Friday, October 26, 2007

Racism and Immigration in Spain

One of my favorite questions to ask students when I was teaching English was: "Is Spain a racist country?" You can guess what the answer was. From a Spaniard's point of view, of course it's not racist. Easy for them to say -- they will never experience being denied a job or apartment because of the way they speak or the color of their skin. Unless they go to another country, that is. Then they may understand what it's like for some foreigners in Spain.

I bring this up because of the recent, disgusting attack on a 15-year-old Ecuatorian girl by a racist a**hole on the Barcelona metro. If you haven't seen it, you can find the video (taken from the metro security camera) on YouTube -- but be warned that it is very disturbing. (Though perhaps not as disturbing as seeing the perpretator of the attack enjoying some drinks with female friends after the video was widely distributed by the Spanish media. How any girl could let this guy within 100 feet of herself after seeing him hit and kick another girl is beyond me.)

A lot of people -- including most Spaniards -- are up in arms about what happened, and rightly so. And it has brought the issue of racism to the minds of many. And while most people acknowledge that the Spanish guy who attacked the Ecuatorian girl was a racist pig, they don't see the racism in themselves or the people they know.

I've been lucky in Spain, for the most part. As a North American, I am immediately set in a group apart from "the immigrants". I've actually had educated adults talk to me about the problems caused by immigrants and how much better Spain used to be -- before all of "them" arrived.

"All of us," I would correct them. "I'm an immigrant, too."

"Yes, but you're different. You're from America."

But was I really that different? One of the reasons some Spanish people dislike immigrants is that they often work for cash and avoid paying taxes. I did that for nearly four years. And yet, my students never had a problem with that. But I did. There's nothing fun about working without a contract, without paid holidays or social security, knowing that you can't pop in to see a doctor whenever you need to, knowing that you won't have a pension when you retire...

Although I had privileged status in the eyes of many (I even had a landlord once tell me that she chose me because all of the other applicants were Asians and Africans), the problems that afflict many immigrants were just as real to me.

That being said, you don't hear of many North Americans committing crimes in Spain. There is a lot crime (both petty and serious) being committed by foreigners in Spain -- primarily Latin Americans, North Africans, and Eastern Europeans. But I wonder how many of them would choose the criminal life if they were given a real opportunity to make an honest life for themselves in Spain.

The country has only recently (in the last decade or so) seen a huge influx of people coming from other countries to make Spain their home. It's clear that the country as a whole is still not ready to accept all of these new faces. But the more divisions the Spanish people create between themselves and the immigrants, or within the immigrant community itself, the more likely it is that the immigrants will become a serious problem after all.

6 comments:

Alice said...

I found your blog accidentally. I am so glad to find somebody who shares the same views. You are absolutely right! I have witnessed and experienced so many times the subtle discrimination that you mentioned. I consider myself fortunate not having seen or gone through the more violent type. I don't think the Spanish people even realise that it is discrimination, or they just don't want to admit it. My Spanish friends assure me that it is not racism. And after a while, I just stop talking about it.

musica said...

Thanks for your comment, Alice! I know what you mean about discussing the topic with Spanish friends. I knew, after the responses I received from students, that it would be a tricky subject to broach with friends. I tried on a few occasions and was sad to get a similar response (complete denial of any racism in Spain).

Are you in Spain now? I'd be curious to know if things have changed at all in the past couple of years.

Alice said...

I think it will take them generations to change that, and they haven't started yet. They name people by race. I know a woman, young, good looking and a faculty member of a university, but she can't come to Spain without her husband to attend meetings just because she is a Brazilian. They asked her outrageous questions at Immigration. I have a friend who has worked in NGOs, has gone to Africa, but she calls the Americans "judíos americanos". My Chinese friend's son, a mixed, was worried that his schoolmates might laugh at her because she looked Chinese, and when she went to pick him up, some children pointed at her and laughed screaming at her "chinos, chinos!". It doesn't look too encouraging, no?

musica said...

No, particularly if the younger generation is already in on the act...

Lolalai said...

I think in terms of racism, and trust me I am one of the few black people born and brought up in Spain, there is a lot but not more than in France or the UK. I have just returned from Paris and the hatred for blacks or anything foreign for that matter is ever present, everyday, all the time.....It is laughable to think that the French were the inventors of the "Droits de l'homme".....As to the Brits, try discussing how racist their country is and you will meet a wall of denial....Remember the Stephen Lawrence enquiry?? (please google it) It wasn't an isolated incident, but just a reflection of institutionalised racism in the UK.
Yes, you've heard right.
I'll tell you guys what: at least in Spain I can study a degree like the rest of the students and I don't have to be putting up with any sort of bullying or harassment like I was whilst in the UK.
Just saying....

sheffrox said...

Interesting post. I agree that Spain can be a racist country. Here is a great article that informaly explains the immigration situation currently in Spain.
http://www.relevantbcn.com/index.php/component/k2/item/3946-spains-biggest-problem