Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Horse of a Different Color

I just got back from a Girls’ Week trip to London with my mum and sis. We’ve all been to London a half-dozen or so times so this trip was less about sight-seeing than it was about shopping, eating, and theater-going. In fact it has been almost exactly 10 years since my first trip to London – a girls’ weekend with my mum when I was studying abroad in Madrid in the fall of 1999.

This blog initially sprang out of the need for an outlet for the unceasing comparison-making habit that I picked up upon returning to Madrid to live. But one of the first realizations that I ever made about how different seemingly similar “western” countries can be was when I arrived in London that fall after 2 months in Madrid.

We were strolling into Leicester Square, hoping to score some last-minute tickets for a musical that evening, when I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by the sheer number of non-white people around me. It wasn’t something that I’d ever considered before – the homogeneity of Spain. Although I went to a college which is approximately 1.5 times more “racially diverse” than the nation as a whole, my hometown in suburban St. Louis has nearly 3 times fewer ethnic minorities than the national average. So perhaps after spending my summer back home the makeup of the Spanish population simply wasn’t noteworthy to me. Certainly I had never “noticed” it prior to my arrival in London, where I was abruptly surrounded by people from every walk of life – Africans, Asians, Indians. After 5 days there such a mélange was once again the norm for me and upon my return to Madrid I began to notice what I had not before.

According to Wikipedia, London had an immigrant population of around 29% in 2001. The population of immigrants in Madrid back then? 3%. Yes, that’s right. Three percent. Reading that makes me think that I probably should have noticed something was up regardless of my hometown demographics. Heck, that 3% makes my 9%-non-white hometown look like a true melting pot.

But things have changed drastically for Spain these past 10 years. I was not struck by such a difference this time around. Certainly the cultures represented in the UK and in Spain are different. (My sister in Edinburgh complains about the lack of good Latin American cuisine. I have yet to find really good, cheap Thai food.) But the diversity is there. Or it’s getting there.

Also according to Wikipedia, over the past ten years the immigrant population in Madrid has risen to almost 18% of the total. Six times as many immigrants in just a decade. Unfortunately for me the bulk of those come from 3 major geographical regions – Africa (proximity), Eastern Europe (entry to the EU), and Latin and South America (language) – and southeast Asia is not one of them. For the time being I’ll have to save my Thai-food cravings for the trips to the UK and my sis will save her picante cravings for visits to Madrid.

(On a random side note, perhaps connected to this jumble of information, is the recent discovery by my burrito-craving sister that Taco Bell is running a trial in Europe before expanding into the market. Where did they locate their lone store? Madrid.)

1 comment:

JustMe said...

You make me miss those diverse London streets as I sit here in Chesterfield where I am always reminded of how white it really is.
Thai food -- yum. That I can get.