If you or anyone you know is considering study abroad in Spain, I would like to recommend three books about African Americans in Spain as initial reference points before the start of the program. Since the beginning of our Madrid study abroad program in 2005, I often advise students about the African American student experience in the Spanish capital. It has not always been an easy task, but nowadays we are fortunate that there are more resources available to share with study abroad students.
During our orientation tours to one of the largest European cemeteries, the Almudena, we uncover and debrief on some lesser-known facts about Spanish society and its cultural values. One of the gravestones belongs to Frank Yerby, an African American writer, who left the U.S. in the 1950s due to a climate of racial discrimination that he experienced. Albeit Yerby is best known as the first Black writer in the U.S. to become a millionaire from his first novel, which was purchased by a Hollywood studio for a film adaptation, he moved to Madrid and died here in 1991. During the cemetery visit, we ask our students to observe the space quietly for a few minutes and consider the burial sites of some nearly 5 million deceased. We then explore why Yerby is scarcely remembered nowadays as an American ex-pat and mostly ignored, if not forgotten, as a member of an African American diaspora: It is often a powerful moment where students can reflect on the black American experience in a global context.
This year, the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. puts an even brighter spotlight on the many layers of race experience around the world. This is also creating a much wider interest in the study abroad field about the implementation of diversity and inclusion in global education programming. I have spent this past summer explaining to various U.S.-based colleagues on how our onsite student support network operates (or sometimes doesn´t function as expected), updating academic resources, rethinking cultural activities and providing local community engagement for participants in Madrid. Again, I am feeling privileged that students of color arriving in Madrid will find that learning opportunities have expanded and onsite resources have become more substantial.
Here are three book recommendations about African Americans in Spain that can provide students with a cross-cultural context in their adaptation process to study abroad. This is followed by additional local resources that are mostly Madrid-specific and listed at the bottom of this article.
1. Mapping the World Differently: African American Travel Writing About Spain (Publicacions de la Universitat de València: 2015), edited by Maria Christina Ramos.
This book has wonderful chapters about the African American travel experience in the 20th century. It dedicates chapters to Frank Yerby and Langston Hughes, but it also has research that unearths lesser-known travels by 20th Century African American intellectuals to Spain. One of the key ideas that this book promotes is their perspective of life from “within” the Iberian Peninsula, its culture and beliefs about race. This leads to interesting writing that helps to deconstruct the figure of the Moor that is part of a growing scholarly debate about the meaning and the role of race and racism. For several academics, the Moor is an emblematic component of understanding Spain´s history in the shaping of contemporary identity politics. And, in short, students consider how travel can transform you by reconsidering these travel experiences of African Americans.
2. Black USA and Spain: Shared Memories in the 20th Century (Routledge: 2020), edited by Rosalia Cornejo-Parriego
During the 1920s and the 1930s of Depression-era America, several African Americans idealized the promise of Spain becoming a worker´s republic that would be free of race consciousness. This book looks at some African Americans who came to Spain as artists (such as Josephine Baker), laborers, volunteers or soldiers during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). But it also highlights others who carried out middle-class professions such as nursing (Salarea Kae) or journalism (Langston Hughes). Their stories of sacrifice, solidarity and commitment reveal a depth of African American contributions in shaping an ongoing legacy in the world. For instance, Salaria Kae actively promoted and coordinated hospital staff desegregation in the U.S. after her work experience in Spain.
3. Kinky Gazpacho: Love, Life and Spain (Simon and Schuster: 2007) by Lori L.Tharps
This first book by Lori L. Tharps is a popular read among our study abroad students. As a Columbia University´s Graduate School of Journalism alumna,Tharps writes about her own experience as a black woman in modern Spain. This book can be a starter resource if you are concerned that Spain is a hard place to live or maybe dreading to hear comments that refer to “you do not look/you do not sound Spanish.” Tharps did a Podcast last year to reflect on her writings from ten years ago and wrote on her Instagram @loriltharps in June 2019 that she “personally already feel[s] more at ease as a Black American in Spain today than [she] did a decade ago … because [she´s in] a more comfortable period about being a Black woman in this world.” Even if her own confidence is stronger, her book chapters help you to reflect on stereotypes that examine cross-cultural communication from her viewpoint. One chapter applies humor, for instance: “How do you say Aunt Jemima in Spanish?”
The experience of African Americans and students of color is changing in part due to social movements such as Black Lives Matter. For any student who is studying abroad, it is rewarding and important to keep these movements in mind as they gain momentum on the global stage. Their impact is already visible with street demonstrations, statues being torn down, social media questions about blackface “traditions” and postcolonial product branding. Many community organizations and individuals in many Spanish cities like Madrid and Barcelona are also (re)acting for change and the conversation about diversity and inclusion is not finished.
In addition to these three books suggestions, CIEE has structured student programming and resources to strengthen an intercultural experience for all participants. In Madrid, we already offer specially designed college-level courses that explore common stereotypes of Spain in the context of race and identity – for-credit courses such as “Spain and the Arab World”, “The Spanish Civil War,” “Media, Gender and Identity”, “The Politics of Immigration” to name a few. In addition, students can enhance their knowledge and participation as part of their study abroad experience in contemporary Spain by connecting directly with local resources.
Here is an ever-growing list of Spain-based groups and media resources campaigning for a better world.
Social Groups, Language & Cultural Events
Las morenas de España (IG: @lasmorenasdeespana)
Online social platform and community teaching black women how to build a life you love abroad.
Centro Panafricano www.africanidad.com
Spanish-speaking cultural group, with listings of black-owned shops, restaurants, etc
Casa Africa (IG: @casafrica) or www.casafrica.es
Bringing African cultural, social, political and economic activities closer to Spain
Media, Communications & Journalism
The Black View: (IG: @the_black_view)
Media and news company created by and helping Black actors, actresses and artists in Spain
Revistas Negras (IG: @revista_negrxs)
Online media for Black, African and afro-descendant community in Spain
Ediciones Wanafrica (IG: @edwanafrica)
Editorial specialized in African literature and African diaspora in Spain (both in Spanish and Catalan language)
Lucia-Asué Mbomío Rubio (IG:@luciambomio)
Madrid No Frills (IG:@madridnofrills)
Local blog in English by journalist group who share untold stories of Madrid that do not make the news. MNF has a section on immigration, Black lives matter and other social issues.
Politics, International Relations & Local Community
Black Lives Matter- España (IG: @blacklivesmatter.es)
A community group set up by Spaniards of color who organize talks, lectures, video-streaming and protest coordination in solidarity with BLM in US and other countries.
SOS Racismo Madrid (IG: @sosracismomad)
Veteran platform illuminating, defending and fighting for the rights of immigrants and ethnic minorities in Madrid.
Asamblea Antirracista Madrid (@IG: antirracistasmad)
Campaign platform focusing on equal rights for immigrants and ethnic minorities.
Comunidad Negra, Africana y Afrodescendiente en España (IG: @cnaaeb)
Anti-racism, grass-roots campaign group created during the global Justice for Floyd BLM protests.
BeshaWear (IG: @Beshawear)
A Congolese seamstress and anti-racism activist, who converted her workshop into a food bank to help neighbors in Lavapiés affected by Covid-19 economic downturn