Under the Andalusian Sun

Under the oppressive Andalusian sun, I crave everything. Not just a cold glass of hydrating water but a sugary Coca-Cola to make me feel like I’m in a commercial. I crave a mango smoothie and an ice cream cone all at once. I even crave less refreshing foods like hotdogs and paella because the heat has sucked the energy and the life out of me.

I imagine it’s the same for Muhammed Bakkali, a shop owner in Granada who sells Arabic crafts in a street close to Plaza Nueva. But Bakkali resists the temptation now that Ramadan has begun.

“It’s a question of willpower,” Bakkali tells me. “You can eat at home, go out and no one will know if you have eaten. But its about willpower, like a sacrifice you make to show you have faith in God.”

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Making a Living in a Ferrol Market

Cheikh Faye arrived in Spain almost 14 years ago, in A Coruña where he still lives to this day. He sells goods in a street market in Ferrol, things like leather belts, hand bags, wallets and teddy bears.

He’d rather be doing something else, he tells me, like working for some company in an office somewhere, but this how he has to make his living.

Back in Senegal, Faye was an elementary school teacher of geography and history. He misses teaching because it was his way of helping the next generation become successful.

“The best way to liberate yourself politically and economically is through education,” Faye said.

This was especially true in Senegal, he told me. Faye left Senegal because it’s a hard country to live in, he said. The country depends on agriculture for its economy and with constant droughts and a lack of water, problems arise.

Living in Spain also comes with its own set of challenges, Faye said. High unemployment among the Spanish makes it difficult for Faye to find better work, he said.

When he first arrived in Spain, Faye picked strawberries in the fields of Galicia alongside other immigrants and Spaniards. His job at the market has helped improve his living conditions and gain independence. However, he continues to look for opportunities to move upward and earn more, as difficult as it may be.

“Before hiring me, employers hire a Spaniard,” Faye said. “It’s a question of priority.
Unemployment is especially high among the country’s youth at almost 40 percent.

Photo by Luis Sánchez de Pedro Aires

Prosecuted in the Promise Land

A call came in as soon as I logged off the dial-up connection. I let the phone ring because I didn’t recognize the number, but the answering machine picked up. A panicked voice came through.

Back in those dial-up days, when I was about 11 years old, you couldn’t receive phone calls on a landline while you were connected online. The man on the other side must have been calling over and over for some time.

“Hector,” he said in breathless Spanish. “Don’t go down Iowa Avenue on your way to work today. The police set up a checkpoint so DO NOT go down Iowa, if not you’ll get deported. Te van a chingar.”

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Photos: Sikhs in Barcelona

Guests in Punjab are like representatives sent by God. For this reason, Sikh Temples, or Gurudwaras, leave doors open for everyone independent of their faith or nationality. Guests to a temple are served food and even offered a place to stay in the temple, if they’re in need. Hospitality is a guiding principle of the Sikh faith.

Still, I was nervous to go in. I was afraid of overstepping boundaries or committing some atrocious faux-pas in this sacred place of worship. But Jasleen Karir, my good friend and translator, calmed my nerves.

“I’m very happy to have been born into Sihkism because it’s so focused on community and humanity,” she told me as we took off our shoes and socks before entering the Sikh Gurudwara Gurdarshan Sahib Ji in Barcelona.

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Value of Tradition

Rosa Marina Gonzales-Quevedo is not a traditionalist. Tradition doesn’t do her any good, she says.

“I don’t think I’m a Cuban who represents Cuba or anything like that,” she tells me one afternoon in her Leonese home.

A painting of a turquoise blue Chevrolet from the 50s hangs behind me in her living room. On the same wall hangs a portrait of a young Cuban boy, shirtless by a stream, looking at the camera with soulful eyes. Those are the only Cuban artifacts I can spot in her home.

“It’s not that I have a need to continue being Cuban with the Cuban traditions. I know them, yes, I’ve lived them. If I go to Cuba, my mother is there, I adapt once again to everything. But when I leave again, I don’t feel anything,” Rosa said.

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Stories like my father’s

Plenty of things forced my father to leave Mexico. He was born in an adobe home into a poor family in Mexico, the eldest of seven children. He was charged at age 10 with providing for the family alongside my grandfather so he dropped elementary school and picked fields instead. He sold candy and shined shoes in the park in worn out second-hand sneakers.

My father decided to hop on a freight train, leave his family, his home, and all that was familiar to him behind in Mexico to emigrate to the United States. He was afraid, he says, not just of the perilous journey but also of his arrival and the new world that awaited him on the other side of the border, ‘en el otro lado.’ But he got on the train anyway, on the side of a grain car precariously positioned above the steel wheels on the rails because he needed to get to the other side, desperately.

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