2016 Fall External Programs IES Abroad Richelle Kota Spain

La Bella, La Fea, Y Yo

As the month comes to an end, I reflect on when I first got here. It seems and feels cliché, but my head was filled with dreams of the last time I came here. I was just seventeen and on a trip with my high school from the USA. I was with friends and teachers and comfort, and although I got to explore a bit, I was never alone— not once. I can’t remember ever having to take the bus alone or walking alone on the street, navigating my way through Spain. I didn’t even have a phone plan. I just had my iPhone with wi-fi. So when I came this time, with the idealized images that I’ve mulled over for years, I feel shocked that I ever felt that way— that I could ever be that naïve.

As much as the country is beautiful and the food is delectable, I do have my qualms with the societal norms and the country. Touring beautiful cathedrals feels different. As an art history and Spanish major, I’m actually interested and not a bratty seventeen year old who wishes we were doing something more exciting. However, that comes with some the brutal history that doesn’t leave you feeling comforted. The history of almost all the cathedrals follows the same model. The Christians loved the architecture of the synagogues and mosques, but didn’t like the religion these people practiced. So, obviously, they murdered these people and either tore down the buildings to make new ones or moved right in! There is even a plaza right in the middle of Spain dedicated to the man who founded America (read as: murdered and displaced thousands of native people and also stole their goods and land), Christopher Columbus! Yes, Spain is a beautiful country, but the architecture is a constant reminder that this place is nothing perfect. It is a flawed country with a deep history of colonization. With that piece of history, it’s strange to place myself within and enjoy a place that was and is harmful, still to people that look like me.

It’s also strange being across the ocean and looking at the Black Lives Matter movement, which doesn’t seem to have an evident space here. News of home and watching unarmed black people being shot isn’t reported here on the television, though I watch very little of it. And although I feel safer here than I do in the United States, I am reminded everyday that the time of Franco didn’t end too long ago and Spain is still ripe with neo-nazis and fascists who are present today.

I just ended a call with my friend who is studying in Bejing, China. He is Jewish with brown hair and blue eyes, and said although he doesn’t feel that he is being discriminated against because he is white, there is something off about the acceptance and also tentativeness with which people approach him. I told my friend that what he is experiencing is “othering” or just being someone not the norm in a space. As we talked over the things we both love and hate about being who we are, where we are, I began to feel more comforted by hearing that this happens all around the world. I began to feel like he finally got a taste of how I feel almost everyday in the United States, and for that time, I felt closer to him than ever before.

So here I stand— the beautiful, the ugly, and me— right in the middle of it all. Maybe, what I’ve learned from the past week isn’t profound. Someone has definitely had to ask themselves questions about identity before in a new place, but as someone who knows that positionality is important, I unfortunately, hadn’t thought about mine much before coming back to Spain. And now that I know, hopefully, I can feel better being who I am, where I am, because change is never as easy as we dream it to be.


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