I spent my first two weeks in Barcelona being told to come back in September. As someone who lives in the U.S, a place where people work during Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas, it never occurred to me that Spain is the land where people go on vacation for the entire month of August. Small shops, cultural/civic centers, and non profits either close, have limited hours, or suspend all their activities and projects.
On the one hand, it’s great to know that activists and social workers get to take long and well-served vacations, but it’s made my first Watson stop really challenging. Each organization that I planned to collaborate with closed a week after I arrived and weren’t scheduled to begin their new programming until September, which was when I planned to leave. Not only were my original plans squashed, but an opportunity to meet women through some sort of organized activity or group also seemed slim because these centers also closed or opened up new courses until the fall. All free language classes taught at libraries, for example, told me registration wouldn’t begin until the first week of September.
There was a lot of sulking that first week of July 20th, which quickly turned into panic and desperation. I briefly considered leaving to Morocco and returning to Barcelona in September, but my housing arrangements were set in contract and I didn’t want to lose out on money so quickly into my trip. Nine long days into my stay, something wonderful happened. While I was walking aimlessly through the city, I passed by a building with a large entrance. There were picnic tables right inside and what appeared to be some sort of exhibition behind glass doors. I walked in and saw lists upon lists of schedules for Catalan classes. As expected, most were for September and the three listings for August classes were marked as full.
I went ahead and asked the receptionist anyway if there was anything available for August and after talking for a bit, she said she could give me a spot for one of the intensive courses. Right then and there, I signed up for a four hour class, Monday through Thursday (I didn’t realize how intense the course really was until I got home–only twelve days of class!).
My course will be ending this week and I’m sad that my mornings will no longer involve rushing by the Catedral every morning and drinking a cafe con leche with my classmates during the break. I am really grateful for these past three weeks. Aside from finding comfort in having a routine (which I like) and meeting some wonderful people, I’ve been able to learn and experience my focus of immigration in more fulfilling ways by studying a language and by doing it alongside people who are immigrants themselves. My classmates (see names in picture above) are from Paraguay, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Italy, Poland, Morocco, Serbia, and the Philippines! I think some of the best times we have in class is when we go around and practice our Catalan by describing the traditional foods, local festivals, and customs from our country of origin.
I think stories and experiences of migration are inherently wrapped in loss, but what is gained are multiple ways to reimagine the definition of home, place, family, and the self. There’s a lot of joy in my class during these moments. We are all proud of the places we come from, happy to show off what we know so well. But I think there’s something specifically about us sharing these parts of ourselves with each other, inside a classroom in Barcelona—a country that’s also now mapped onto our skins—as we switch back and forth between differently accented Spanish, English, and our basic level Catalan, that opens us up.
‘Majo’ is used in Spain to describe something that is ‘great’, or as we love to say in the U.S, ‘awesome’. And can also mean ‘beautiful’ when used to describe a person. Here are some pictures that show you how maja is my class.