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LIFE IN SPAIN

The Afro-Spanish experience no one is talking about

It’s more than time that Spain be seen as the cultural mélange that it is, and arguably always has been, writes Danni Roseman.

The Afro-Spanish experience no one is talking about
Danni Roseman writes about the experience of being a Woman of Colour in Spain.

Let’s play a game. When I mention “Spain” what or who comes to mind first? Perhaps your mind went straight towards the incomparable  jamón ibérico, or the contagious, thumping beats of flamenco music; perchance you imagined a fresh, steamy cazuela of paella or pristine beaches.

If you try to imagine “what a Spanish person looks like” you may be inclined to believe that Spain is abounding with Penelope Cruz-like women and Javier Bardém-esque men. While the aforementioned guesses are not wholly incorrect, they are in fact only a portion of the full picture.

What’s missing, you ask? The Afro-Spanish experience. It’s more than time that Spain be seen as the cultural mélange that it is, and arguably always has been. That said, Spain is far from perfect in terms of economic equality and race relations. That does not mean however, that the Afro-experience and Spain are any less intertwined. How could they not be? There are only 14 kilometers separating Spain’s Southernmost point from the African continent! 

Spain and North Africa have a tumultuous relationship with plenty of twists and turns dating as far back as 711 AD with the invasion of the Iberian peninsula led by Tariq ibn-Ziyad.

That’s actually where Gibraltar gets its name from: Jabal Tariq in Arabic. One can find traces of Moorish and North African influence in Spanish culture,architecture, language, and cuisine. Every day, Spanish people use common words like Ojalá, azúcar, aceite, and jarra without realizing that they have Arabic and North African influence to thank for said words! In fact, 8% of Spanish words have Arabic roots.

So why then, does there seem to be such a vast distance between Spain and Africa? It’s a mere 14 km away, and there was almost 800 years of North African rule here, people! 


Map: Depositphotos

Let’s fast-forward a bit through innumerable wars, battles, territories gained, and eventually lost; now let’s throw Christianity into the mix. Catholic kings and queens, the Inquisition, civil war, a dictator and a country that’s learning what it means to be a parliamentary monarchy with democratic practices in the rapidly changing climate of the 21st century.

This deserves way more than one sentence, however, Spain colonized Equatorial Guinea, and held the African nation in its possession from 1778 until 1968.  That is, admittedly, an oversimplification. How else was I supposed to get us to the 90’s in less than 1000 words? 

Why are 90’s important in Spanish history? Because that’s when Spain shifted from being an emigrant country to an immigrant country. It’s one of the first times in Spanish history when more people were coming than leaving. Spain is at its very core, a mixture of cultures and has undeniably been influenced by its neighbors to the south, Africa. There are however layers and nuances, to the Black experience in Spain.

That’s to say, it is no way, a monolith. You have, for example, African children adopted by Spanish citizens, you have children of Spain’s former African colonies, Equatorial Guinea or Western Sahara, who were born and raised in this country, you have other African immigrants who have settled here and raised their families, and you have an increasing number of Black-American expats who now call Spain home and raise their children here either with, or without another Spanish parent. 

To give you an idea of some of the trailblazers in the ever-present and ever-growing Afro-Spanish community  here are a few references:

Domingo Antonio Edjang Moreno, also known as El Chojín, is a rapper, poet and activist who hails from the far, and exotic land of… Torrejón de Ardóz. His father is Guinean and his mother is from Extremadura.

El Chojín is known for being very vocal about the Afro-Spanish experience in terms of visibility and equality. In 2009 he also gained international recognition for being the world’s official fastest rapper (ask the Guiness Book of World Records!)

Rubén H. Bermúdez, writer, published author, photographer and activist from Extremadura. Rubén is very obviously of African descent, and he’ll be the first person to tell you. He will also probably mention that both of his parents are White Spaniards.


Photo: www.rubenhbermudez.com

So where does he get his glorious afro crown from? That’s a question for another day. We do know that African slaves arrived on the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century through port cities like Barcelona, Valencia and Cádiz. When Lisbon took over as one of the lead slave-selling and producing cities, Extremadura’s close proximity to Lisbon meant even more slave trading amongst the neighboring regions. While Rubén’s parents may be European-Spanish, he obviously carries with him traces of the complex history of Extremadura. 

Desirée Bela-Lobedde, a Spanish woman of Guinean descent living in, and based-in Barcelona, is a writer, feminist, and accomplished blogger who dedicates her platform to– as she describes it– Activismo estético.

She focuses her activism on reclaiming of the image of the Black woman (and man). Her goal is to equate kinky hair with beauty, not shame; to provide positive representations of dark skin, and to remove the stigma of being “other”. It’s a steep goal, but Desirée is more than capable. She wants to create a world where her children feel beautiful, appreciated and included in the narrative. 

The next time you see a Black woman speaking fluent Catalán, or an African child with the strongest of Andalucian accents, instead of complimenting them on their language skills, or asking where they’re from, remember that the African presence in Spain is far from new. Instead of wondering how it is they made their way to Móstoles or Sevilla, remind yourself that Spain has had ties with Africa since 711 AD and it’s undeniably connected to Africa on a genetic, historical and cultural level. Long gone are the days of: ‘but no, where are you really from?’

Danni Roseman is head of Content Marketing and Community at LMDES, a platform created by and for WOC who want to create a life they love in Spain, and abroad. Our platform provides insight, inspiration and the practical steps needed to make the move abroad through comprehensive courses, guides and in-person events. Danni hosts events in Madrid for WOC, enjoys writing and exploring this wonderful country she’s called home for almost 10 years. For more, visit Las Morenas de España, follow on Twitter, facebook, and instagram.

READ ALSO: 10 unbelievable questions I've been asked as a Black woman in Spain

Member comments

  1. I grew up in Washington heights just north of Harlem when that city was inflamed in race riots and everybody seemed to hate everyone else. Finally became color blind and easily see that people are better or worse based on the individual. I hate it whenever anyone refers to a human being by their race, religion, ethnicity or anything that groups them into a generality. But I do LOVE Spain!!!

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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