Vivo en un Archipelago

The popular girls in my school would wear Hollister hoodies instead of the school jumper over their uniform. It wasn’t because Hollister was that great of a brand. It was because you could not get it in the Canary Islands and that made it oh so cool. In the Canary Islands, we value foreign things more than we do local ones. Almost every single person in my school went to universities abroad. Those that stayed were looked down upon, pitied. In our minds, they stayed because they weren’t bright enough to leave the Canary Islands. It was never because they enjoyed living in the islands, or because they didn’t want to leave everything they knew. Universities in the Canary Islands are, in our minds, the last option, not the aim.

I remember the months before I moved to the Netherlands I was buzzing with excitement, I couldn’t wait to leave the only place I had called home for eighteen years. During HOPweek when I would tell people where I came from they would ask with disbelief “why would you want to leave?” and in my mind, I always thought “why would I want to stay?” I came to this country thinking I would become less attached to the Canary Islands.

There is a saying in Spanish, “la tierra tira” which roughly translates to “you are drawn to the land you are from’’.

I never truly understood it. Yet, once I lived far away from home I finally did. I started yearning for the things that were only available back home, asking my mum to send me packages full of them. I started cooking the traditional foods from the Canary Islands: papas arrugadas, ropa vieja, mojo… Foods that I used to think I was too cool for. I started wanting to know more about my roots, about the history of the place I came from.

Not so long ago I found out that during the Spanish Civil War there were three concentration camps in my island, and I was shocked. I was hit with the realisation that even though I knew in detail what happened in China in 1966 as it was part of my final history exam, I knew next to nothing about the Canary Islands, and that saddened me. It saddened me because I knew nothing about the place that had shaped so much of who I was.

You might be wondering how being from these tiny islands has shaped who I am. Growing up in the Canary Islands made the beach one of the most important places for me. It is where I spent all my childhood afternoons, running, playing, feeling free. It is where my friends and I would walk to after a party. With the waves crashing nearby we would have all those talks about our fears, hopes and futures we wouldn’t have anywhere else. The beach is where every 23rd of June I would meet my friends, light bonfires and have a night full of laughter, dancing, and stories that only made sense to those that were there. Even now if I ever need peace and calm I go to the beach.

Being from the Canary Islands also means that you grow up knowing nothing is ever truly private. It is a small place, everyone knows each other and gossiping is the prefered past time. Being from the Canary Islands means that due to the colonial history and immigration your culture, food and accent was more similar to that of Cuba and Venezuela than it is to the country you are a part of. It also means that I almost get a heart attack any time someone leaves the tap on when it isn’t needed. Water is scarce back home and from  a young age we learn the importance of saving water. But most importantly being from the Canary Islands means strangers aren’t viewed as dangerous but as future friends. Life is seen as something that must be celebrated and enjoyed to fullest extent rather than something to stress over.

I was wrong, moving abroad didn’t make me any less attached to the Canary Islands. It actually made me so much more curious about my home. Being in the Netherlands made me realise how sad it makes me that people only see the Canary Islands as a sunny place to get drunk in. The islands are so much more than that. Gran Canaria is considered a miniature continent due to all the microclimates it has. Sure there are beaches with dunes where the tourists go to. But there are also black sand beaches like the ones in Iceland, and pine forests all over the centre and north of the island full of pines that can burn up to four times without dying. There are volcano craters full of vineyards and beaches that are at the base of such steep cliffs they can only be accessed by boat. There are towns full of colonial architecture that look like places in Latin America. There is a vibrant culture thanks to people from all around the world calling the islands home. Yet the tourists never see any of this, either because they don’t care or worse, because they don’t know it is there.

Living in the Netherlands has taught me there is nothing wrong with being attached to the places you come from. Those places shape so much of who you are. I’ve learnt to appreciate where I come from. Learnt to not put it down simply because it isn’t a massive metropolis full of famous landmarks that people take pictures in front of to post on Instagram.