Ever since the fifth grade, I have longed to visit Spain. Maybe it was my long time crush on Enrique Iglesias or the project that I did on Spanish culture in the sixth grade. Whatever it was, Spain was always on my list of places to experience. When I finally got my chance to travel out of the country during my junior year of college, I thought that spending six weeks in Spain would be a no-brainer but I choose Brazil because of the opportunity to work with and learn about Afro-Brazilian culture. It proved to be a grand experience that lit my travel fire.
When arrived stateside, one of my friends was planning to spend a semester in the city of Madrid. As she joyfully explained her plans to have her own 'Eat, Pray, Love' moments in Spain, my love for the country was ignited again. Fantasies of failing gracefully at flamenco, speaking Spanish, embracing the culture and tasting new foods enticed me. After she left, I spent hours looking at her photos envisioning myself there. The streets, the atmosphere, the adventure. I wanted to speak Spanish, and face my fears by running with the bulls.
What really interested me about the country was my discovery of singer Concha Buika. Here was a talented, gorgeous Black woman in a country that before I thought was only home to those who looked like Antonio Banderas or Penélope Cruz. Buika inspired me to dig even deeper into the footprints that people of African descent have left on Spain. While there is more work to be done, there are many spaces that champion Black Spanish experiences. Las Morenas De España is one that I am glad to have discovered. Deep within the cracks and crevices of the internet, I found space where Black women share their varied experiences with the country that I hope to travel to. The posts are different and the topics range from conversations on saving money to travel to accidentally finding love in Spain. Las Morenas has definitely added more flame to my Jelisa-Needs-to-Visit-Spain fire.
From the stories that I have heard from my Black friends who have visited or lived in Spain, I see that they have had encounters with curiosity, ignorance and racism. People may inquire about your race or ethnicity or call you "Morena". People may touch your hair or ask you about Black public figures, like President Obama. Yes, these occurrences have happened to Black travelers, but maybe there is no guarantee that they will happen to you. It is just smart to be consciences of these stories. Each of my friends have advised me not let the fear of racism or Spain's history of colonialism stop you from going.
There is something about seeing folks that look like me that motivates me to visit Spain. I am so grateful for Las Morenas de España and for the women that share their stories here. I am planning to travel to Madrid within the coming year. I just graduated college and teaching English abroad is one of my life goals. Las Morenas de España lets me see that it is possible. Spain will always hold a place in my heart and I am excited that one day I will get the chance to see the beautiful country I have heard so much about.
Jelisa Jay Robinson is a twenty-something writer, theatre practitioner and professional Spain aficionada from Houston, Texas. You can find her teaching Spanish, dancing up a storm and making her dreams a reality. You can follow her adventures navigating Afro-Latinidad at her blog Black Girl, Latin World and see some of her writing on the Lati-Negr@s Project website.