1 July 2011
El Ejido

I approach the cafe in the church plaza directly opposite the fountain. Bar Centro. As I turn the corner to the right and look for an open table, not too close to any other patrons, I see a kid in a black t-shirt and ball cap -- flat brimmed with the gold sticker on it, I need to ask Dana about what that means -- and I think to myself, 'Is that J.?' He doesn't look my direction, and I make a point of not doing so, either. If it's not him, I don't want him to think I'm some weirdo, staring. If it is him, I want to give him the time he needs to approach on his own or to bail. I sit down in a chair facing out towards the plaza so that he can see my face, just in case. I am half-expecting him not to show, anyway. I imagine he will be too shy to come, too shy to talk to a stranger, that it's too weird for an adult woman to contact a teenager out of the blue and ask him to talk to her about his music.

In the meantime, I order a cafe con leche with ice and watch a couple of work men who've removed a stone tile from the plaza next to the fountain and are turning a white plastic pump around in their hands; one of them leafs through an instruction booklet while a woman standing next to them -- one with an air of church secretary about her -- seems to goad them on about the repair they seem to not be managing to do.

My coffee comes. The waitress sits down with a patron at a table nearby. Finally, the kid on the bench gets up, approaches me, eyebrows raised, "Tú...?" he says, inquisitively. "J.?" I say, getting up to greet him, "Eres tú? Yo te vi allí pero no quería decir nada por si no eras tú. Por si acaso." "Claro," he says, "ni había mirado para acá."

He's got a slight build and a shadow of a moustache on his upper lip, downy whiskers too soft to shave. His cheeks are bare, no hint of a beard. Thick black eyelashes and a quick smile, his black hair combed forward around his face, under his cap, curly and thick. He seems sweet.

I ask him if he wants something to drink. "Ahora cuando viene el camarero pido algo," he says, sitting back in the chair across from me. The waitress two tables over had already glanced up when I went to meet him. A public meeting of strangers -- 'I wasn't sure it was you,' 'Nice to meet you,' and a kiss on each cheek -- is out-of-the-ordinary in a place where the townies know each other and each other's families. She got up, saying, "Si quieres algo, pídemelo," so he ordered a bombón con hielo, and she went inside to fetch it.

A family sat down at the table immediately next to ours as we started talking, and I could feel the father staring from time to time. I chose to ignore it until I went for my pen and notebook and found myself eye to eye with him. Strange: an interview about music and politics in the middle of the church plaza. He finally turned back to his wife and kids after I sustained his gaze for a few seconds. 'Qué más da?' I thought to myself. 'This is *my* conversation, not yours.' I wondered if J. felt self-conscious, talking about rap, leftists, racism and socio-political revindication within earshot of the other customers.

I'd gotten in touch with him after seeing him and a firend perform in the Santa Maria high school gym during their Culture Week. They performed a series of rap songs that turned out to be completely muddled in the gymnasium acoustics. What caught my attention was their introduction to one of their unfortunately indistinguishable songs: "Esta es una canción anti-inmigración." I stared at the two of them on stage. I stared at their audience of mostly Moroccan students, and I thought, 'Qué?! What are they thinking? Do they know where they are?!' A teacher standing next to me said, 'Well, at least with the acoustics no one can really understand what they're saying.'

After that, I asked around among the teachers to see if they had contact info for the two boys, and I managed to track J. down on Tuenti, sent him a message and asked to meet with him. He attends FN in El Ejido and was finishing his first year of bachillerato, so he asked to postpone our meeting till after June 10th, after his exams were over. I wrote him again last weekend, and we managed to set up this meeting for this morning. I was happy he showed up. I'm sometimes amazed at how kids are so willing to talk, or at least entertain the notion of an interview. The shyness that surely would keep me from having given an interview at that age doesn't seem to affect a lot of them. Good for my study, of course.

I asked him how he and his friend got started with rap. He said there are three of them, actually: two who do vocals, another who does rhythm. There's a fourth who acts as manager and who's helping to set up a studio at his house. They're working on recording now and want to post some songs on You Tube to get more exposure.

I asked who his influences were, and he listed off names from Spanish rap that I did not recognize at all. He had to spell the names out for me, smirking a little, amused at my clumsiness with cool information. I laughed and finally passed my notebook over to him at one point so that he could write the names himself. He said these are people who do mostly political rap, and that's what defines his group, too, "aunque hacemos algunas canciones más melancólicas, también." They call themselves "Fucking Drama." I love the name.

He said he's always written and done rap, for as long as he can remember. He described himself as coming from a humble family. His dad works in construction and has been without a steady job for five or six years now. He said his dad knows a lot about music, especially jazz, and that he shaped his interest in music.

