"I have suffered racism"

Luc André Diouf.
Luc André Diouf. / R. C.
  • Luc André Diouf Socialist MP for Las Palmas

  • Spain's first MP of Senegalese origin, Diouf has slept on the streets and been insulted. "I'm not bitter about it," he says

Luc André Diouf arrived in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, in 1992 with a one-month tourist visa. He wanted to see his newborn daughter, whose mother, his Senegalese girlfriend, who was already living legally in Spain. Living together proved impossible, however, and Luc ended up sleeping on the beach for 45 nights. He only ate once a day, and developed pneumonia. He underwent surgery twice. He was on the point of being deported. His faith in God and knowledge of the Bible came from a priest at the hospital, who later helped him to obtain training. He became part of the CC OO trade union, and one day he received a phone call: "Hello, it's Pedro Sánchez here." He couldn't believe it. Now, Luc André Diouf is the PSOE party's executive secretary for refugee policy and a socialist MP for Las Palmas.

Can you remember what it was like, sleeping rough?

It was very hard. It was something I could never have imagined when I was in Senegal, but it made me strong and helped me deal with what happened to me in Spain. It taught me the value of having something to eat and made me grow personally and professionally.

What were you most scared of, hunger or the police?

The police, definitely, because if I had been arrested and deported it would have made me look very bad in my own country. It would have been considered a failure, something shameful. When someone emigrates, there are very high expectations on the African continent.

Have you felt the need to settle accounts with anyone now that your situation is so much better?

No, never. My father used to say that bitterness is not normal in healthy people. Quite the opposite: if I have offended someone I always apologise, like when I was involved in a legal problem over racist behaviour. Between 2000 and 2005 I was insulted daily, I was belittled, there was graffiti... I often heard people say things like "Filthy negro, it's a shame Franco's not here any more"! But I'm not bitter about it. What would I gain from that? Nothing.

But you were sentenced to 18 months for that incident...

That is the only 'but' that anyone can say about me in the 27 years I have been in Spain. It was Carnival, I was out shopping and somebody started shouting at me. He was one of a group of local racists. He started to accuse me, demanding to know why I wanted the local bar closed down. At a residents' meeting, I had said I was in favour of the bar owner being fined and that people should respect local regulations. He wanted to know who I thought I was to tell people in the Canaries what to do, said it was their place not mine and if Franco were alive I would either be deported or dead. I didn't want to continue talking, but he carried on shouting insults at me and my partner, who was from Tenerife. But the final straw was when he yelled, "Me cago en tus muertos" [I shit on your dead relatives]. My father had died a month earlier and I wasn't able to go to his funeral because I had to work. I was really upset by what he said. He refused to apologise, grabbed my shirt and tried to headbutt me. I moved out of the way, but he tried again and I responded. He was badly hurt and reported me; I reported him as well, for racism, and he was fined. I was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but because I didn't have a criminal record I didn't have to go to jail. In 2010 my criminal record was wiped clean. I suppose some people would use that incident against me, but that doesn't worry me.

Frustrated basketball player

What measures would you put into effect so that immigration stopped being a problem?

Migration is a social reality, it has existed since the world began. In order to understand it, respect it and recognise the values and rights associated with it, all political leaders need to reach consensus through a pact of State.

What would you say to Spanish people who believe the welfare system is at risk because it has to support so many immigrants?

That claim is a distortion of the truth. The authorities don't provide houses or assistance to illegal immigrants. They do get help from the NGOs but those funds, which are mainly from the EU, are for anybody with very few resources, whether they are Spanish or foreigners. Also, the migrant population is normally healthy, and they hardly ever have to consult a doctor. In Spain illegal immigrants aren't even four per cent of the population. You should ask the families who employ home help whether they think immigration is a good thing or not.

Looking back over the years, is there anything you regret?

Two things: not having become the professional basketball player I wanted to be, and not having finished my studies in Economics.

Would you sit at the same table with an MP from the Vox party?

If I have to debate with them I will do it, but I don't understand why someone who is supposed to fight for the interests of everybody would base their discourse on segregation. It is something very painful to have to put up with and I think it is completely wrong for somebody to receive a salary when they are working against the interests of those most in need.

Did you ever think you would be an MP one day?

Never, not in my wildest dreams.

How will your life change now? Better holidays?

No, quite the opposite! The job will be hard work because the immigrant population expects that of me. With regard to holidays, I will go back to Senegal as I always do to see my family and go out collecting oysters with my lifelong friends. In that sense, nothing has changed.