“Racism Does Exist – But I Have Never Experienced It”

I came to Spain to better understand the Ecuadorian immigrant experience in regards to racism and discrimination.  What I found was that racism does exist in Spain and it is apparent in the laws and policies constituted by the Spanish government.  While these laws and policies directly affect Ecuadorian immigrants, the Ecuadorian immigrants that I spoke with were not very open in discussing their own experiences of racism.  Many believed that racism was a problem in Spain, but didn’t recount personal experiences of it.  Often, when racism was discussed, people spoke of the racist government and policies that have been making things difficult for them as immigrants, yet racism was rarely used to describe experiences with these policies.

Ecuadorian immigrants spoke of the immigration policies implemented by the newest president that have made it difficult for them to become citizens.  Some even referred to these policies as “racist,” yet others did not equate the policies as a personal experience of racism, even when they were being directly affected.  One immigrant had been waiting a year since he filed papers to become a Spanish citizen.  He stated that before the economic crisis, it only took a year to complete the process and it was very easy, but now, it could take twice as long.  Despite the policies directly affecting him, he did not seem to think that this was a racist or anti-immigrant issue.

Whitney - Spain - Metro

Police inside a Metro Station

Another policy that was heavily discussed among Ecuadorian immigrants was the policy of police checking papers and legal statuses of anyone in the country.  While the police have the right to check anyone’s papers, they have been known to mainly check those of racial minorities.  One immigrant said that the police would never check the papers of a “rubia,” but that they often ask immigrants for their documentation.  While this immigrant seemed to deny that Spain was a racist country despite his own experience of being asked for his papers, he referred to the police asking for documentation as “racism.”

Additionally, many of the Ecuadorian immigrants that I spoke with were very open in discussing racism in Ecuador and its prevalence.  They noted that racism in Ecuador is based on phenotypes, education, and economic status.  The immigrants that I spoke with had a clear knowledge of racism, yet did not associate their personal experiences in Spain as racist acts.  Whether they were in denial, out of their comfort level, or oblivious to the racism behind some of Spain’s policies, Ecuadorian immigrants seemed to deny that they were the victims of racism despite their acknowledgement that Spain’s racist policies and laws affected them.

Posted by Robin Whitney – MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU

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