Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Small Town Effect

I live in a small farming village. Out of 10,000 people I am one of 6 asians, and the only Filipina. Right now I'll put a disclaimer that 97% of the people in this town are good. They work hard and are polite. I've gained a lot of friends in this town. My neighbors treat me like family and bring me to family gatherings. I love living here, and it has been one of the best experiences in my life. In fact, I begged the junta to let me stay here one more year, and they rejected me - twice.

On the other hand, I feel like it's only proper to talk about the other side of the coin, especially for English teachers coming here. Not to scare anyone, only to be mentally prepared for the inevitable. I'm lucky because I haven't been persecuted much. But it has happened.

If you're black or asian, speak English, and are unused to lots of staring, you'd better have a thick skin to live in a small town. Xenophobia rears its ugly head once in a while. What one has to understand is many people in my town can't travel often outside of Spain. They don't have money, or their work or school schedule doesn't allow much of it. With the new generation, a number of them have traveled, and some have developed a ravenous need to see more of the world.

I've been lucky in that the worst incidents have only been verbal harassment by stupid teenagers, including them yelling “China!” or “Konichiwa!”, or a few store owners having no patience for a Canadian struggling to understand their way-too-rapid Spanish.

With speaking English, some of the reactions I get from the locals are funny. Most are quite happy to hear me speak it, but some react with giggles or stares. It's usually their discomfort and not a fault of mine, although I end up feeling uncomfortable, too. I find my native tongue is a great weapon, though. I remember two particular incidents where the harassment was really annoying, and I unleashed a flurry of English swearing, which dumbfounded them.
I think traveling and going out alone have taught me how to handle myself when harassment happens.
If I had to give advice, I'd say the first thing to do is to walk away if someone says something. During my first month or two in Villacarrillo, I'd hear the odd comment but would ignore it and continue on my merry way. As soon as word got out about my purpose in living there, it basically stopped. Once you surpass the hard times, the only people left around you are the good souls.

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