A Black Girl in Spain
by Amarah Mckenzie-Lyle
I spent a year studying at a Spanish university in Toledo Spain (a small, beautiful town very close to Madrid), a town that once simultaneously shared itself with three different communities: Muslim, Arab and Jewish and hence referred to as the city of three cultures. It is therefore steeped in so much culture and history and no stranger to the importance of tolerance and coexistence. I can say that this experience truly opened my eyes; Toledo was not a big bustling metropolitan city like the London that I was used to and although there wasn’t much of a culture shock, I found the Spanish to be open, very welcoming, extremely friendly and always willing to help me if I was lost and were patient with me especially when I attempted to practice my Spanish!
Travelling in Europe as a person of colour, in my case as a black girl/morena/negrita often is a unique experience and whilst I had many good experiences occasionally I noticed that some people would stare at me or hold their gaze for a little too long, something I hadn’t really experienced in London where it is so diverse and multicultural. I was a little surprised to see people in blackface during carnival, as I did not expect this to be occurring in 2016. On numerous occasions I was mistaken for being American even after hearing my English accent, I assumed local people thought I was American purely because I was black and spoke English.
In Spain I found it really lovely that walking down the street everyone from complete strangers to your neighbours would say Hola or Buenos Dias. This created a real sense of a community. What I can say, is that I well and truly fell in love with Toledo, the city and the wonderful people that I met there. It certainly will not be the last time that I visit.
It’s taken me 23 years to get here, but I am glad I am here
by Mazzie Lafa
Hi, I’m Mazzie, I am 23 years old and I live in Spain.
While I love Spain, I have to say that some people generally have no filter. Maybe it’s because in Spanish the language is very direct, especially when people say things into English. I moved to Madrid in July 2013 for an internship and ended up staying for three years. My first summer was great because I was with a mix of different people, we were all “anglos”, (British, American, Scottish), with a mix of French and Spanish friends who came later. We literally spent the whole summer partying, it was hilarious, I didn’t really have to think about living the Spanish life as we were all there temporarily.
After deciding to stay, I became an au pair in a small town in Barcelona, Castellar Del Valles, one hour from the city centre with about 18,000 inhabitants. There I experienced all the staring, older and younger people, they wouldn’t even come and talk to me, they would just stare and I would know they were staring, they didn’t even try and be discrete. After a while I got to the point where I would stare back and eventually they got the point. I was there from September 2013 to June 2014. I learnt Catalan and got a job, but with a woman who didn’t pay me. I felt like I was losing my mind slightly and I became deeply unhappy. My unhappiness in Barcelona was due to a mixture of things other than just race; not having a strong group of friends, ending a relationship, not having lots of money and working too much just to make ends meet. Even though I eventually formed a group, I was still slightly unhappy with everything around me. It was 1 year and 4 months of loneliness, so I moved back to Madrid in January 2015.
During this time I wanted to re-establish myself, so I found myself the perfect teaching assistant role in a school in January 2016 which will hold me out till June 2017. Working as a teaching assistant has been a great experience, but it has not been all roses. I used to wear braids a lot and kids thought it was cool to pull on my hair whilst telling me it’s pretty; I had to let them know that it was impolite to touch people’s hair. I had a Chinese girl become really attached to me and would always rub my skin and touch my face. I had a Moroccan kid call me Ebola as well as the N word in Arabic, and once I told him off and explained the offensiveness of the word, he never said it to me again.
Another thing that has struck me while living in Spain is meeting Spanish guys who listen to rap music, thinking that I’m OK with the N word, when really I want to darles una ostia, (if you get that you get it). They think it’s a cool word to say and don’t realise how ignorant they sound.
In spite of all of this, living here has been a worthwhile ride. It took a long time to get to where I want to be; living on my own, having friends, being able to travel and see the rest of Spain. I set goals for myself at the beginning of 2016 and they all came true. I’m still in Spain, still going strong and I enjoy the life that I have and won’t give it up for anything. It took me 23 years to get here, but I am glad I am here.