French speaking Africans in Spain: a few notes on Valencia

There’s an interesting mix of African and South American people calling Valencia home. Whilst it’s a common sight on the news to see much of southern Europe dominated by the migration crisis of Syrians and North African migrants venturing willingly across the Mediterranean; one thing that certainly is visible especially at night is the presence of African men; Gambian, Senegalese and Malian men to be precise.

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Strolling on a local farm in Levante…

These guys are usually known as ‘looky looky’ men or manteros; and they can be found in the La Xerea, Albors, Arrancapins and Mislata areas (amongst others) of Valencia that I ventured through a few weeks ago. Many Black British and African-American bloggers such as Nneka Okona and Sasha Marie-Marshall  have highlighted their cultural experiences in Spain’s big cities and beach side resorts speaking mainly on experiences with regards to cultural differences and racial issues; and this is certainly true. But for these migrants; life is a lot tougher. You get a funny look when the petty traders approach you during a night out if you appear as a ‘black migrant like them’. Valencia has a lot of beautiful architecture and many tapas restaurants to enjoy during the night. And a growing hub of African street traders.

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Lifelong Nomad‘s Pics are better than mine! ‘Looky Looky Men’

Bags, bangles, handcrafts, sunglasses, fans, carpets and even kitchen knives can be found for sale within their large pull up bags and on the occasional woman’s headgear. I recall one evening on a night out with my Spanish friends in the ‘Cuitat Vella’ and ‘La Seu’ districts bumping into a few of these guys along the way and at our seats within at the Pepe Pica Restaurant at Placa de la Reina. Never did one approach me; my smile appeared to be enough for them to blank me and come straight to my friends. It did provoke some thought as to why I wasn’t spoken to. Perhaps they assume only white locals and white travellers have money and/or are more likely to spend cash on them. Or they’ve had predominantly ‘blank’ experiences from the handful of black folks they’ve tried to sell to. It’s an interesting question that I seek to further examine on my return to Valencia in September this year.

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Street vending without an allocated pitch is illegal in the country, yet in Valencia, a few hundred Manteros have no choice but to earn a living this way. These guys usually sell goods here (and guessing throughout Spain) that other businesses in town pay taxes to do so. No big deal. I’ve seen the same in Poland, Brussels and London. However, it could also be argued that those involved in selling these ‘real’ fake items add a cultural dimension and colour to the street life. Bambara, Wolof and Pulaar speaking Francophone Africans with interesting tactics, yells and smiles selling items that had they not been able too – street begging, more serious forms of crime and demanded state-welfare incentives would have been seen as the way forward. Yes – they are the same skin colour as me but for some reason at that moment –questions of my differences from them emerged. Furthermore, the dynamics between legal and illegal African street traders is also not so straightforward. As legal street vendors pay fees between €400 and €500+ a month to be able to work in Valencia and other big cities in Spain, they worry about the competition that manteros create.

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Fair play to organizations such as Tras la Manta, a collective of workers and activists that helps migrant street vendors to fight for their right to work in Barcelona and other similar community initiatives that help these guys which show that there is help (albeit little) nearby. But as the Chinese proverb goes: It is easy to love people far away. And that’s something I see growing amongst contemporary #BlackBritish blog circles and writers – myself included. The desire to back and join social solidarity movements on Social Media for the welfare people of black brothers and sisters and migrants nearby and far away because they’re black as the primary and focal reason is on the increase. But on the streets; when the same colour of skin from different social circles come into contact; the notion of differences and similarities become clear and provoke thoughts.

  1. Thoughts of pity: Perhaps this was a similar method in which people from my countries (Niger and Nigeria) started upon arrival to Europe during the 1980s and before.
  2. Thoughts of Sameness: What do we (both myself and these manteros) have in common? Are our world views the same? Do we both see each other as the same people or different?

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Perhaps many of our young ones who travel and meet African migrants evidence of possessing notions of Ethnic Gnosticism (to be explained in a later blog post); when you get that sense of Ethnic Gnosticism; it’s almost like you’re negating the fact that other people have backgrounds – and that’s a huge problem. Another problem is that you reduce the black experience like there is ‘a black culture’. Whereas most #BlackBritish  perspectives on social and racial issues in London predominantly come from those who have lived in Black majority or White majority London neighbourhoods; neither of which I fit into as a young Londoner born and raised in the predominantly South East Asian and Bangladeshi neighbourhood of Shadwell. Hence there is no such thing as the black experience; or at least in my eyes.

Some food for thought I guess. Stay Tuned.

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