Letter from Spain

I didn’t expect it to be like this, but one’s expectations always go according to one’s perspective. Who am I, then, I ask myself now, next to the window of the living room of my new apartment in Seville. Outside is cold and raining—I didn’t expect November to be like this here, either. I’ve been a boxful of stress, tears, uncertainty, and news … a lot of news.

The trip started in Barcelona. Sebastián, my boyfriend, who’s from Chile, came to visit me and we spent a month together. We wandered around Catalonia, Valencia, and Andalusia, the eastern regions of Spain, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Seville, the capital of the latter, was the last stop because I had been selected to start a master’s degree in the main university of the city. I always wanted to come here; I always wanted to get to know ‘’the south.’’ 

 ‘’I don’t believe there’s anyone in the world in the same situation as we are,’’ says Seba, our arms entangled, walking down Recaredo Street. We are going to our temporary house, a cozy flat that we found on Home Exchange and that only cost us 15 euros per night. ¡Una ganga!, as we say in Spain: a bargain.

After two weeks together, as if the universe had conspired to coordinate it, huge protests start both in Chile, his homeland, and in Catalonia, mine. 

In the first case, people are protesting against the high cost of living, inequalities, and the fact that public services have been privatized, all a product of the neoliberal policies that were introduced during Pinochet’s dictatorship and that still prevail. In the second, people are angry at the sentences imposed on the politicians who organized the referendum for independence in 2016. 

We spend half of the day checking Instagram and Twitter. There’s violence, a lot of violence, in both places. It’s secretly thrilling; there is a guilty pleasure in traveling that allows you to disconnect from any trouble, even if the trouble is something structural that affects thousands of lives. 

We walk, mainly. I don’t think Seville can be discovered in any other way. Cobblestone streets, parks, the Guadalquivir River, the cathedral, churches and religious posters everywhere, colored houses with its traditional patios full of flowers and plants, the sunlight. Andalusian people are known in the rest of Spain for their accent. They don’t pronounce the last letters of words and when they speak it’s like if they were singing. Coincidentally, Chileans in Latin America are known for the same.

‘’What’s happening?’’ we ask, amazed, a young couple in Plaza Salvador, a square in the old town. I’ve never seen a bar so overcrowded. A uniform mass of people protrudes out into the street. They stand and drink, they laugh and shout, but I’m not sure anyone can talk with this noise. 

‘’Nothing —it’s like this every weekend,’’ says the girl. They look at each other and laugh.

We eat like in heaven, salmorejo and pescaíto frito, there are infinite restaurants to choose. We talk to cheerful strangers. We get lost voluntarily. But at some point, we are unable to disconnect anymore.

Seba will leave in a week and I still don’t have a place to stay. Finding a room is a competitive endeavor in Seville. The city is crowded with Erasmus students who probably have much more money than me and most of the apartments are already full because they have been paying rents since September, even if they weren’t here yet. I’ve seen rooms of five square meters, without a table, that cost 450 euros. Moreover, I started studying and I’m not enjoying the classes. I expected the masters to be more practical, more modern, more creative, more interesting. But it’s academic and boring and I don’t see how it could be useful.

However, these are only first-class problems. The real issue is another: will Seba be able to go back to Chile? And if he is, how will it be there? And what about his friends? What about his family? What about Chileans in general? People are still on the streets, asking for a new constitution, there are demonstrations every day. We find out that some people have lost their eyes due to police violence, that people have been killed, that women and girls have been abused and raped.

‘’Stay here,” I tell him, at least three times per day, but we consider my suggestion nothing but a joke because how could he stay? We don’t have enough money to maintain us both here. He couldn’t work because he doesn’t have the working permit, and if he asked for it, it would take months.

In a way, frontiers obstruct life.

On our last weekend together we wanted to go to Madrid, but it’s too expensive from Seville. Surprisingly, we find a cheaper flight to go to Tangier, Morocco. We take the plane and it takes less than fifty minutes.

It is only then, in the clouds, that I realize how close Morocco and Africa are from Spain and how far it seems to us. No one talks about Morocco as the ‘’neighbor country.’’ No one talks about the influences that Africa has had in Spain throughout history. No one taught us much in school about our Muslim heritage. And it’s funny because now I’m in Andalusia.

Ceuta and Melilla are two autonomous Spanish cities in the middle of Morocco. They are two of the narrowest frontiers of the world, and the only terrestrial frontiers between Europe and Africa. Each city is surrounded by a fence—much older than the one Trump talks about—built in the 1990s, but with the same purpose: to stop the entrance of ‘’illegal immigrants.’’

Last year Morocco became an important entry point of immigrants to Europe. The number of arrivals reached a record high as the route from Libya to Italy has progressively become more closed. But this started to change, too, when the EU decided to inject 140 million euros to Morocco, plus 32 million that the Spanish government added. ‘’Border cooperation,’’ the politicians call it. And it worked. The number of arrivals to Spain from Morocco has descended by 50% so far this year. 

We read a lot about immigration these days too. People arriving at Spanish coasts with pateras have become everyday news. We’ve heard a lot about this topic this year. 

But this October a piece of new went unnoticed in most of the Spanish newspapers. The Tarajal case, which investigated the death of fourteen immigrants who tried to cross the sea border of Ceuta in 2014 and who were attacked by Guardia Civil officials with tear gas, batons, and rubber bullets, has been postponed for the third time, despite evidence of homicide and denial of help that even the judge admits. The case was filed.

There are currently seven governments in Europe that include hard-right parties, and they are present in nineteen parliaments. So I guess it’s time for Spain.

Last year Vox, the national radical right-wing party, entered for the first time in parliamentary elections in Andalusia. They obtained 10.9% of the votes and twelve deputies. As elsewhere in the west, racism has been one of their main political tools to create a discourse of hate and fear and to attract voters. Also nationalism. They are against letting Catalan people say what they want and they think independentist parties should be illegal.

A few days ago, one member of Vox went to Seville and, after visiting a center for minor immigrants in the Macarena neighborhood, accused the immigrants, known as ‘’menas,’’ as guilty of causing violence and insecurity in the area.  

‘’There are zero problems,” said a Macarenan neightbor, flatly contradicting Vox’s statement. “On the contrary, cohabitation is really good,’’ said one neighbor. Many others agreed.

In the end, Vox became the third more voted party of Spain, but it could have been worse.

It’s Tuesday and I go to the University to ask how I can cancel my enrollment. The woman in the office hands me a paper and says: ‘’Fill it and it’s done.’’

I feel scared and excited at the same time. I fill in the paper immediately, though I wanted to think more about it, and I give it back to her. Then I leave the huge and beautiful main building of the University of Seville and go to Plaza de España. Next to it, there’s María Luisa Park; I’ve never been there.

While I walk I hear a familiar melody: the Spanish anthem.

I get closer and I see a military event, soldiers in uniforms in lines, completely rigid. They could be the same militaries that were punching students in Barcelona a few weeks ago, or the ones that attack immigrants at the border, or the counterparts of the ones that are attacking protesters in Chile.

How disgusting is the idea of an army, the anthems, the flags, I think. I’ve seen so many Spanish flags in this city, in the balconies or in bracelets that people wear.

When the music ends there’s a final shout: ¡Viva España, viva el ejército, viva Sevilla!

Laia Font