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Madrid Mourns Mbaye, Inspires Call for Migrants Rights

In Lavapiés, the most diverse neighborhood in central Madrid, street art tells the story of the local struggle for migrant rights.

This street art is a call to action. It translates to,

“Struggling for the Visa”

It continues, “In memory of Mame Mbaye and our brothers and sisters who are migrant victims”*

Mame Mbaye’s passing was deeply mourned by his community, and for many his death illustrates the injustice many migrants face in Madrid and Spain at large. March 15, 2018 Mbaye was 35 years old when he died of a heart attack on the streets of Lavapiés. His friends reported that he was being pursued by police before he collapsed on the street in Lavapiés. A mantero, a undocumented street vendor, Mbaye made a home in Spain and lived there for 13 years. His neighborhood is home to many migrants, some of whom are also of African origin.

Well after protests followed his death, there still remains the aftermath of how his life and death has unsettled Madrid. It is calling out the discrimination against Africans that is felt from the bottom to the top of Spanish society. At the governmental level, African passports are one of the most difficult passports to travel with, and even the EU has started giving money to African governments in order to curtail the influx of African migration.

The New Internationalistpromptly reported Mbaye’s passing and most importantly, what his death means in the broader context of the migrant struggle for legitimacy and protection in his, her or their new home.

“[…] [B]usy with debating the facts, and the disputed narrative, we were at risk of losing sight of the background to Mame’s story: of a life ruled by fear, the absence of rest or serenity for those people that this city does not apparently have space for – although it plenty of space for others, affectionately welcoming speculators, multinationals and investment funds. We risked normalizing, once again, the reality for hundreds of men like Mame who stand for hours on the pavements, on the underground, watching people pass by. They watch the tourists, the citizens imbued with a full set of rights going to work or to see family, the marginalized, precarious people who worry about getting to the end of the month, but not about being detained or deported; the carefree young who sit outdoors in bars and cafés. Fear robs you of your best years, eats into your happiness; it makes you ill. To live in fear just for trying to survive, in a safe city like Madrid, is one of the worst possible expressions of inequality. And it’s shameful. These are the indisputable facts.”

The defense of people that do not see Mbaye’s death in these terms highlight the harm that manteros cause for the appearance of city center and multinational companies that they counterfeit the goods of and sell on the sidewalk. Does this make a city an enemy of its inhabitants? When economic opportunity and capital is limited, can anyone condemn the people who eke out a living in safe and nonviolent ways? In the wake of this tragedy, the answers we give these questions means life or death for undocumented people.

*In this this inclusive translation, it also reflects the use of “x” in Spanish nouns to denote male, female and non-binary genders that some people may identify with.