeling sufficiently lightheaded, we set off to have lunch, tapas-style, along Toro’s main thoroughfare, Puerta del Mercado.

On Monday, I got a private message on Facebook from Toro, stating that I was the winner … Where should they send the 30 bottles of wine? It goes without saying that we’re set for wine for the foreseeable future!

Have you ever tried Toro wine? Ever been to Toro?

So You’re Dating a Spaniard—Constance

Today I’m interviewing Constance! There aren’t many more interviews to go, but I know there’s more of you out there! Constance blogs at Escrito por Coquito.

Constance

My name is Constance but friends and family call me Coco. I’m 23 and have just completed my first school year teaching in Madrid as a language and culture assistant in a Spanish highs school and have renewed for my second year. I first visited Spain when I went on a study abroad trip to Salamanca in 2012. I fell head over heels in love with the country as most tend to do and decided that no matter what, I was going to find a way to go back.

Tell me about him!

I always feel weird answering this question because I actually met Javier online, and some people these days still find that strange I think. Before I left to study abroad in Spain for the summer of 2012 I decided to freshen up on my Spanish by joining a language exchange website called Livemocha. We messaged back and forth and then eventually had some Skype sessions. He told me he would like to show me around Madrid whenever our group arrived and I gladly jumped at the chance to experience the city with a native guide. I guess you could say that we kind of had a summer fling that ended teary-eyed and with little hope of ever crossing paths again. We kept in touch very casually for a year before I gave him the miraculous news that I had found a program that was going to pay me to live in Spain. So officially I suppose we’ve really only been dating for the past nine months that I’ve been living here.

Constance 2

 Do you feel that your significant other is a “typical” Spaniard?

This is something that my best friend and I joke about a lot. He is definitely a typical European in that he owns twice as many clothes and shoes as I do, several colognes to my one perfume, lots of polo shirts and name brands, actually likes to go shopping, keeps his body in peak condition, and shaves his legs in the summer (this one took me a little while to accept). In terms of mindset he is far from typical Spaniard though. Many Spaniards are family-oriented to the point that it keeps them from ever leaving their own city or even neighborhood. He couldn’t be farther from this. Traveling is almost like a religion to him and I gladly accompany him on his adventures. Surprisingly he doesn’t enjoy the typical Spanish “cafecito” in the morning and throughout the day. He actually enjoys a real breakfast every morning that includes protein which is a huge deal for me considering it’s my favorite meal and I’m also American. He does, however, get just as worked up about his favorite football team as any other Spaniard. I’ve had several near heart attacks while he cheered on Atlético Madrid in the living room while wearing his jersey in support.

Which language do you speak when you’re together?

Due to the fact that I am a lot more shy and perfectionistic than him and that his English is pretty good we began by only speaking in English when we first met in person- huge mistake on my part. The problem in this type of situation is that you can build a relationship on only one language until it becomes seriously weird when you all of the sudden try and switch to talk sincerely in another. My Spanish is at the C1 level, but oddly enough I would speak to others in Spanish, just not him. I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t really until halfway through my stay that I decided to get over myself and speak to him in Spanish on a daily basis. Now we have an equal balance of the two, and we’re closer because of it.

How do you deal with the “in-law” issue?

Not going to lie, it was awkward at first. They are really sweet people who have been very accepting, but there was always a bit of a barrier there I think. I loved having the typical 4-hour long lunches with his family, but sometimes the “sobremesa” would leave me grasping at straws to make conversation with them. The language and culture barriers added to the age difference made things extra hard. To fill the uncomfortable silences I used to just stuff my face which was always the easy option considering his mom cooks the most heavenly food. Now that my first year in Spain is coming to a close I am able to notice the huge amount of progress I have made in comparison with my first visits with his family. I am way more confident in my Spanish and am able to relax around them knowing that although I may be an American “guiri,” when I am with them I am accepted as a part of the family now.

Constance 3

What is the best part about dating a foreigner (and especially a Spaniard)?

