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Letter from an unrecognised Melillan

Hello everyone,

My name is Ikram B., I am from Melilla and I’m 21 years old, I am the third of 4 children, two older brothers and a little sister.

My story is very similar to that of many, I was born in a city riddled with racism and no privileges. I classify myself as “an unrecognised Melillan”, since after all, that is who I am. Despite speaking perfect Spanish (because it is MY language) and being born in Melilla, I am not Spanish enough for X people. For this reason and because Melilla is a border city, today I am in an irregular situation since I have a Moroccan passport and hardly any chance of applying for residency (if you ask for it they demand documents that are impossible to obtain; to apply for residency one of the requirements is to be registered and registering is denied for having a passport... in addition to the terrible treatment in the offices).

At 21 years old I did what I could to be "normal", I studied at the only school where it was allowed to enrol with a passport, it was not a school as such since it was not endorsed by the Spanish Ministry of Education despite being in Melilla. That time was quite difficult since we didn’t have the best facilities, or the best teachers, or classmates... but I was in Melilla and that was enough for me.

(PS: it wasn't enough)

In that centre Arabic was also taught, which was a plus for my parents since they wanted me to learn to speak Arabic, because, despite the fact that we have always lived in Melilla, they knew that at some point we would have to leave. My parents didn't want me to end up like my aunts or my mother, being a maid of some zarrumesht ("Christian woman")... -Your inchallah is going to get married, you're going to have your family and your children, you won't have to clean anyone’s shit- this phrase was not only told to me by my mother, but also by my aunts, ALL of them, and it should be noted that I have 5.

My last year at the centre was a nightmare, it was no longer because of the bullying by my classmates, since we had made amends and were now "friends". It was because of media pressure, since at that time the teachers on that site and the methods they used were quite unorthodox. I’ll give you the context; as always we went to a class, we did activities, then recess; some eat, others play and others fight... recess is over and back to class... It was Arabic class, the truth is that the teacher was never mean to me, in fact, once in a while I would have gotten a 3 or 4 as a final grade in Arabic without even knowing the alphabet. Arabic seemed a super complicated language to me and I didn't like it, so I didn't get it into my head...

We got to class and everything was normal, at that time I sat with a classmate who I thought was very “cute”. We were all reciting the Koran except for one boy who was playing with his blackberry. At one point, I don't know how, everything went wrong. Suddenly the teacher was on top of my classmate beating him with a rubber hose and my other classmate was recording it. Honestly, I wasn't surprised, it wasn't just something that happened that day, those things always happened. It wasn't just in that class, or in that course, it was something that almost all the teachers did. Luckily, I never got that rubber or got along badly with that teacher... I did get along badly with the fifth-grade teacher, yes. I did get hit then, but thank God it wasn't with a rubber hose, it was a simple ruler.

It was so normal that no one thought that the next day we would be featured on all the news programmes [1]. Those weeks were hell, cameras everywhere, journalists, our colleague told us that they harassed him to make him speak or give a headline... I don't really remember if the school closed or stayed open since I had to leave...

I remember that day as if it were yesterday, my parents and I were in the car on the way to Morocco and they were talking about what had happened at school, saying that the teacher was not bad at all, that it was okay to have a strong hand, but always with boundaries. The next thing my father did was look at me and ask me- did he ever hit you? - to which I said no, and he asked me again - sure? -I told him again no and that if he had done something to me I would have told him. Apparently, that conversation seemed like the right time for him to tell me that since that happened and since I had failed sixth grade, they were going to kick me out of that centre, that they would like me to continue studying but that since I can't because of paperwork I would have to quit, now that going back there was not an option.

The following years were a bit hard since I was in my house in Morocco, I did not go to school, I was in a dead town with hardly any houses or girls to play with. I spent my days watching TV and bothering my aunts. I was my grandfather's right eye, whenever he went to the store he brought me a cupcake, always, without fail. Sometimes when he was sitting fixing something in the open patio that was in the middle of the house, I would go to look and bother him, and he always ended up singing the “vaca lechera” to me (hahahaha). At night, at around 10pm, our favourite TV series was on: BEWITCHED. They were three sisters who lived together and fought monsters to save the world. My grandfather almost always ended up snoring in bed, and I was next to him, on the floor, watching how those three empowered women won and killed the demons that wanted to take the book of shadows from them. It seems silly but for me it was everything...

