I’ve always been a relatively adaptable person, but living in Barcelona has pushed me to adapt to a completely new way of life. The places and things I have actively looked for or come upon during this experience reflect the ways that I have changed and I have not changed thus far this semester.
For example, the vegetarian, non-Spanish food that I have found—which I defined as part of my community in my previous blog post—has confirmed my identity as an American. I sought out this food in order to find comfort in Barcelona, but it has not challenged my identity in any way. If anything, it has confirmed my American identity and strengthened the privilege that is attached to it, especially the privilege I have, having grown up in New York City. I have always been accustomed to a highly developed, globalized city where every type of food has been accessible to me. Because there isn’t one distinct culture in New York, like in many American cities, I am not used to eating one type of food when I go out.
While Barcelona is growing more international, many of the foods I can enjoy at home are very expensive here because of their limited supply, so when I find restaurants that are not Spanish and provide vegetarian meals, I stick to them. Of course, these are the places that all Americans go to and there is usually an English menu, which doesn’t challenge my identity. Living in an apartment also doesn’t challenge me because I cook for myself to save money. While I am happy with my apartment and my roommates, I sometimes wish I had chosen to live with a host family in order to get a greater sense of Spanish life and food.
I have also felt more of my American privilege because of the political conversations I have had in my classes and activities. I volunteer at a Catalan school once a week, helping to teach high school kids English. We talk about many different subjects, but whenever the question of Catalonia independence comes up, the room becomes tense. The students will start talking about it—some will say they only speak Catalan at home, while others will say they feel entirely Spanish—but one student will inevitably shut down the conversation. They will always explain to me the emotional nature of the conflict and say, “let’s talk about something else.”
Of course there are also many emotionally charged political issues in the United States today. The recent March for Our Lives in response to school shootings is evidence of the incredibly polarized issue of gun violence in schools, an issue that does not exist in Spain. In Barcelona, the question of national identity is incredibly tense and ever present, involving political prisoners, corruption, and political suppression (depending who you talk to). The unemployment rate in Spain as a whole is incredibly high as well, and there is little progress to change it. Before this semester, the question of jobs and unemployment seemed so crucial in the United States, but our unemployment rate lingers around four percent, while Spain’s is between 16 and 17 percent. My spanish politics teacher put it perfectly. He said, “Tu país no es perfecto, pero it works.” My understanding of the bond between my American identity and my privilege has never been stronger (If I did not have as much privilege as I have in the United States, the political situation in Barcelona and Spain may not have affected me as much).
While my study abroad experience has certainly reaffirmed my American identity, the question of my racial and ethnic identity has been complicated. Perhaps because I am biracial, I have always gravitated towards other biracial people or people of color. My friend groups have been pretty diverse. Out of the seven people I spend the most time with in Barcelona, four are people of color. While I usually “feel whiter” when I am around my friends of color, identifying more with my Jewish side, I feel more Latina here because I grew up around the Spanish language.
While I am certainly not the best student in my Spanish class, I have a relatively good accent. People speak to me in english when I cannot understand what they are saying, but these moments are becoming less frequent. Nevertheless, I am clearly not from Spain. My professors have commented on my Latin American accent, which has perhaps contributed to the strengthening of my Latina identity.
However, as I am speaking more Castilian (Spain Spanish) and learning more about Barcelona history, politics, and culture, I am also becoming more nervous about my connection to my Latina culture when I return home. I feel like I know more about Barcelona than I do about Puerto Rico, where my family is from. Currently, I am on break for Semana Santa (Easter week). I have spent a week with my Puerto Rican mother, aunt, and cousin and have noticed the difference between the Spanish I am learning and the Spanish my family speaks. To say something is cool, for example, is “que guay” in Spain, but “que chevere” in Puerto Rico, or even just “que cool.”
I am anxious to see how my identity will change again when I return to the United States, or rather, how I will feel about my identity when I return.