All of my life I’ve come up against racism, from receiving racial slurs and comments, to stares, to persistent questioning about my racial background from complete strangers. Race is something that I have always been and will always be aware of.
Last year in Andalucia, in my small town of Linares, race was not as much of an issue. While people would do double takes on seeing me, no one was ever rude about it. People were more fascinated with the fact that I’m from New York and would strike up conversations about my hometown and how I ended up in Linares of all places. And other than a couple of my kids asking me one day why my skin was brown and another smart ass kid who would bow when he saw me at the academy, I didn’t come across many issues.
Here in Gijon, it’s a bit different, and I’m actually quite in shock. I’ve already received comments from several children, some of whom are as young as six. Even walking down the street is enough to make my blood boil depending on the mood I’m in. There are no double takes here. There is only outright, bold staring until the person finally walks past you. Again depending on the mood I’m in I throw a dirty look their way or I smile and wink.
When one of my students asked me last night if I sell stuff in a chino (the name that they have for stores similar to dollar stores that are only ever run by Chinese people, thus the name), I couldn’t believe my ears. It reminds me of my 1st graders last year who said they didn’t like Black people when they saw me coloring in a character with a brown crayon and the Gypsy girl who said that all Gypsy people are bad. I don’t take offense from the comments themselves as they come from children, but it is the larger problem that they represents about the education of the children and of the parents in Spain that makes me incredibly upset.
The segregation of the races here is quite apparent. The Africans sell things illegally in the streets and the Chinese sell cheap products in the chinos. There are also a scattering of young Chinese children, the majority of whom are adopted by Spanish parents. All other foreigners are mainly Europeans, so while there may be employees of other nationalities they are not as much in the minority as I am- an Oriental looking, brown skinned teacher. I am quite literally a minority of a minority.
I lost my temper last night after experiencing that class. Sometimes I just get fed up with it. Sometimes it’d be nice to just be Nina. Not la china, not the multiracial girl, not the person on showcase when people find out my different races. But 95% of the time race is on my mind because 95% of the time it is on other people’s minds.
As upset as I am, I am also extremely grateful for these experiences. They are motivating me in a way like never before to continue on my path as an educator. As I delve into issues of diversity and multiculturalism with my bachillerato classes, I realize more and more that this is my mission. After being on the verge of starting a second Master’s degree in Multicultural Education and realizing that I needed to gain more experience before embarking on the road of research, I can’t help but smile at how apt that decision was paired with what I’m experiencing here.
I know that the road ahead is going to be even more difficult, but I’m happy to be learning the lessons I am now so that I can help to turn this tide of racism.