You Must be Indian!

Colorblind – A glimpse into race in the U.S. and abroad is an API blog series that looks at racial issues and concerns faced by API students, colleagues, and staff abroad. This post is by Siobhan Neela-Stock, API Granada student from the University of Vermont.

“You will definitely fit in there.”

These are the words I heard continuously before embarking on my study abroad year in Granada, Spain. I believed these words but soon would come to find out they did not hold an ounce of truth.

“You must be Indian,” were the new words I would be accustomed to hearing once I landed in Granada. I should have known coming from a small town with a 97% white population in New England that I wouldn’t fit in. However, because my skin color was slightly darker people in my town automatically assumed that I would fit in physically if I went abroad. They could not have been more wrong.

Almost every Spaniard in Granada I spoke with (and this is no exaggeration) would ask me whether I was Indian. This didn’t annoy me at all. I was just surprised. For the first time in my life people were actually guessing my racial identity correctly. I was far more used to people thinking I was Middle Eastern or from South America. As I walked down the streets in Granada I would often get stares. Not rude stares in the least, just stares of curiosity. It was ironic because across my street was an Indian restaurant owned by Indians. Sometimes I would walk past that Indian restaurant wondering if people thought I worked there.

One day in front of a post office, my roommate and I were talking loudly in English. Two people, a young man and an older woman, came up to us. The young man asked us in English where we were from and we replied “The United States.” The woman looked at me curiously and said “and where are you from?” I repeated my previous answer. She still looked at me and I followed up my answer with “But, I was born in India.” Immediately she smiled and say “Ah, yes it is SO obvious.” If this interaction had happened in the United States I would have taken offense at her last sentence. However, due to her limited English skills I knew she didn’t have any bad intentions. After all, cultural misunderstandings were bound to happen. Especially since in the beginning of this conversation she had introduced the much younger man as her sister.

Despite everything I don’t let my physical identity define myself while in Granada. I am here to learn and to immerse myself in the Granadian culture. At the beginning of the conversation with a new Spanish friend when they asked me if I was Indian I would reply “yes” and move on. If they wanted to know more I would indulge them. Although I stick out like an apple amongst all the beautiful shining pomegranates (reference to Granada which means “pomegranate”) I don’t want it to become the be-all and end-all of my interactions with locals. Speaking of which I am off to an intercambio now, ciao!

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