My Experience of Living as an Asian in Sevilla Posted on October 13th, 2011 by

Before I had left for Spain, a friend of mine told me that Spanish people were racists. I was advised by some others before the trip and during orientation not to take anything personal and that Spanish people are often really straightforward and expressive in terms of saying what they think. I have been keeping that in mind so as to blend in with the new culture, but sometimes the experience can be overwhelming and discouraging.

The fact is that there are not many Asians here in Sevilla and most of the images people have about Asians come from movies. My friend Christine is Korean American who often caught many people staring at her while she was walking on the street. She asked her host mom and was told that the reason could possibly be because people here often think that Asians are short and little and Christine is probably taller than many Spanish guys. When an Asian walks on the streets in Sevilla, the people will think that he or she is either Chinese or Japanese because they were not exposed to any other Asian cultures. Walking on the streets with people calling me “China” or “Japonesa” is not something uncommon any more. Many people that I have talked to never heard of Vietnam before. A professor of mine and my host family both admitted that I am the first Vietnamese person they have ever met in their lives.

Yesterday I went to do some volunteer work in an elementary school. I was supposed to read stories in English to the kids but because the director of the program was not there and the teachers did not know what to do with me, they put me in a classroom to help a teacher with what they were doing. When I walked into the room, all the kids stared at me and as soon as they realized that I was someone they have rarely seen in real life, they all ran to me to have a closer look and touched me, out of curiosity, I guess. Some kids tried to talk to me in the Chinese language that they made up. It took the teacher a while to calm the kids down and get back to what they had been doing. All the kids of course wanted me to sit with them. During the one hour of class I was there, the kids did not get too excited again but once in a while, I would find some of them examining my hair, my necklace, earring, my phone. One came to me and asked if I knew Karate. I left the school at noon when they kids were all in the playground, which I had to cross to get to the gate. Once again I was the center of attention. It was hard to leave because I was surrounded by virtually the whole school. I felt uncomfortable but I could not do anything with the innocent curious little kids either; it was not their fault.

It has happened to me a lot when I was walking on the street, chilling in a bar or most recently when I was sitting in a park reading and a random guy on the streets came to me and asked if they can be my friends. They seemed nice and from what they say, there should not be any problem being friends with them. However I am the conservative type who is shy and terrified talking to complete strangers, I always told them that I was busy and walked away. Some were really clingy that I had to say straightforward “I don’t want to know you, please leave me alone.” I thought that was just the way Spanish people are, open and expressive but none of my friends has been in that situation. I asked my host mom if that was something common in Sevilla. She paused for a while then told me carefully to never listen to strangers, never walk with them anywhere or hop into their cars. I asked her why me and she told me that the fact is the majority of Asians in Sevilla are prostitutes and sometimes people choose to stick with their stereotypes. Me sitting by myself in a park can be easily misunderstood. Once I was walking in a group of friends, Asians and Caucasians when a group of Spanish teenagers came and walked along with us. They said to us something that we did not fully understand but from their tone, we could tell that it was something offensive. We tried to walk away and one of the guys followed me. He pulled up his shirt and pushed his chest against me. We walked away in another direction and were fine but I could not help but ask why some people act in certain way. Back then I thought that was because we were foreigners but since the talk with my host mom, I am starting to think that there would be more reason behind that.

I am still trying not to take things too seriously and nothing personally but sometimes I was really overwhelmed. I had prepared myself before going to the States because a lot of people said racism was a big issue there but during the three years I was in the States, I did not experience anything like that. This might just be the case for Sevilla; I heard there are a lot of different minority groups in Madrid and people could be a little more accepting. I understand that people here do not mean anything offensive, they are just not used to many foreign cultures and it is always easier to just follow a stereotype. Moreover, not everyone necessarily acts in the same way; my professor and my host family were really excited to get to know about my culture. I bonded with my family over talking about Vietnamese food and showing them pictures of Vietnam. They all love it!

I could not find any pictures that fit the article - so this is my friend Christine and I

My favorite professor and I - during one of the field trips with CIEE



  1. Jill Fischer says:

    Thanks for sharing – you are so courageous.I am so happy that you are able to talk with your host family about this as well. While it sounds challenging, it also sounds like you are learning (and teaching others) a lot along the way. I hope to see you when I visit next week. Thanks again for being so honest about your experience

  2. María Montes de Oca says:

    Me encanta la historia Thuy!! Eres un ejemplo :-) I am very happy to have you in my IG!!