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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Racial Profiling the Illegal Immigrant Way

I was sitting in a café the other day with three friends: a guy from Cameroon, a Romanian, and a gal from Central America. Across the street a group of Chinese workers were furiously working inside of a storefront. The renovations they were doing were fairly major as this site used to be an empty warehouse. They had installed huge windows and marble stairs with inset lights. Whatever they were building looked like it was going to be a pretty big affair.

I asked the others at the table if they knew what this new spot was going to be when they finished. My African friend said that it was going to be a “Buffet Libre or a Chinese buffet restaurant. I asked him how he knew this and he just shrugged his shoulders. He finally admitted that he didn’t know. “What else could it be? They’re Chinese,” was his follow up.

The Romanian guy said that it looked like it would be a variety store, or a chino as they are called here because almost all of these types of stores are run and owned by Chinese immigrants. It didn’t look like it was going to be a variety store. The windows and the marble stairs were a little too nice for a chino. I asked out loud if maybe it was going to be a fancy night club or a disco.

The girl from Central America immediately replied, “Oh no, Chinese don’t run places like that.”

I guess that I was the only one at the table who hasn’t learned everyone’s place in contemporary Spanish society. I have been able to make a few observations so far. I have noticed that the Chinese do run most of the chinos and they do own a lot of buffet libres. They also seem to own quite a few bars and cafes around town as well as stores that sell inexpensive clothing for men and women. I was in one of these places the other day and I bought a couple of great bootleg national soccer jerseys (Argentina and Portugal) for 5€ each—they usually cost about $65.

The folks from the Indian subcontinent seem to have cornered the market on corner fruit and vegetable markets. They also seem to be the communication moguls here as they own most of the locutorios or internet and telephone cafes. A lot of immigrants from all over call home from these businesses. You can see the rates listed for more countries than you thought existed on this planet. I guess no one calls the United States because I never see rates posted.

The sub-Saharan Africans seem to have a monopoly on bootleg DVDs to the point that a word has been coined in their honor. A bootleg DVD or CD is said to be top manta which refers to the Africans’ salesroom. Manta means blanket and these immigrants lay out their illegal merchandise on blankets in the street. This makes it easy for them to fold up shop and make a run for it if the cops decide to take an anti-business stance to this type of commerce. Top is borrowed from English and refers to something like “Top of the charts” and means any kind of popular music or movie, so Top manta means “top of the blanket.” I don’t think they have a word for “Intellectual Property” in Spanish as of this writing.

The Africans will also go ambulatory with their wares and you see them hawking stacks of the latest DVDs in bars and restaurants all over Valencia. I was at a café one day reading a book when I saw an older woman next to me looking through a stack of movies. She ended up buying four DVDs, one of which was a porno that from her lack of embarrassment may as well have been a copy of The Little Mermaid for her granddaughter. I’m sure it was respectable filth and not midget porn or a snuff flick, but still. I guess that I need to loosen up, I’m in Europe.

I certainly don’t know what is expected of American immigrants here in Spain, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. Besides a few students here for a semester, I haven’t come across any other estadounidenses, which is the proper term for us. As soon as I figure out what I’m supposed to be doing I’ll start doing it. Until then I’m just having fun trying to keep track of everyone else.

Refrán of the Day:
Más vale perder un amigo, que perder una tripa. (Said when you have gas)
It's better to lose a friend than blow a bowel.

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