A few months ago I bought Safia's book, “Daughter of Immigrants”, a book I have felt very identified with and which has led me to write this letter to you. Reading this book has been therapeutic, it removed feelings that I didn't even know I had; moments that until I began to think more carefully, I had not even realised that I had lived, I was surprised how I could unconsciously forget painful memories.

Until recently, I sincerely believed that I was the problem, that the only weirdo who felt like they didn't fit in was me, that I was just unlucky. Why couldn't I be normal? I mean, what's the difference between Laura and me? If it's because of religion, then why is my cousin studying, she has friends, she does homework, she goes on excursions, she travels, and I don't?

Then I realised that the problem was not me, that there were more people like me, more people in the same situation, practically half of Melilla was like me. Far from making me happy I wasn’t alone, it made me sad... thinking that more people would have gone through the same situation as me, thinking there were so many people in an irregular situation and without basic rights... I'm talking about when I was 18 years old, now I'm 21 and yet nothing has changed, and if anything changed it was by force. Thanks to COVID and because they closed the border... In my opinion, the only notable change, or one that has been like a ray of light for me, is that minors with passports can study in Spanish schools. But not everything is as easy as it sounds, there are always drawbacks.

The first year that it was possible, I found out late, I went to the Ministry and everything was a problem, it was simply not possible, they did not give me a reason. My 7-year-old sister had to go back to that “school” that I had to leave. This year with the support of Solidary Wheels, we are closer to my sister being able to have a decent education, and above all without me having to get angry every few minutes at that centre. My blood boils every time I remember it, my God, at the time of the pandemic everything collapsed and I understand that somewhat strange decisions were made, but there were a thousand applications to teach online and my sister who was in third grade at the time had class via WhatsApp. And okay, if it has been done in a different way (more professionally) I would accept it, but, in addition, the teacher only sent her an audio through a groupchat and that's it. I had to be the teacher, since my mother hadn't studied much, and there were things that I didn't even understand and we had to ask her, but it's just that, not even a miserable video call to look at the little ones’ faces or try to teach them in a more personal way, more comfortable, something that would make the situation we were experiencing more bearable. And once we’d gone through it and they reopened the centre again, almost a third of the school year had gone by. One day I realised that my sister almost never did homework and I asked her - How is school? What have you done today? -And she said- we are reviewing the 3rd grade books because we don't have any new books yet.

I cannot express in words the anger that made me feel. They have lost 1 year, they missed almost a quarter more and to top it off, the girl is studying without books and without being sent homework to revise the content of the year before. Obviously, the next day I went to the school to complain, how can a school that is dedicated to educating children not have the necessary books to teach?

Despite the anger, I complained politely and with good manners, not because I wanted to do it that way, I wanted to make a fuss, my sister had told me that in fourth grade they were still studying the months of the year. I had to complain in a very meek way, because the last thing I wanted was to do my sister a disservice. It had already happened to me when I had been studying there, one day my teacher had said a bad word (“I shit on your dead”) and I told it to my mother as a joke. My mother complained indignantly to the school because, why should a fourth-grade girl have to listen to that in class?

Back in school, the teacher had come in, pissed off, because of course, she had been told off. She stood in front of the class and said - yesterday someone complained saying I’d sworn in class, which is a lie... I already know who it was, but I want the person to say it - the whole class went silent, for fear of being discovered, I raised my hand, justifying myself by saying it had been a joke. But that didn't stop her from being angry. The next thing she said was not addressed to me but to the class, which scared me even more: no one is to speak to that girl, if someone speaks to her, I’ll fail them - when I heard that I was in shock, after how long it had taken me and difficult it had been to make friends, after all the bullying, after all the fights, I had gone back to the same spot. Being alone.

I think that situation was the worst thing that happened to me in that school, and look, there were many bad moments. After that threat and the entire class turning around to look at me. That was it. It was that easy for the bullying, anxiety and insomnia to return... I spent a week angry with my mother for that, I blamed her, thanks to my mother I had turned into a snitch.

