Author: Melanie Guil
Located just across the street from Plaza de Nelson Mandela, right in the heart of Lavapiés, sits the clothing store Pantera opened just last month with the mission to help integrate manterxs into the labour market.
“Something that is completely clear to us is that no one wants to be a mantero. You’ll find no one who likes this work – they do it because they have no other choice. Laws like the Ley de Extranjería (Law of Immigration) neglect migrants and force them onto the streets,” says Malick Gueye, one of the spokespeople for Spain’s Sindicato de Manteros, founded in 2015 to campaign for migrant rights and fight against institutionalised racism.
The pandemic hit marginalised workers such as street vendors hard, leaving them with no source of income and no access to government aid. The Sindicato set out to help by offering economic assistance to those in need, relying mostly on donations, however, as Malik explains, “We found this would not work on a longer term, so we had to look for other ways of generating a communitarian economy.”
The idea had been in talks for a long time. Though originally planned to be a restaurant, the restrictions on the hospitality industry forced the union to think of other alternatives. Following the lead of Barcelona’s Top Manta, they decided to start their own clothing store. Named ‘Pantera’ in honour of the Black Panther Party’s plight for civil rights, it finally opened its doors to the public on 2 July.
“This is a project for all manteros, but the goal is not just to sell t-shirts. This is a political, anti-racist project,” Malick explains. Pantera’s main purpose is to help manterxs get off the streets and into the labour market, tackling systemic racism head-on and exposing the inequities and discrimination they face day-to-day.
All the merchandise sold at Pantera has anti-racism mottos. At this moment, production is handled in collaboration with the people from Top Manta, whose project has been running for the last six years. Many of the manterxs are tailors. Apart from this, the union offers training in serigraphy and design and hopes to continue; the idea is to provide those being trained with the chance to create their own garments in the future.
“We want to live in a country with equal opportunities, where there are no laws that criminalize and exclude people. This is our goal, to visibilise the fight against borders. The fight against borders is the expression of the fight against capitalism and colonialism which make people migrate in the first place. We want people to know why we migrate,” says Malick.
A great number of migrants are fishermen. In several parts of the Western African coast, mainly Senegal, multinational companies are depleting the fish stocks, leaving workers with no resources. In addition to this, the economic crisis brought by the pandemic has fuelled an already ongoing wave of migration.
Migrants not only face difficulties to enter the labour market, but they are also constantly targeted by racist police practices and are subject to criminalisation. “We’ve been reporting police aggressions for years. These reports are even in the Ayuntamiento’s records. But this is also incited by the Ley de Extranjería, because when police target manteros, they know they can’t report it because they have no papers. And this keeps getting worse with the hate speech spread by the media; it gives police more power to go after us. The way the system works makes it very difficult to get somewhere, because the police will always deny these aggressions,” Malick explains.
Among the many designs sold at the store are t-shirts with the image of Mame Mbaye, a Senegalese migrant whose cause of death is still in dispute. While police reports state that they found him lying outside his home and tried to resuscitate him, bystanders and friends of his claim he was escaping from a police persecution in Sol, until he collapsed and died of cardiac arrest. To this day, the Ayuntamiento denies said police persecution.
“He is a symbol to us. Someone who had been here for 13 years and didn’t like being a mantero, but he was never given the chance to regularise his situation. He had his craft, he was an artist, but in the end these racist laws never allowed him to grow. And we think his story is the story of many manteros. What happened to him could have happened to anyone. Waking up every day to run from the police, with the stress it involves and the harassment you suffer, knowing you can get killed. It was him, but it could have been any of us. This is the daily life of a mantero: getting up to fight and survive in a racist system.”
In this way, Pantera marks another strong step in the battle against the criminalisation of migrants. They hope to stop the normalisation of racist laws and practices that segregate migrants and push them onto the streets by giving visibility to the invisible and providing equal opportunities for everyone.
- Location: Calle Mesón de Paredes, 54
- Opening hours: Tues-Sat 10:30 – 14:30h / 17 – 21h and Sundays until 14:30h
- Instagram: @sindicatodemanteros
Melanie is a freelance photojournalist from Buenos Aires and a graduate from EFTI. She enjoys documenting the music scene and writing about arts and culture. You can follow her on Instagram @melguilphoto and see her work here.