Did you know that cheap dollar stores in Spain are called chinos? Given that 99.9% of those stores are owned by Chinese, it makes sense.
But what do you do when you have Chinese features and one of your six-year-old student asks you if you own a chino? Do you get offended? Or do you realize that it’s because most Spaniards simply haven’t met a Chinese person who didn’t own a chino?
I have rarely been the target of intentional acts of racism while living here. The one occasion was when a couple of high school kids were walking behind me and started to “speak” in Chinese between themselves.
What the Spanish do a lot of, though? They stare. Hard.
At first, it can be incredibly infuriating. When I’m walking down the street by the time the third person is grilling me as if I were some alien, I’m ready to say something. But as I enter into my third year here and understand more about the Spanish, I realize that a lot of it is simply curiosity and not having met or seen many people different from themselves.
The Spanish are not keen on doing things too far off from the status quo. Tiny example: I love wearing my Reebok Classic Royal High-Tops with the tongues out, laces in, rocking them NYC style. My students constantly try to put the tongues back in. They just can’t understand why I’m wearing them in a way they aren’t “supposed” to be worn. Even tinier example? My Spanish boyfriend will walk around with a baseball cap and everyone’s head is turning like what is that man wearing?
Get what I’m laying down here? If dressing atypically will get you stared at, it’s inevitable that if your physical appearance is different, you will also be stared at. But as hard as the looks are, there isn’t often intentional mistrust/biasing/stereotyping happening there. More often than not, they’re just curious about where you come from and why you’re in Spain. (Disclaimer: This has been my experience after living in three different towns in Spain. Others will have had different experiences.)
Still, when someone pulls their eyes back when they see a picture of my niece, my blood boils. As much as I can understand they don’t mean to be offensive, it still is. Not to mention the biasing and stereotypes that surround “gypsies.”
Any country and people has their own stereotypes and acts of bias they commit on a daily basis. It’s human nature. And according to diversity experts, it helps us to survive. But like Howard J Ross says, “The question is what do we do with it, how aware are we of how it impacts our behavior?”
Many people who I’ve met that aren’t Americans often brush off my thoughts on racism, saying that it’s an American thing and it’s not as profound an issue in other countries. I’ve asked myself many times if they’re right. Are race and racism on my mind so frequently simply because of where I’m from and the history of my home country?
I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that discriminations exist wherever you are. However, in my time here, while there have been instances of those not fully thinking about how to address diversity, the Spanish have been friendly and welcoming and are more interested in the fact that I’m from New York than that I have mixed features.