Is Tetuán dangerous? Adventures in Madrid’s “Barrio Latino”

January 25, 2018

Is Tetuán dangerous?

Let’s find out…

Yesterday I published an article about my neighborhood, Tetuán, in the north of Madrid.

When I later shared it on Facebook, the discussion quickly devolved into an all-out flame war.

Someone was quick to say that Tetuán is all Latin gangs and drug dealers.

A Latin person responded…

And soon our little expat community was exploding with the debate about whose country sends more criminals to Spain – and where in Madrid those criminals live.

I mostly stayed out of the conversation, except to say that in 4 years living in Tetuán I’ve never seen a gangster or a drug dealer.

Someone produced a news article about the “Tetuán Hell” known as Barrio Latino – and I had to admit to myself that it’s a part of the neighborhood I haven’t spent much time in.

Close to Cuatro Caminos, on the west side of Bravo Murillo, the article (in ABC, it must be said) painted it as an area where drugs, violence and other types of lawlessness were the order of the day.

So this morning, I sprang out of bed with a grand idea…

In the tradition of the great gonzo journalists of yore, I’d go to the Barrio Latino to see what’s shakin’.

I’d try to blend in. I’d check out the drug scene.

I’d get, for lack of a better term, “all gangsta” up in this.

Adventures on the mean streets of Tetuán, Madrid

I traced out a route on Google Maps with the help of the ABC article, through what were apparently the worst parts of the neighborhood.

Steeling myself with a cup of coffee, and getting in the mood by listening to Dynamite Hack’s version of Boyz in the Hood, I prepared to sally forth, gangsta style.

“Knowin nothin in life but to be legit, don’t quote me boy, cause I ain’t said shit.”

And sally forth I did…

With my black hood up, my baggiest jeans and military boots, my practiced gangsta strut, I hope to look a bit thuggish myself. It’s a cold morning, in January, and the mist is just lifting… People are going to work, buses hiss to a stop and then rumble off.

It’s just another day. Apparently.

And so I strut down Bravo Murillo, ice-grillin each and every pensioner, deliveryman and streetsweeper who crosses my path.

Most other madrileños are either at work or still in bed, apparently.

Calle Jerónima Llorente – a squatter’s paradise?

Just a few minutes from home, I’m on the corner of Calle Jerónima Llorente, which the ABC article has promised is full of squatters.

The mafias, they say, occupy the buildings and then rent the flats to immigrants.

The first thing on the street, though, is a cute bakery and café full of old grannies.

I decide I need more coffee if I’m going to be adequately gangsta for the adventure that awaits. So I stop in and get a double espresso.

Black, no sugar.

#causethatshowthisgangstarolls

is tetuán dangerous? madrid neighborhoods
Close to the corner of Calle Jerónima Llorente, Tetuán, Madrid.

While I’m waiting, I chat up the granny behind me in line.

“What’s the neighborhood like?” I ask. “I’m thinking of moving here.”

“Expensive!” she spits. “Especially considering how old the houses are. Maybe down that way you’ll find something cheaper…”

She points in the direction of the supposed squatter’s paradise.

I thank her, drink my coffee, and sally forth again. “I should have asked her about drugs,” I think. “But then again, you never know who’s listening…”

#streetsiswatching

The next thing on Jerónima Llorente is a “light saber combat school”. As my brain processes the words process in Spanish I break out in a laugh. Light saber combat school? Really?

Nothing more gangsta, I suppose, than light saber combat. Nothing spells danger like Star Wars nerds. (What’s my dawg R2D2 up to these days, anyway? Heard he got capped.)

The next thing I notice is a gourmet wine shop. “Specializing in the best wines from Eastern Europe.” They open at 12:30 – that’s hours from now.

Otherwise, the street has bars and restaurants, a few fruterías, and several abandoned buildings.

abandoned building in tetuán madrid spain
Building for sale on Calle Jerónima Llorente, Tetuán.

(Someone in the Facebook discussion yesterday said “I’ve lived in Brooklyn – before it was cool – as well as the Bronx and Queens, and Tetuán is much grimmer than all of them.”)

