Sienna Brown is the quintessential Renaissance woman. She is a teacher, photographer and founder of Las Morenas De España. She took time from her busy schedule schedule to give the lowdown on life in Murcia, Spain.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up?
I am originally from Brooklyn, NY. I grew up between there and a small town upstate called Delhi. The only two places I’ve lived so far in life, have been New York and Spain and I couldn’t be more content. Travel is a different story though. I’ve been to quite a few countries including Germany, Portugal, Malta, and Italy to Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas.
Was traveling part of your childhood?
I’m continuously grateful for my mother who instilled a sense of travel in me from a young age. Whether it was a trip inside of the U.S. when I was young or more international vacations as I got older, we would try to “get away” at least once a year. I’ve always been curious about different types of people and cultures, so retrospectively, it makes perfect sense that my plan is to keep living the expat life long term.
How did your love affair with Spain start?
I lived in Madrid for a 6-month stint in the spring/summer of 2012 but Murcia was my first “real” move as an expat. When I sit down to think about it, I’ve always had a curiosity and immense appreciation of Spanish culture from a young age. I can’t quite put my finger on why it started. In the 6th grade, I dedicated almost a year for an international day project where we had to choose a country and do research on the culture, history and language. Of course, I chose Spain. I then continued on to make close ties in high school with students from Pais Vasco who came to the US for an exchange program. In college, I double majored in Psychology and Hispanic Studies. I studied abroad in Madrid and wrote my senior thesis in Spanish focusing on representations and misrepresentations of Latinas and Caribbean women in Spain, honing in from a historical and cultural lens.
After visiting the country in 2012 for the first time, my love affair was validated. I found myself embraced by the community I was living in and noticed a positive change in my personal life and my way of thinking. After returning to the States, two years later, I decided that I needed to go back for a longer period of time.
The move from the U.S. to Spain was quite simple, for me, compared to what it might be in other countries. I moved abroad teaching English through the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports and was placed to teach in Murcia, Spain.
Describe Murcia for the uninitiated.
Murcia is a city in the southeast region and is actually the 7th largest city in the country. Although it isn’t as touristy or publicized as many of the other parts of Spain, that is its beauty. Murcia is a chance to be fully immersed in Spanish culture. Although the city might not be as architecturally intriguing as other Spanish towns, the region has a wide range of natural beauty, from ocean to mountain landscapes, so there is endless opportunity to take day trips and explore.
What is your current profession? Is it a field that is traditionally internationally focused or did you intentionally make it so?
My professional story is interesting because I have experience in many different fields. I’ve worked in the fashion market doing PR for Vera Wang, the luxury travel industry as well as working intensively in communication and marketing with innovative brands. At the current moment, I’m legally in Spain as an English teacher working in a public high school. I love the flexibility of my job. It’s a part-time schedule… I only work 12 hours a week.
Although I am a teacher, I’m also the founder of Las Morenas de España (LMDES) which is a company that is redefining the Black experience in Spain.
Leading LMDES has allowed me to be a digital nomad, traveling throughout Spain and in Europe quite frequently for work. Since it’s inception, we’ve reached over 145 different countries and have grown strong ties with the expat as well as Spanish community, proving that there is a specific need for representation of POC living abroad, quite like what y’all are doing with The Black Expat.
What has been the relationship between your current location and your identity as an African-American woman?
To be honest, my experience in Murcia as an African-American woman has been quite welcoming and educational. Murcia isn’t a place that has widespread tourism like Madrid or Barcelona, so many people in the area might not be as used to diversity as those in the larger cities. Though there is a community of older Spaniards who still have a somewhat closed state of mind, I’ve encountered so many individuals here who are open and willing to embrace me as an integral part of the community. Not only that, but I’ve also met quite a few Spaniards who are very knowledgeable about Black culture and curious to know more. I’m somewhat grateful to be living here because it’s an opportunity to be an educator of sorts in a cultural sense, creating real global representations of African-Americans that stems beyond what’s in the media.
What’s your vision for LMDES and its value for Black (Expat) Women in Spain?
LMDES was created to redefine the Black experience in Spain through providing honest and useful views of life in Spain and creating a sense of community. Not only that, but we’re here to share resources, tips and locations to encourage expats and/or travelers to embrace Spanish society, not through the lens of a passerby but as an integral part of society.
Is LMDES open to Black Expat men?
The group is definitely open to Black men! We’re actually launching a men’s section on the site soon, called Toque Masculino which will be a space for Black males to be accurately represented in the expat + travel world, sharing new voices and perspectives that we might not hear otherwise!
What have you learned in your journey while in Spain?
The most unexpected thing that I’ve learned so far during my journey in Spain, is the importance of self-care and chasing what makes you truly happy. In the States, it is so easy to get caught up in the hustle, always trying to do more while forgetting to take care of yourself. Since living here, the Spanish culture has had a positive effect on me, allowing me to put more of a focus on embracing what it is that life has to offer and understanding that the work will always be there but first, I need to be working on being the best version of myself that there is.
For the first-time visitor, what’s one “must have” experience?
I think my number one experience is actually quite simple – go to a hole in the wall restaurant (or bar) by yourself and make conversation. Some of the best experiences have been going somewhere and just being open to conversing with people. It will give you a great sense of what life is like in the city you’re in, as well as getting to know the locals might also help you discover new places to see and explore!
What advice do you have for someone considering an international move?
Do the research! Find something you would like to do and also take advantage of your free time to pursue what it is you truly want in life. Living abroad often allows you to have a more sustainable lifestyle with less of an income, which will allow you to grow as needed without breaking the bank.
To learn more about Sienna’s work , visit with Las Morenas De Espana.