The Questions 100 — No. 10: Danni on Being a Black American in Spain

NO. 10: “HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE LIVING IN SPAIN AS A BLACK AMERICAN?” 

DANNI (@DANNI_MELENA_DE_LEON

ANSWERS.

LOCATION: BARCELONA, Spain

#HC100Q

“The reason I wanted to come to Spain in general is because my Spanish teacher in grammar school told our class that we didn’t need to learn how to use “vosotros,” which is a grammatical tense in Spanish.

And they told us that we didn’t need to use it because we’ll never go to Spain so then we were taught everything else. And here I am and I had to learn it again because she told us this wasn’t an option. She told us it wasn’t a possibility. 

#HC100Q

And there are so many Black Americans; there are so many English speakers here; there are so many people of color living in Spain who may have heard the same thing and imagine the people who hear that as a child and they just take that for what it is. When we don’t challenge the standards, when we don’t challenge the powers that be, when we don’t challenge those ceilings that people put over us, we stay complacent and we stay stagnant.

I want to inspire other women of color, other people of color to travel because I realize that even with the slightest snap, my whole trajectory would have been different. If I would have sat in that classroom in fourth grade and have that woman just tell me this isn’t going to happen for you, 90 percent of the people in my class who I still actually talk to, they still live in the states. Some of them don’t have passports, some of them never left and all it takes is someone seeing you do something and it can change the course of someone’s life.

And I do it because maybe someone needs that inspiration. Maybe someone needs that approval or they’re on the fence and they’re not sure. They don’t know if it’s possible and even though everyone else said no hundred thousand times, maybe all they need is one yes and one example.

#HC100Q 

Travel is a risk but it is an investment in yourself and take the chance on yourself. See what’s out there for yourself because again, reading things in books, hearing it second-hand; you deserve a first-hand experience. You deserve the chance to say, “you know what I tried this. I don’t like it but I can tell you why I don’t like it.”

When we travel we give ourselves a chance to write our own story. Because Black culture, especially American Black culture is so widely exploited that a lot of times people think they know what it means to be a Black [American], what it means to be a person of color. And by traveling we take our autonomy back and we write our own stories and we speak for ourselves.

And there is not just one Black experience. There’s not just one American experience so every time we take the chance to travel to some place new — even if we interact with one person — we’re able to create a ripple effect in our history, in our timeline and it makes such a difference.

Someone asked me awhile ago, “how do you deal with racism in Spain?” And I said it’s not pleasant when it happens; the micro-aggressions and things that may come about. It’s not pleasant. Racism isn’t fun no matter where you are. However I am still an immigrant. I am still a guest in another country speaking a language that’s not my own in a city that’s not my own and I understand more why they don’t understand where I’m coming from because I’m not from here.

#HC100Q 

If I had to choose between bad and worse, I would much rather meet people who are curious about me and treat me as other than be treated as other in a country that I was born and that does have the cultural context. If I’m going to be treated like an immigrant in a country where I’m an immigrant fine. Being treated as an immigrant or a foreigner in my own country, completely different story I think. Again, bad and worse when it comes to racism. I get that. But with that said, I try to keep in mind that their cultural lens is totally different. They don’t have the same context that we have in the United States so it’s unfair to project our cultural baggage onto them and expect them to know, especially if we haven’t taken the time to inform them.

What I try to remind myself of is the fact that there’s no Spanish Martin Luther King, Jr., there’s no Spanish Malcolm X, there’s no Spanish Assata Shakur. Our cultural baggage in the United States is not the cultural baggage that Spain has. Our cultural lens is not theirs. So when I come here I try and remain conscious of the fact that they didn’t have a Civil Rights Movement. They don’t have the same struggles that we have.

That being said, don’t let anyone disrespect you. Period. But take chances to teach and share versus constantly being on your guard and being defensive. It’s hard to fight about something that they don’t know about and seek community because it is here. Also just keep in mind that they don’t see things the way that we do and they may never.”

#HC100Q

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