“Conciencia de los mundos miedo.” (Awareness of the world’s fear.)
During my experience in Valencia I noticed a small minority of people who looked like me. I was intrigued by the low number of those of color and wanted to do more research on such subject. Therefore, I went on an odyssey and found several people whom I met while in Valencia of course. They shared with me their experience of being black in Valencia, Spain. Here is what they had to say on the matter:
Kenny Province, 34 reflects on his first day of school as a little boy. He recalls his classmates taunting him to go back to Africa. Province said he let not their ignorance discourage him. Instead he used that as motivation to open what is now a local library called, “United Minds.”
He opened “United Minds” to provide a cultural space dedicated to the promotion and production of “everything that surrounds the African world and its diaspora.” A native of Valencia, Spain, Province stands as a product of a Haitian father and a Spanish mother. He says he created United Minds with a partner in 2014.
The racial climate of Valencia, Province said, exhibited ignorance, hate, and lack of curiosity for years around the time he decided to kick start the business.
“My solution was to show everything that never was shown in the school system,” he said. The store consists of a myriad of books with historical information highlighting the life in Africa, Haiti, and the transatlantic slave trade.
Books with figures like the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, President Barack Obama, and more stand proudly on the wooden bookshelves. Portraits of women with caramel, cinnamon, and pumpernickel skin wore bold stripes representing their heritage. Hair products made exclusively for black girls and boys guaranteed to groom even the wildest mane of hair.
Province said he goes to different places like Madrid, Barcelona, South of Spain and the Mediterranean Coast to promote the business. “[It’s] a meeting point for people to share and learn.”
“Awareness of the world’s fear,” Kenny Province was how he described his overall experience as a black person living in Valencia.
Black people in Valencia have pushed for their culture to be more prevalent and recognized. Immigrants from Guinea, Senegal, Nigeria, and more countries in Africa have swam over the city in the past years.
The black presence is recent, an explosion which occurred in the late nineties, according to an article from Afro-Europe. However, the history of Spain traces the footprints of African slaves who labored on this land.
Valencia may exhibit some difficulties with accepting people of African descent. However, change slowly pushes itself through the cracks of the city’s future. Province is not alone in his attempt to be accepted here in Valencia.
Julia Mochi-Erimo, 50, shared similar experiences as Province. Migrating to Valencia from Equatorial Guinea, Julia said she came to Spain in 1987 to escape a life of poverty and provide her children with more opportunities.
Julia and her children live together in a four-bedroom apartment-like residence. Julia also invited her neighbor, Margaret “Maggie” Avos, a vibrant, outspoken, and warm woman who served as Julia’s best friend since they came fled to Spain over 30 years ago to speak about the black experience.
Maggie wore a dress covered in reds, yellows, browns and more colors that united to represent her homeland, Guinea.
“For [being] black in Valencia you’ve gotta have a big heart,” Maggie said, while hitting her chest in a rhythmic pattern. Julia nodded in agreement with her best friend as she continued cutting a copious mango. She then went on to say that when you’re walking in the streets of Valencia, you feel different. Julia chimed in and said even on the television you become aware of your differences.
Both Maggie and Julia said the “black people are [are] poor, and they take their jobs,” stands as the most prominent stereotype in Valencia. Julia nodded in agreement.
“White people don’t like to work in their field. They don’t want to clean, they want to work in the office,” Maggie exclaimed.
Julia who works as a chef at Valencia’s Bioparc Zoo and said people expect black people to not work in high positions like their white counterparts. She said she noticed she was different when she came to Valencia and people would ask if she stayed at the beach for a long time. She said the people wanted to be just as dark as she but did not like her because of her complexion. Julia and Maggie exploded into laughter as she explained these encounters. They seemed to find it ironic how they were hated and loved at the same time. Julia’s children, who were born in Spain, also said they feel different in school.
Idris Abdulraheem, 30, came to Spain in 2008 to pursue a career in professional football, until experiencing a career-ending injury. Shortly after, Abdulraheem said he secured a job with Giving International S.L. A company which represents about 10 non-governmental organizations like Red Cross, Médicos del Mundo (Doctors of the World), Save the Children, and more.
Abdulraheem came to Valencia over a week ago but has lived in Spain a little over 10 years. He says that validating the black experience will mean a lot to him.
“It means that we will be more respected and valued because black immigration has done a lot of good to the Spanish economy over the years.” He added that he thinks if the people of Valencia come together then it will help the future of the Spanish youth.
Maggie and Julia said validating the black existence in Spain means, “the future of the children.” Maggie said the future of the children gives them the power to fight through the discrimination they sometimes feel here.
“I share as many stories as I can,” Province says, “to create a mirror where people like me can reflect.”