Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula in southwest Europe. The southern coast of Spain is separated from Morocco on the African continent, by the nine-mile Strait of Gibraltar. Spain has a diverse population of nearly 40 million people, which includes black immigrants from Africa who make up approximately 1 percent or less of those living in Spain. Blacks who migrated from Africa to Spain through the centuries either as conquering Muslim soldiers, slaves or as freemen have added a kind of richness and diversity to Spanish literature and culture, the depth of which few are aware. Chandler hopes his research will help change that.
“I’m looking for manuscripts that highlight the black African presence in pre-modern Spanish society,” Chandler said, “and for documents that speak to African slavery in Spanish society, such as legal codes, punishment decrees, announcements of runaways or rewards for their return. I’m also looking for any journals that provide details about Spain’s colonial project in sub-Saharan Africa, namely Equatorial Guinea, and for materials on Juan Latino, a black scholar of 16th century Spain.”
For his research, Chandler will travel to various cities, including Madrid, the capital in central Spain. While in Madrid Chandler will visit the Biblioteca National, the National Library, where he will search computer databases and archives to find texts on blacks in medieval or Renaissance society. He'll also travel to the southern region of Spain to the city of Granada to continue his research at the University of Granada. Southern Spain has a significant population of Africans from Morocco and Algeria who are by far the largest group of immigrants in Spain.
Chandler also plans to visit the cities of Valladolid and Salamanca to talk with some of the people living there about the African experience in Spain. Chandler’s trip is funded by a faculty recruitment award though the UAB Comprehensive Minority Faculty and Student Development Program. The program is administered by the UAB Office of the Associate Provost for Minority and Special Programs.
Afro-Hispanic literary and cultural studies have cultivated a wealth of scholarship concerning the descendents of Africans in the Americas, Chandler said.
“But far less attention has been paid to the historical encounters between Africa and Spain that took place long before the Spanish moved to the New World. The few critics who have explored the subject of Africans in Spanish society have often written in Spanish, which limits the accessibility of this subject matter to individuals who speak Spanish. As a result, English-speaking audiences are unaware of the cross-cultural dynamics that have influenced or even transformed Spain.”
Many early Spanish literary texts confirm the African presence in Spain, Chandler said. Take for example Saint Isidore of Seville’s “Etymologies,” an encyclopedic text written in the seventh century. “Etymologies” provides general information on a variety of topics, including various communities outside of Spain, including Africa. But Saint Isidore describes Africans only in geographical terms, writing that Africans come from a not-too-distant land where the sun is hot and the sun’s intensity explained the blacks’ skin color. While Saint Isidore didn’t exhibit any negative racial attitudes toward the Africans, he lacked sufficient knowledge of Africans’ ethnic diversity.
Another manuscript, Don Juan Manuel’s “El Conde Lucanor” written in the 14th century, introduces a nameless black man who is a servant. In addition to having no name, the black man has no home and no lineage like the white characters in the text, Chandler said. But this nameless black man has a notable impact on the outcome of the story line.
"During Spain's golden age emerged a group of highly regarded texts, including the anonymous “La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes” in 1554, which contains one of the first interracial relationships recorded in European literature. The relationship takes place between a Spanish peasant, Antona Perez, and an African stableman who is not only black, but his name, Zaide, suggests that his religious background is Islamic.
"The literary foundation in the Spanish letters firmly establishes the presence of Africans in Spain,” Chandler said. “With this in mind, I want to use Spanish literature as a proof of African presence in Spanish history. In doing so, we will not view Africans in modern Spanish society as exotic novelties alien to Spanish society.
"But what these text failed to demonstrate was that Africans, especially in recent centuries, is that Africans often struggled to survive in a culture that has not always been agreeable to their presence."
In addition to researching the literature, Chandler will talk with black Africans from Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking country on the African continent. A common language and a colonial experience have facilitated the immigration of Equatoguineans to Spain, many of whom come to Spain as students.
Unfortunately, some Equatoguineans have suffered the brunt of vicious, anti-immigrant sentiments. Chandler will explore the problem of racial discrimination in Spain and the recent wave of anti-immigration sentiments expressed by some in that country.
Many Equatoguineans who arrive in Spain are struck by how few Spaniards know that Spain had colonial endeavors in sub-Saharan Africa, Chandler said. Many of the students from Equatorial Guinea have expressed a desire to raise awareness of their country and to secure its place in the body of Hispanic literary and cultural criticism.
"It's not my intention to rewrite history by my interviews with Africans living in contemporary Spanish society,” Chandler said. “That would be an impossible feat. But with this project, I hope that I can help blacks who live in Spain tell their story with the hope that what they have to say today may be revelatory concerning their ancestors who have known Spain at various junctures and in varying degrees throughout the past.”