But not being one to shy away from some bricked up windows, I carry on.

If there are squatters here, they’re not the kind with banners out the window to announce their presence. Soon I’m at the end of the street, having seen nothing out of the ordinary… just a run-down area badly in need of some gentrification.

Next up…

Calle Almansa – also known as Crack Town

The ABC article has promised that one can buy crack on any corner of calle Almansa.

But the first few corners seem suspiciously quiet.

When I finally see a sign of life, it’s in the form of two more grannies with their grocery carts trailing behind them.

A couple corners later there’s a fat guy with a white moustache walking a dog. He eyes me and my camera suspiciously.

street art in tetuán madrid
Street Art on Calle Almansa. This tiger’s all over Madrid.

A few corners after that, I finally find an open business… And it appears to be pretty gangsta. A whole wall of New York Yankees hats, Chicago Bulls jerseys in the window.

And also: big gold chains with diamond-studded crosses.

Bling, in other words.

Finally, something urban. Some streetwear.

(Spirit of Biggie Smalls, protect me!)

#yallcantflossonmylevel

A bit of personal history…

When I was in middle school back home, the halfwits in the local government apparently decided that us kids in suburban Phoenix were in serious danger of joining gangs.

Our parents were terrified of the same thing… It was the heyday of N.W.A. and drive-by shootings were the plat du jour, apparently.

If it was happening in LA, well, Cave Creek – our dusty town just 12 miles north of Scottsdale – was obviously next.

Teachers at school would lose their shit if they saw a backwards baseball cap, and we all knew that wearing such previously innocuous colors as red, blue or black could get us killed – although perhaps we’d have to travel a bit to find someone to shoot us, to our own urban hell which we only knew as “central Phoenix”.

In order to combat the spread of gang activity, the school mandated classes they called “Drug Abuse Resistance Education” – known by the acronym D.A.R.E.

This involved, if I recall, an hour-long class every Friday, given by our gym teacher – or occasionally a local police officer – in how to say no if we were offered drugs or incited to join a gang.

There were, we learned, 8 ways to say no.

To this day, I can only remember one of them: The Broken Record.

“No. No. No. No. No. No. No.”

And I suppose that’s what I would have said if anyone had offered me a spot in their violence gang.

In any case, my invitation to join the Crips never arrived (perhaps it was lost in the mail?) and I was only offered drugs a couple of times in my whole high-school career.

I can’t recall exactly what I said, but I suspect it wasn’t a resounding “no”.

(Thanks for nothing, D.A.R.E.)

Back to my Tetuán Hell…

In a few more blocks I’m back at Bravo Murillo – I’ve walked all the way down Calle Almansa and nobody’s offered to sell me crack… not one measly rock.

There are plenty of Dominican bars, though, and some Afro-Carribean hairstylists. The usual money transfer offices you’d see in any immigrant neighborhood.

Still, except for the shop selling streetwear and bling, I’ve yet to see anything remotely gangsta.

I turn back to head up last street from the ABC article…

Calle Topete – the best illegal after parties in all of gangland

Calle Topete, according to ABC, is a hotbed of illegal after parties, starting at 6AM and ending whenever.

But on this chilly Thursday morning it appears to be nothing more than a sleepy straight shot parallel to Bravo Murillo.

Evangelist churches (“Come drink the water of eternal life… it’s free!”), Chinese hairdressers, and more Dominican bars and restaurants – mostly closed.

calle topete tetuán madrid spain
Business as usual on Calle Topete, Madrid.

I guess the thugs are snuggled up on their sofas at this point, watching the daytime gossip shows and preparing themselves for another night of gangstadom.

You gotta get up pretty early in the morning to out-gangsta Mr Chorizo. And apparently, nobody in this area wants to get up before noon.

(When you’re Mr Chorizo’s age, you just sorta wake up at first light anyway. Guess the thugs are younger.)

Five or six blocks later, I’m done with Calle Topete as well.

And finally, back to Tetuán Heaven

In the Barrio Latino, once again according to the “Tetuán Hell” article, the gangs control the parks and plazas.

