“THEY’RE GOING TO SAY THAT YOU’RE AN ANIMAL BUT YOU HAVE TO SHOW THAT YOU’RE EDUCATED AND SMART”: A BLACK GIRL’S INTEGRATION INTO SPAIN

I was born in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was 11 when I moved to Castellón with my brothers and my mother. When I close my eyes and think about my country, I see a beautiful, green land with great joy but also with more violence than in any other part of the world, where rape as a weapon of war is normal. Things happened to you when you were a child that later on you realize what they were and you appreciate the strength your parents had to protect you. The military and their uniforms that scare you. It’s hot in summer, you’re a little kid, your body is not sexualized yet, but your mom forces you to put on long skirts and loose shirts before you leave home. A police officer stops your mom’s car to see how you, a little kid, are dressed. Today, they don’t stop us and so we’re safe. Who knows what’ll happen tomorrow. I was a child with asthma and the fear I constantly had triggered attacks.

My dad always said we should have one foot in Congo and one foot elsewhere. In Europe, we’ll always be immigrants. The day white people decide to kick us out, we have to be able to go back to Congo. He was in the world of politics and found out that things were going badly in our country and decided to take us out of Congo to live in Brussels as soon as possible. He had two suitcases full of money so that if they stopped us, we would hand out money to have them let us go. So, from the Republic of the Congo where we were on a vacation, my father and I crossed the river on a boat and we arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with a Belgian friend of his to make it easier for the authorities to accept us. My younger brother, on the other hand, was squeezed in a backpack and carried by my dad’s employee just so that we wouldn’t get much attention as if we were running away. Since my younger brother and I were the youngest in the family, my parents decided to take us out of the country before my older sisters, and a week later, my mother arrived to Brussels with them.

For me, Belgium means my childhood, fun Christmas holidays and spending time with my aunts and my cousins. Immigrating to Belgium is very different from that of Spain. My social environment in Brussels was always very international – I studied in private schools, spoke French and English with my friends who came from around the world –  and had contacts with Africans. The supermarkets in the city sold our food, hairdressers knew how to fix our hair, and so the immigrants who lived there for many years were relatively comfortable.

I turned 12 in Spain. I thought we were going to live in Belgium in the long run but it didn’t turn out that way because my parents divorced and my mother decided to restart her life beyond where she could exist only as my father’s ex-wife. Thanks to her export business, she got to have a Lebanese client who was living in Spain. He shared his network with my mother and one of his connections, by the way, later became my godfather. With his help, we moved to Castellón.

I hated Spain. This country got me into depression. In Belgium, in my class, we were 22 students and among us, only 2 were 100% Belgians. So if someone made a racist comment, everyone else protested. I didn’t have to defend myself. But in Spain, everything was the other way around. My mother enrolled me to a Catholic school which was established 100 years ago, but in the entire century during which the school was running, it didn’t have a single black student besides a black girl adopted by Spaniards and grown to be super Spanish. Our teachers, although they had good intentions, didn’t know how to fight against racism. There was no protocol.

African parents do a lot of coaching for their children at home and say things like “They are going to say that you are an animal but you have to show that you are educated and smart”. In Castellon, I learned to fight for myself. Being educated and speaking Spanish well was my weapon. Negro asshole! Black whore! I had to create a barrier so that racist comments like that didn’t affect me personally, and expressed myself in a way that others saw that what they said didn’t affect me and they got tired of insulting me. I wanted them to leave me alone. At school I didn’t say anything, but at home I cried.

Here in Spain, there’re chocolate bars called conguitos. Since I come from Congo and I am black, they called me conguito and they sang the ad. The children in my group of friends, with good intentions, told me how much they loved dark chocolate. They couldn’t see that this comment was racist. I mean they tried to do what they could. But the mean girls at school, who scared the others, were pure racists. Once, our geography teacher put us together in a group but they didn’t want to work with me. And when the teacher insisted, they said they didn’t go together with the black one. We were in the middle of a class with more than 20 people! The only thing I said to myself was not to cry because if I did, they would win. My teacher didn’t know what to do – they didn’t have things like that – and he decided to separate me from the racist girls, and isolate us, which was not exactly the solution. We ignored each other. With time, the girls who were not popular took me as one of them. Time to time, they made comments like me pone negra (It turns me to a black person) or “Today I work like a black,” a saying which represents black people as angry slaves. At first, I adapted because I felt that if I imitated, then I looked alike and integrated. But not anymore. My friends tell me their comments are cultural – but something cultural does not mean it’s not racist.

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