He said Spanish rap is different from American in the following ways: American rap comes primarily from the streets, and it's about "presumiendo," about revindicating that experience, showing off, being flashy and over-the-top. Spanish rap, and his rap, don't stem from the same roots. It's about their own experience, about showing life like it is. (I mention the Borges quote I have on my Facebook page: "Todos somos órganos de la Divinidad, puestos aquí para observar"... or something to that effect. He doesn't know who Borges is, but he likes the quote and he smiles broadly. "Eso es," he says, "eso es bueno.")

He's from Santa María, and he tells me a lot of people are racist -- "Personas de mi edad, otras." He said he writes rap to speak out against those attitudes, even though he admits that in school, some immigrant students seem to make trouble. He mentions a robbery that took place at a shop in Santa María recently, "Y creo que eran moros." And then a shooting that happened in the gypsy neighborhood. But he said he writes in defense of anti-racism (it's clear by now that he and his friend slipped when they introduced their "anti-immigration" song at the school gym), of attitudes on the left, in support of th 15-M movement and against the two-party system that is not a real democracy here.

"Con tu permiso, voy a fumarme un cigarrillo," he says. "No, no, adelante," I say, pushing the ashtray toward him. He keeps the cigarette low, below the table, so the smoke doesn't blow in my face. Flies have been buzzing around both our faces since we sat down, and the smoke helps repel them. He looks a bit inexpert smoking, tapping the cigarette against the edge of the ashtray almost more often than he takes a drag, but when he leaves, I see that was the last smoke in the empty pack he's left on the table.

"En la aldeílla hay mucha gente que es racista. Hace unos años que hubo el asesinato de una mujer--"
"Sí, me han contado."
"Pues, desde entonces, y hay gente que cree así, pero lo cree porque es lo que dicen sus padres, y no se han parado a pensar. Tampoco la política es una cosa que interesa a muchos, la verdad."
"Ya, es verdad. Pero qué es lo que te hace a ti diferente?"
"No sólo yo, hay otros también, sólo que después de lo que pasó, se nos tacharon de racistas, y es la idea que hay. La gente piensa en El Ejido y piensa en el racismo."

[This is an idea that will have to be discussed in my dissertation: the lingering reputation of the place itself. D. talked about this the last time I ran into him at the pool in Almerimar, too. He's just slightly older than J., and he talked bitterly about how outside of El Ejido, you mention the name of the place, and everyone automatically says, "La gente es muy racista allí." This is a discursive extension of motifs developed about the region in other ways and moments: the people are mountain bumpkins, uncultured... the south in general is "backward." I think this discourse fits neatly into that context. One more way Andalucía is not modern, not caught up with the rest of Spain, much less the rest of Europe! They are an easy scapegoat for uneasy relations with immigrant communities, an easy way to say, "Hey, at least we're not El Ejido." A variation of the unofficial Arkansas motto, "Thank God for Mississippi."]

J. said he'd learned things from the street as well as in school, "Y creo que hacen falta las dos cosas." I asked what he'd learned outside of school. "Pue', aprendes a tener cuidado, a saber como llevarte con la gente, con quien hay que tener cuidado. Yo nunca me he peleado y no me gustan las peleas. Y no es que haya muchas drogas, pero hay muchos porros, sobre todo. Donde quieras que vayas, puedes encontrar a gente con porros. Escribimos un poco en contra de eso, también, que la gente no se deje llevar..." I asked about fear, about how so many people had told me they are afraid to walk down the "Calle de los moros" or to go out at night. "No, miedo no paso. Yo paseo por todas las calles de la aldeilla y nunca me ha pasado nada, pero nada, ni nadie me dice nada."

He said he hadn't attended the 15-M rally in El Ejido because it coincided with the fiestas in Santa María. He laughed, maybe a little embarrassed, but he went on to say that at least the movement was an alternative to the norm. It was a way of showing that young people are not happy with the current system. "Y es la gente jóven la que tenemos que hacer cargo de esto, bueno la gente mayor también, pero sobre todo nosotros, aunque tengo muy claro que el PP va a ganar. Yo no soy del PSOE, tampoco, eh? Es que creo que son la misma cosa, y luego votar a otro partido es lo mismo que no votar; te obligan a votar al uno o al otro, que si no, es lo mismo que tirar el voto."

I ask him to send me some of their lyrics, and he says he will. I give him a card, telling him that although it looks terribly official, I'm really still a student, I'll be writing the dissertation over the next year or so, and that I'll be in touch if I want to incorporate any lyrics from their songs into my chapters. He nods, seems pleased. We stand to say goodbye, two kisses, he moves to go inside and pay, but I stop him and he eventually relents, lets me pay, thanks me and heads across the plaza to the street running down the hill behind the church. I gather my bag and notebook, pass the family seated next to us without looking at them, and go to pay. There's A/C, and it's refreshingly cool and dry inside.