Dating a foreigner is fun. It’s fun because every day you feel like a couple of kids rediscovering the world together. Not only that, but there is a tremendous amount of potential for personal growth. Dating a Spaniard is wonderful for me because they really do wear their hearts on their sleeves. I have never been with a man who has been so concerned about my feelings or so open about his own. If something is wrong he just knows it, and if he is having a really rough time he’s not ashamed to pour his heart or tears out. He shows no reserve in telling me how much he loves me or how hurt he is when I wrong him. He values feelings above all else, and for me that is really important considering I can be kind of an emotional being. To me this is the best and most refreshing part about dating a Spaniard. With all of the American guys I dated I felt as if we were playing some unspoken game called “Who Can Show the Least Emotion?” and it was quite fake and tiring. Oh, and you also get to teach foreigners fun things like “your mom ” jokes and “that’s what she said” jokes and watch them fail terribly but adorably.

Constance 4

What is the most difficult part?

After coming home from having to explain the English language, sometimes very badly and painfully, to teachers and students all day (I didn’t study education or English grammar in college) I get frustrated when I have to repeat myself or am asked to explain what certain obscure words and phrases mean while we are watching TV series. It’s really stupid, but after a bad day little things sometimes provoke unwarranted feelings. There were times when I would come back from a government office fuming and wanting to complain about Spaniards and the Spanish government to someone who wasn’t a Spaniard. As a country girl I often felt suffocated in a city like Madrid or started to feel homesick and take it out on Javi without even realizing the real reason for why I was upset. Really I have it easy considering we both speak each other’s native language at a proficient level. There are still times when I want to be able to use words like bodacious, amazeballs, and totes though and then laugh at how ridiculous the English language is like I would with my best friend back at home.

 What advice would you give someone who is considering starting a relationship with a Spaniard?

Going into things I was actually very doubtful. I felt that the cultural barrier would end up being too much of an issue and that we would eventually hit a wall that couldn’t be scaled. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Committed love has nothing to do with culture. If you love someone you put in the effort and you grow closer as a result. Cultural differences are easy to overcome when you are with the right person. In fact, I’ve had worse communication in relationships with people from my own culture who spoke my language. So that being said, just make sure that you are thinking about dating him or her because they are a person with character who you respect and who is compatible and willing to give the relationship 100%, and not because of the novelty or romance in the idea.

Do you plan on living in the US or in Spain long term?

This is a question that’s on the backburner for us right now, although we have both decided that we are in this relationship for the long run. I have already renewed with my program for a second year so we have that much figured out, and odds are I will renew for my third and final year as well although we will have to suffer long distance (the program only allows for two years in the same region). He’s coming to Georgia for the first time to visit my family with me this summer and I couldn’t be more thrilled. He is as dedicated to learning English as I am to Spanish and I could see us eventually spending a long amount of time in the states to help him meet his goal of fluency. I’m not sure if we would end up ever living in my hometown since it’s such a big leap from a city like Madrid. Somewhere like California might feel closer to home for him, but we’ll see how well he adapts to Southern life this summer. I think we both love Spain too much to ever really abandon it though. In the end it will most likely be a question of “where can we both find good jobs that we love?”

Constance 5

If you could import something from the US to Spain (and vice versa), what would it be?

Ideally I would import all six members of my family to Spain, but that’s far from being an option. Really the U.S and Spain are just two completely separate and unique places. I love the comforts that I’m supplied with in the U.S., but I love the beauty and culture of Spain. I hate all of the red tape you have to cut through here in Spain to get anything done, but I also hate that “quicker is always better” is applied to almost everything in the states, and family life and health sometimes suffer as a result.

How has being in a relationship with a Spaniard changed you?

Being in a relationship with a Spaniard has made me realize that the cultural barrier that I was so afraid of when going into the relationship is not so bad at all. I have been amazed by how well we communicate with each other and how fluid a system we’ve created with us both willing to sacrifice things to make the relationship work. He tells me all of the time how brave I am for living abroad on my own, how great my Spanish is, and how proud he is of me. His constant encouragement has built my confidence tremendously.

Constance 6

Interested in being a part of my Dating a Spaniard series? Email me; I’d love to have you!

Top 10 Things I Miss from Spain When I’m in the USA

So if you’re still unaware, I’m back in Indiana. Teachers have great vacations, and I’m enjoying a life of air-conditioned luxury at my parents’. I will also be attending an old friend’s wedding, visiting my alma mater, and heading out to Nevada to visit my brother at the end of July. All in all, not bad.

I love being back home. I will admit to anyone that I love Spain (especially Castilla y León), but home is home and always will be. Nonetheless, there are many things I miss about Spain while I’m here. In no specific order, here they are.

