Watching the sun rise is one of the finest things in life (when it is done out of enjoyment, of course and not for work). The sun rises late in the fall in Gijón, after 8:00 am, and last week we decided to wake up early, take the bus to the highest point on the water that the bus will travel to, and watch the sunrise. We sat on a bench located in front of the only hotel located on a cliff in Gijón; the bench was still wet with morning dew but we brought a towel because we foresaw that, but forgot coffee and warmer coats, as it quite windy in the time before sunrise on the bluff-top. We eagerly awaited the sun, and when the sky started to lighten, we started taking pictures, until the sun cleared the horizon, the wind died down, and we had to put on sunglasses as it was so bright. It was a perfect spot to begin the day, as we had a long walk back to town, along the ocean, followed by breakfast at a café of orange juice, coffee, croissants and tortilla.
Not every day starts that well, but we are lucky when they do.
It is a hard to describe feeling of being an immigrant in another country. In the United States there is much talk of illegal immigration, and you can hear it talked about on television, politics, family members, jokes about seeing Hispanic immigrants waiting for work outside Home Depot, and living in Southern California we heard about illegal immigration often, and there were many opinions.
On our last trip to Mexico we met a young waiter who told us of his experiences coming to the United States illegally, working in Alabama for un-taxed wages, and being sent back on a plane once he was pulled over for a busted taillight, driving with no license and paying no taxes. He was happy enough to tell us the story, and said he had no plans to return, at least in the near future. He also told of us of crossing the border and spotlights shinning overhead while he hid and waited to enter the US. The United States has a troubled, at best, relationship with many countries that makes me understand and sympathize with migrants coming to the United States for a better life.
There is rarely talk of legal immigrants. My last boss was a legal immigrant, who was from a well-to-do family in India, and came to the US on a student Visa, as many immigrants do, legally. The expectation is that the legal immigrants will bring skill to the workforce, or, and in many cases, money to spend to inject into the economy. That was the expectation of us when applying for our Spanish visas.
We live in Spain under a non-lucrative Visa, meaning we had to prove we had enough savings to not work while we live in Spain for the year. This is done for two reasons, one, we do not take a job away from a Spaniard, and here in Spain the unemployment rate is quite high; and two, so we spend money to help the economy. There are people who come to Spain on the non-lucrative Visa and still work, usually remotely or contractually, but for us, we wanted to take the year sabbatical away from working, and being blatantly dishonest is something we had no desire to do.
Now we are strangers in a strange land, where we do not speak the language well (but are taking language classes to improve our Spanish speaking) and did not know anyone prior to our arrival. While we were able to book an Airbnb, sign a lease for a year using an English-speaking agent, and improve our Spanish enough to eat at restaurants, shop at the grocery store and go to the doctor as necessary, I am still aware of not being from here. The truth is, we are extranjeros, or foreigners. This is derived from the word extraño, which means strange.
Meetup groups have led us to meet a lot of different people from different countries; the first group we joined is called Speak English in Asturias, which is a group for Spaniards who want to practice their English. As that is not us specifically, we were skeptical in joining. But our yoga teacher attends and she mentioned it to us, and of course we wanted to meet people, so we went. Everyone is very nice, and one of the attendees had said, “everyone speaks English for like five minutes and then switches to Spanish” which was fine by us, so we could just listen, as learning more people speak is very important in our learning.
It is especially fun because every time we go, while there are a core group of returning members, it is at least half new members, so we get to know many different people, and can help them with their English, and later they can help us with our Spanish. One night, when Jesse’ cousin came to visit us, a recurring member who we had met before, was leaving and saying goodbye. She introduced herself to a Spanish woman who was sitting next to us, and was surprised she was Spanish also, and said, “oh, I thought you were one of the giuris,” referring to us. The Spaniards call English speaking foreigners, Giuri, which is not necessarily a bad term, but also not a good one either; it depends on who is saying it, and how. At first, I took offense, but later realized, it was not meant as so; it was simply matter-of-fact.
This reminds me of when I was in Ghana many years ago, and little kids would call my traveling group, all white kids from Missouri, “Obruni,” which means white people, but not in a derogatory way, just as a statement of fact, and we in turn would respond with “Ebebini,” which means black people, and the kids would laugh, and we would laugh, and it was very cute. There was no meanness in it, just pointing out the differences, even if it seems a bit too straightforward.
We are always asked, at every group so far, why Gijón? It is a joke by this point, and we say the reasons: we wanted a temperate climate in Spain, we wanted a place that was near the ocean, and we wanted there to be few English speakers so we would have to learn Spanish. After that I like to say, “and we have met them all,” (meaning the English speakers in Gijón), as a joke.
Now our learning has taken us to Spanish language classes at the Red Cross; Jesse and I both tested to an A2 level, so we were registered in that class (A1 is most basic). It is such a diverse group of people, and our classmates come from Morocco, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Senegal, and Vietnam, all in Spain looking for a better life, a better start, either for themselves or their children, and they are learning the language of their new home country.
When we practice speaking with each other, a common question is “A que te dedicas? Which is literally “to what are you dedicated to?” but is how we in the English-speaking world say, “What do you do (for work)?” Besides one young Ukrainian woman, who is an au pair, no one else in our class works, including us (for our year in Spain). Some of our classmates have been in Spain for many years, and others only some months, but all are here to improve their lives, to start their days better.
Gijón is a special place, we have learned that, full of good people, and home to much beauty, artistic and natural. On the way back from watching the sunrise we pass by the statue named “Madre de Emigrante” (that you can see above, with the Cantabrian Sea and city behind her); the mother’s arm is outstretched, sending her children out into the world, forlorn and sad to lose them, but with the hope of a better life for them as well.
We moved to Spain for a better life, and while we may not live here forever, and the United States has been and always will be, our home country, I know we do not have the same reasons for wanting to be in Spain as our classmates, and that is vale (ok in Spanish, and the one word you must know, and you will, as you will hear it at least once per conversation). No one has the same reasons for living life as they do, and choosing where one is born is no choice anyone gets. Choosing where we live can also be like that, as we have another friend, an English and Spanish speaker from India, who wants to simply visit the US, and has been unable to attain a Visa to do so. He tells us this not in a defeated tone, but more a hopeful though slightly dejected one.
I realize how lucky I am, and not is discount that we worked very hard to get to live in Spain, and doing what you want to do in life is a combination of both. Two things I will take from my time in Spain, is that, whenever I meet anyone in the US that does not speak English, I will be more patient, and not just speak loudly and more slowly, and that everyone on our planet deserves a chance at improving the start to their days.