Street vendors in Spain face racist harassment. So they came together to open a store Street vendors in Madrid, Spain, are mostly immigrants from Africa. In response to racism and police harassment, they banded together to form a union and open a store to safely sell their merchandise.

Street vendors in Spain face racist harassment. So they came together to open a store

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1109629169/1109629170" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What is this area called, again?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Lavapies.

MARTIN: We're on a narrow street in Madrid, in the neighborhood of Lavapies.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: Hi. I'm Michel. Hello.

We're here to visit a small clothing store with a special story behind it.

MALICK GUEYE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: That's Malick Gueye. He's a spokesperson for the Sindicato de Manteros, or Manteros Union. He's telling me that this is an anti-racist space, and that's one of the main reasons he started this place.

GUEYE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: Manteros is what many street vendors call themselves here because they lay out their offerings on a manta, a blanket, on the ground. We're talking about knockoff sneakers, scarves, sunglasses and jerseys. In Spain, manteros are often immigrants from Senegal in West Africa. So is Malick. He's lived in Spain for 17 years, and he tells me that manteros have a difficult life in Spain.

GUEYE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: If the police approach, they fold their blankets quickly and disappear into the crowd - or not. Sometimes, the police catch up to them. Malick says it's a difficult way to make a living and, frankly, to live. So that's why he and other manteros formed a group to advocate for themselves, and they came up with the idea to open this store.

GUEYE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: The walls are covered with T-shirts and tote bags. Children's books about social justice heroes are displayed on a rack against one wall. They have their own brand, Pantera, inspired by the activism of the Black Panthers. The clothing features anti-racist slogans and images. One shirt depicts a famous moment from the 1968 Summer Olympics, where U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists and bowed their heads as they stood on the medal stand. In the image on the Pantera shirt, Tommie Smith stands on the center podium, holding a folded-up manta in his hand. The store is a direct response to the racism and isolation many manteros say they experience, and it also reveals a lot about the immigrant experience in Spain.

GUEYE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: "Being a mantero is a way to survive," Malick tells me. But they live in fear, fear that they could be detained by the police at any time. They could be sent to a detention center for undocumented immigrants. He also says they're often stopped by the police for no apparent reason, just walking down the street.

GUEYE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: And he is quite convinced that the police stop him and his fellow migrants just because they're Black. As in, he could be on a street with a group of white people, he says, and the police will only stop him or another Black colleague.

GUEYE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: Malick tells me they organized the union for manteros because they decided the only way to break out of that world of isolation and fear was to make their struggle more visible to the rest of society. And he wants to help change the narrative about African immigrants, who, he tells me, are often portrayed as criminals. But they're not, he says. They're just people who've traveled great distances, often under very dangerous circumstances, just to try to have a different life.

GUEYE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: This neighborhood of Lavapies in Madrid is home to many migrants from West and North Africa. You see them in groups, hanging out in public squares. These streets have also been the scene of clashes with the police. As Malick reminded us, many of these immigrants risked their lives to cross into Spain, and just recently, there was a tragic example of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: On Friday, June 24, more than 500 would-be migrants charged the fence at Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the northern border of Morocco. The fence at Melilla is not just a fence. It's more like a complex system of fences with sharp edges that can be very dangerous. There have been injuries in the past, but on Friday, June 24, at least 23 people died, according to the official accounts. Human rights groups say that the figure is much higher. It was a tragedy similar to another tragedy that took place in Texas last week, when more than 50 would-be migrants died after being transported inside a stifling trailer truck near San Antonio.

Both incidents paint a grim picture of cross-border migration today, of the obvious danger to would-be migrants and also of the national security challenge mass migration can pose.

We're in Madrid to cover the historic NATO summit that just took place, so I had a chance to talk with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Spain's foreign minister, Jose Manuel Albares. And I asked them whether NATO should consider migration a top priority, given that both Spain and the U.S. are not just national but also NATO borders and in the wake of these two tragedies.