1. Walking

Who knew that walking would make a list? Of course, I can walk here too. We have a great trail behind our house, and I could walk to my heart’s content. What I’m talking about is walking to actually get somewhere. In Spain, even in Madrid, we walk to get to a lot of places. The grocery store, to buy bread, to see friends … There is just something nice about not having to hop in a car to go pick up some eggs.

2. The outdoor lifestyle

Once May rolls around, it seems that all of Spain hit the streets. Restaurants and cafés start putting out tables and umbrellas, and people seem to spend a good two hours sipping on cañas whilst chatting up friends. I love sitting outdoors when the heat hasn’t reached overly suffocating levels, and even though I’ll never be a fan of Mahou, I don’t mind it ice cold and accompanied by some free tapas.

3. Wine

IMG_0916

Wine is so expensive here! It has something to do with taxes, but sheesh. In Zamora, I can get a decent glass of wine for around €1.30. In Madrid, let’s say €3. Here? That’ll cost you around $9. Yep, nine bucks! It’s probably not even that great of wine either. (Apparently I’m a wine snob now too. My sincerest apologies.)

4. Fruterías

I had to write this in Spanish, because the idea just doesn’t exist here in small-town Indiana, except if we had to a farmer’s market, which is something else entirely. Fruterías sell fruit and vegetables, often along with other small items like olives, maybe eggs, and other things along that line. They generally have better quality produce than that found in the supermarket, along with greater variety. They sell some things, like tomatoes, year round, while others have to be in season (see: cherries). Some of these fruit shops are serve-yourself places, while in others you have to ask for what you want. At a traditional market, you line up by asking who’s the last person in line, and wait until they’re finished so that you can have a turn.

5. The fiestas

Fiesta Vendimia Toro

I don’t necessarily mean parties. I mean each town’s fiestas, their yearly festival days. Every town, village, and city has them. In Madrid, for instance, it’s San Isidro. It’s just fun to see how each little town celebrates. There is always a traditional food, often a sweet, which is eaten on that day. For San Isidro, they eat rosquillas de San Isidro.

6. Food in general

It’s my inner fat kid talking, but … ummmmm, food! There are so many foods here that I just love. Let’s start off with my #1: homemade salchichón from my in-laws, who really know what they’re doing. No thanks, I don’t want fuet, give me salchichón any day. Also, cured sheep’s milk cheese from Zamora, which you could probably find here in the USA, but it would marked up to sky-high prices. Honorable mentions: Campo Real olives (called aceitunas pardas in Zamora), homemade chorizo, salmorejo, lentejas.

7. Architecture

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I love Zamora, in part because I love its Romanesque buildings and architecture. There is just nothing like knowing you’re seeing something built in the 13th century. We were married in a church built in the 11th century! That’s way older than our country. My favorite styles are Romanesque (see: Zamora, Segovia) and Gothic (see: Toledo, Burgos, León).

8. Learning Spanish daily

I complain about this sometimes, because me da pereza, but there’s something to be said about learning something new every day. Mario is a constant source of information. I watch the news in Spanish when I can, read the news online, and hear Spanish all around me. (I don’t live in an area with a lot of foreigners.) As they say in Spain: Nunca te acostarás sin saber una cosa más (You’ll never go to bed without having learned something new).

9. Public transportation

Madrid’s public transportation system is top notch. It could be improved, of course, and it’s a bit more expensive nowadays than a few years ago, but for a guiri like me, it’s amazing. There are so many ways to get around: buses, the metro, short-distance trains, medium-distance trains, long-distance trains. All of it is incredibly efficient for the amount of different types. You can go to a website to see when the next bus will reach your stop. The metro comes every two to three minutes in the morning, at rush hour.

10. My Spanish friends and family

IMG_0777From their visit to the USA in 2013

What kind of person would I be if I didn’t say this? My Spanish family has taken me in as one of their own. Mario’s godmother and cousin refers to me as prima (cousin). My father-in-law has taken up English, and he’s getting pretty good at it! M mother-in-law is an amazing cook and the prototypical Spanish madre. Everyone treats me phenomenally. And of course Mario is the best of them all! I won’t brag on him too much, though—just know he’s el mejor.

What things do you like most about living in Spain or which things do you miss now that you no longer live there?