Life is unfair, for telling the truth I was the one to be blamed, for defending her daughter I blamed my mother, and today the teacher continues to teach at that school, at the same school my sister studies. I hate that school with all my heart and I don't want my sister to be there, but what I hate more is that my sister was left without an education. I wouldn't forgive myself if tomorrow she found herself in my position, at 21 years old and without having finished primary school. My sister is little, she is not yet mature enough to decide for herself if she wants to study or not, and to be honest, even if she didn't want to, I wouldn't let her drop out. She is MY responsibility, I can swear to you wellah that I will do everything I can and more to give her everything I didn't have.

I swear to you that I will not allow her to depend on anyone, for anyone to speak for her, or decide for her. She will have her own voice, her own strength, her own path, her life is hers and I don't know what she wants to do with it, but that will depend only on HER.

I know that I do not lead by example, I have many times let them yell at me, step over me, treat me like a fool. But when the system has been telling you your entire life that you are different, that you are not normal, that it doesn't matter who you are and what you do, there will always be a difference, it is very difficult to have the courage and perseverance to say NO, and go against the current.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong, I don't know. I realize that my sister, when she's playing with other girls the same thing happens to her when I react, and it’s not normal, you can be an introvert and have a voice. Sometimes in the park she prefers to sit on the bench with me than go play with the girls or socialize, she tells me that they are very immature, very different. She doesn't feel like a girl and that she is! I don't want her to mature yet, she’s too young. I don't want her to bear any responsibility or exclude herself. It's a disgusting feeling, it ALWAYS happens to me, it's very frustrating to be walking down the street and constantly comparing yourself to this girl or that one; thinking if you are well dressed; whether you are normal or not; if you look Moorish or European. And it's not just on the street anymore, I meet very good people, friends, even boyfriends... I always compared myself, I wondered if they were with me out of pity, for being easy, for fun? Having the option to be with a "normal" girl why would they want to be with me?

I've always felt this way and yet I’ve never talked about it with anyone, I don't know if it is out of shame or because I didn't want to be pitied, or both. I mentioned it a few days ago to my friend from Solidary Wheels, it is assumed that we were both born in Spain, we are both in our early 20s, we both knew Solidary, she because of her vocation and I because of my need. What I can't get rid of today is the feeling of pity, every person who approaches me, I think they do it out of pity; if they invite me to something, it's out of pity; If I'm dating someone and he leaves me, it's because I'm not normal, and if he doesn't leave me, it's because of pity. Imagine being with that thought always for so many years, it is very tiring.

Love issues are quite normal, but for me it was pretty hard... and like everything in life, it is related to paperwork, (or so I think) I was with my ex for 1 year. He was an important part of me, he gave me support and affection. Everything was going perfect, my family knew it, his family knew it too, and we decided to formalize it by going to visit them on Eid (the little Passover), I thought they would not judge me since his mother was in a similar situation to mine. But they did... I found out a few weeks later that his family just didn't see us together. What I had feared so much was happening, they were judging me, leaving me, rejecting me and breaking my heart.

Today I come to the conclusion that it was because of my paperwork, because maybe they thought I only wanted to be with him for the papers, maybe they thought I wanted to take advantage of him. They don't know that I had to repeat a thousand times to each lawyer I went to, that I am NOT interested in getting married, that it was NOT an option, that if I got married it would NOT be with that intention. Of course they didn't know, because they didn't know me, nor did they give me that opportunity. Getting married to get papers has become so normalised that straightaway if you are undocumented and dating someone with documentation it can only be out of interest. This happens because the system does not offer another way of regularisation and many people are forced to opt for options of the type.

This happens to many women who are in the same situation as me, I don't know them, they don't know me, we only have our paperwork situation in common, but even so I feel that we are united, because of the similarities in how we live, united by the racism and the traumas it causes. I go to sleep with a broken heart, but with a clear conscience.

It seems unfair to me and it angers me that I, even though I'm just the same as anybody else, have to make twice as much effort, it pisses me off that I'm struggling right now because of all this. I can't stop having anxiety attacks, crying, eating and losing weight, I can't even work anymore... I've gone from sewing 3 “canduras” a day to one a month because every time I think about sewing I get overwhelmed, I don't know what the reason is, but I can't allow it to happen, I can't depend on my mother again, I can't be a burden to her. The thing is, I try to be fine but I can't either, so I get more stressed and I end up sinking... I guess now all that's left is for things to get better little by little. But hey... as Nathy Peluso said: I had to learn what I didn't deserve.

Yes you can, even if everyone tells you otherwise.

From an unrecognised Melillan,

For you

Ikram B.



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