JOSE MANUEL ALBARES: Yeah. Well, the two specific events that you pointed out is a human tragedy. And what that points out is that both the origin and transit countries and the countries that we are receiving illegal migrants, we must cooperate as strongly as possible to try to channel and to deal with this challenge in the best way. So we have to go also to the root causes, which is underdevelopment. That's why we have also to cooperate with all those countries. And, of course, the risk is always, as we saw in the Belarus border with Poland, that someone can use that as a weapon against our territorial integrity. That's why, in the strategic concept of Madrid, irregular migration, if it's used as a political tool, it can be a threat.

MARTIN: But - agreed, but is NATO a vehicle to address this with urgency, to apply the same kind of urgency and focused attention to - I think we would all agree it is a humanitarian disaster. It's a moral disaster. And it also has claimed many, many lives, probably more than we even know. So, Mr. Secretary, is it - is this - is NATO an appropriate vehicle to address this as well...

ANTONY BLINKEN: First thing you have to recognize we are living a historic moment when it comes to irregular migration and migration of all sorts. There are more people on the move around the world, 100 million forcibly displaced in one way or another from their homes, more than at any time since we've actually recorded these facts and this information. And one of the interesting things, Michel, is that the United States and Spain - I'll leave aside NATO for the minute - are working closely together, including in the Western Hemisphere, to try to deal with the irregular migration that we're seeing there. So for sure, we need collective approaches to this.

MARTIN: That's what they said. But I also wanted to hear from someone who studies migration to Spain and works with immigrants. So we took a cab and went to the center of Madrid to speak with a woman who's trying to change the way migration and immigrants are seen in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi, Michel.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hello, Michel.

MARTIN: Por Causa is a local foundation focusing on research and investigative journalism about migration. Their offices are located in an old, traditional Madrid apartment. We sat down with Lucila Rodriguez-Alarcon, the director of Por Causa, to hear her perspective.

LUCILA RODRIGUEZ-ALARCON: The story of Spain is the same story of the United States, where you need migrants to develop. You need migrants to do works that have been done and to bring diversity. But suddenly, we're talking about people coming from Africa that they only represent on terms of irregular migration. They're 9% of the whole irregular migration in Spain. But the migration in Spain is mainly Latin American because we share the language, and we share the story, and we share the culture.

MARTIN: The United States is very polarized right now. Is it that way in Spain, where, like, the right has this view, and the left has this view, or is it different?

RODRIGUEZ-ALARCON: I think the problem is people need something to hang on to, and the polarization gives these audiences something to hang to. Hate - it's a way to be together, hating something that is common. And somehow, we have forgotten the narratives of bringing the people something they can be together but is constructive. And as long as we don't offer that, you're going to have polarization in all the occidental space and, I think, almost everywhere.

MARTIN: In the United States, when people speak of immigration, whether on the right or the left, it is commonly said the system is broken. Is it the same here?

RODRIGUEZ-ALARCON: It's the same everywhere, but I have seen so many things change. And the fact that we are seeing a change that is for bad doesn't mean that the good people can't change it back to good. So what I really think is we need to find again our belief that we can do things in a different way because this narrative about the other coming and taking what is yours, it's more - it's something about the 20th century. Everything begins when you didn't let the people move freely, when you began to stop the people.

MARTIN: As we are here now, there was a major disaster in Melilla about a week ago, and it isn't even really clear, like, how many people died. Obviously, I'm asking you to predict, but is that - are these terrible events - do they change anything?

RODRIGUEZ-ALARCON: That depends on us. The Spanish government wants a change because they want NATO to have a military approach on the border. Moroccan authorities, they have the power because we are somehow in their hands because we have externalized our border. And the rest of the people, if you know about migration, they would love to see some consequences, something that can help us to change these kind of way of talking about migration and managing migration that is killing so many people, and it's not helping. I think that we are our worst enemy, and at the same time, we're going to be our savior. And lots of studies are talking about the fact that we are not having enough population. And at one point, I think balance in the world will - but I think I will be very old. I want to believe my children will have this opportunity.

MARTIN: That was Lucila Rodriguez-Alarcon from Por Causa Foundation in Madrid speaking with me about global migration.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.