A question I have often been asked is, “Do Spaniards like or dislike Latin Americans?” There is no simple one-liner befitting of a proper answer. The hispanization of the Americas was a similar process to ordinary colonialism as seen through historical examples, which also resembles the conclusion of a long fought war. History is often written by the victors who impose their culture, laws, tradition and religion onto the conquered, assimilating under the authority of King and Empire. Why not? To the victor belong the spoils. As decades turn to centuries, what was once a conquered and subjugated people soon begin to take on a similar culture as the colonial father, almost as clear as looking in a mirror.
During my short stay in Madird, I did not personally sense any sort of racism or xenophobia as a consequence to my presence. Physically, I am far from conforming to the stereotype of a Canadian formed by the world beyond our borders which would be, being blonde, blue-eyed and a polar ice skin tone, which could be something a more sensitive person could consider as racism. Personally, I would associate such a stereotype to Scandinavians – but we all know generalizations can often be erroneous – but it seems the entire world has come to this consensus. I speak Spanish perfectly well, having perhaps more of a distinctive South American flair. Throughout my trip, most people I met initially believed I was from that part of the world and when I said I was Canadian, the response was unanimous: “No way man! You can’t be because you speak Spanish properly!” I guess we can agree, that in my case, stereotypes tend to lose any validity as in many other situations. When people did believe I was another Latin American, I never felt that I was mistreated in anyway.
The only exception I can really make reference to was one evening, where I was in a bar chatting with some new friends I made along the way. The table beside us had three young Spanish buddies getting together for a beer after a long day in the grind. It’s very healthy in their culture to make the most of downtime with your closest friends. All of a sudden, I overheard their conversation as one of them said: “I absolutely love latinos! They are very helpful and know their place in society!” Now, the biggest problem with language is that it is all very open to interpretation, which is the process in which we identify what is said with what best suits our understanding. Of course, I felt offended by such an insensitive comment, especially being in a Mexican-themed restaurant, but also due to my affinity to a continent that had been my home for so many years. Maybe his statement was not meant to be ill-intended? Perhaps he was just trying to say that he felt his people were not particularly helpful and spoke out of place far too often.
Although, it would be hard for me to say that during my time living down south, people there admired the glorious people of the Iberian Peninsula. The world is becoming much more interconnected, which leads me to feel that we are slowly learning more about other cultures beyond our borders. We all have our dark side which contributes to limiting the way we think and are, which has generally led me to believe that racism and xenophobia find their roots in ignorance, the most dangerous of flaws. A person who has lived his or her entire life in the same city or country feels comfortable with his or hers grasp on reality. They have not been challenged beyond the minor inconveniences of living a rather sheltered life. They were not forced to leave every familiar aspect behind in hopes of bettering themselves in foreign lands. What they know, they know well and there is nothing beyond that. It’s because of this that when a Colombian is mistaken for a Venezuelan, a Canadian for an American, a Catalan for a Spaniard, we tend to feel deeply insulted. How can anyone confuse us for someone we are not? We eat, breathe, sweat, cry, the same way the rest of our countrymen and women do back home, and there is no confusing this for what it is not.
Spain has become a place where Ecuadorans, Colombians, Argentines, Paraguayans… well, I am sure you get the idea… go to try their luck. When we set up a mighty arsenal of suitcases to skip town, we do this because we feel where we live, we have exhausted any opportunity for betterment and we are convinced the grass really is greener on the other side. People who migrate are not doing so because they are bored living in the lap of luxury as their butler, Jeffrey, tends to your every need. As a consequence of this meeting of Hispanic cultures, some of the Spaniards receive these foreigners as the heroes in the frontlines taking the jobs they do not want to do while others detest the very idea of their presence, changing the world they have always known. For Latin Americans, they will always find welcoming people as well as more hostile ones, just like in every other country in the world when receiving an outsider who has arrived to set up shop.