Today I find myself about 26 km outside of Santiago in direction nowhere … I’ve just spent the last 17 minutes in a small café waiting for the proprietor to ask me what I would like to drink. In the slow 17 minutes that have just passed by I have watched him joke and serve a table of four, then pour wine and chat it up with a gentlemen who was seated before me (this was 13 minutes ago) and now have watched him serve and smile the other two individuals who have walked in since I sat down myself. And I wish this was the first time.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t wear my invisible cape today. But, appropriate this is happening, as I have been feeling a bit more uncomfortable than usual since Sunday (again) as each place I have walked in since Sunday morning for a café I have been greeted by topless Michelle Obama … the image accompanying this blog today. Last I checked I haven’t seen a shirtless Queen Sophia or Princess Leticia gracing any of our nationwide periodicals … and in googling I certainly didn’t find Laura Bush ever portrayed with her blouse missing.
So if they think that of her what are thinking of me? And now, as I enter minute 21 of waiting for this gentlemen to ask me what I would like … a simple bottle of sparkling water … I struggle to find a positive. (Side note: I haven’t left yet because I am meeting my significant other here shortly – otherwise I would have survived about 5 minutes without picking up my stuff and leaving as this is not the first time).
Being the only black woman in the room is nothing new, growing up in a multiracial family in Northern California, attending university in New England, and working in communities along the east coast. There are plenty of opportunities to educate and stimulate (have to try to work the word in here) each time you walk in a room, open your mouth, choose your reaction, etc. etc. … but living here has taken the “learning moments” a bit far … instead I am stuck with the feeling that I have somehow landed in a place that is the American South from a generation ago.
Again, I found myself “one of the only” on the Camino, but wearing ‘neutral’ pilgrim gear people here were always friendly – so besides jokes of being a Pere-negra (I do have a sense of humor most of the time) my skin color was never an issue.
With the exception of one house in Chancela (a story that has caused more tears than I would care to count), most every person that you’ll find along the Camino is part of the special energy that we bring from around the world. So that is the surprise as I now am on minute 28, and I continue to wait. At least, I can thank the guy for good material.
So, as pilgrims, or anyone from the outside world, we do have a special opportunity to stimulate those we encounter. Not only as a woman a color, perhaps as a senior citizen, an American, a person with a disability, or whatever demographic you count yourself as a part of. Galicia is a monochromatic place, the last stop before the ocean that connects back to my dear land of liberty so I find myself honored by the opportunity to “rep” my own mix of Black/Mexican/Indian/Californian/American … although today will be a struggle to find that positive. (There are now 8 more people here who have all been served).
But, the reality is, it is no joke that only when the very-same Michelle Obama traveled to Spain in 2010 did the U.S. Department of State quietly lift their almost two-year warning to African-American travelers to be weary of ‘racial prejudice’ in Spain. This issue is a real one here and I strive to use this as an opportunity to show my neighbors here in Galicia that people with a bit more melanin are equal to those without, and that it is not okay to put our first-lady on the Sunday Magazine’s cover portrayed as a baby-feeding Mammy. Not cool … not cool at all.