Which is also funny, because I haven’t seen a single park in an hour of walking. When I finally come across a plaza, it’s eerily silent except for a mailwoman dragging a cart full of letters.

She stops and smiles politely, patiently waiting outside the frame of the photos I’m snapping.

And that’s the end of the Barrio Latino.

All in all, I’m one disappointed little gangsta.

Also, it’s been more than an hour since my last coffee.

I wonder if Starbucks still has pumpkin spice lattes.

Also, where does a gangsta get some WiFi around here?

Straight Outta Compton-ly yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.S. Ok, so the conclusion here: I have no idea if there’s actually anything going on down there in the Barrio Latino. Maybe later in the day. I suspect the journalist for ABC didn’t just make the whole thing up. But maybe… Just maybe… A certain type of person sees two dark-skinned people together and just assumes they’re in a gang. In a city with so little violence, I’m not sure what to make of this stuff. What do you think? Hit me up, right here in the comments!

P.P.S. More articles you might like: the hero goes out for coffee, expats vs immigrants and adventures without running water. And if you were thinking that La Latina was Madrid’s “barrio latino”, well, I’ve got an article about that too. It’s called La Latina: cañas, tapas and history.

P.P.P.S. Check out my more recent article about okupas in Spain for more about the squatter issue. Enjoy!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. Lovely (and funny as hell, as Tetuán Hell, even) article as usual. I’m sure you of all people managed to blend perfectly among dominicans and Latin americans in general.

    I’ve not travelled as much as yours truly but I’ve learned that lots of people tend to overexaggerate A LOT when it comes to how dangerous a place is. I lived in Nottingham for one year, came home drunk most nights, yelling and singing in Spanish all the way from the city centre to my house in the outskirts, near the University… and nothing ever happened to me. A few years later I learned that, back then, the city was considered as the 4th most dangerous in all UK, and it was know as “Shottingham” for, apparently, obvious reasons. I went to Barcelona a couple years ago and got lost at night in El rabal, which is apparently the worst place to be in Barcelona at night. Guess what? Nothing happened. i don’t knw whether it’s a matter of body language, self confidence or what, but I’m far from having a threatening physical appearance, so I have to guess most people just exaggerate or have never actually been to those oh-so-dangerous places and tell the story as they’ve heard it…

  2. El viejo y derechista ABC, toda una institución en sacar reportajes para asustar a abuelos que viven en el barrio de Salamanca. Curiosamente, mi mejor amigo vive en la calle Topete y más de una vez hemos salido por la noche por el barrio de copas.
    Es cierto que en ciertos bares te miran digamos raro si ven que no eres dominicano, y no comento nada de entrar a una chica, pero nada diferente de lo que ocurre si en un bar de españoles entra un dominicano con su gorra de los Yankees. Quizás a altas horas de la madrugada si ves menudeo y puedes presenciar la típica pelea de borrachos que la prensa se encargará al día siguiente de vender como el enésimo intento de la mara salvatrucha con hacerse con el lugar de los latín King.
    Muy de acuerdo contigo con respecto a la gente que ve a otra persona con un tono de piel algo más oscura y ya piensa que es el fin de la civilización occidental (obviamente blanca, cristiana y hetero).

    Siempre es un placer leerte

    1. Oh wow, Julio, thanks for the comment! And you’re totally right… I’d like to see a Dominican in a Yankees hat show up in a bar in Barrio Salamanca to see what kind of looks he gets. I was in the “Barrio Latino” with my big ginger beard this morning and got some strange looks. But that happens everywhere 🙂

  3. I’ve been living in Cuatro Caminos-Tetuán since 1983 and never had a single problem. As a middle-aged female I should be scared (?) of our newly arrived neighbours from Latin America but thanks to them the barrio is vibrant and full of young people, schools are full of pupils and they are taking over the stalls in our best-of-the-city municipal market Maravillas, where there is a huge supply of any kind of exotic food. I would not say conviviality is easy (as it is not in any other melting pot urban area) but in general Cuatro Caminos-Tetuán is a safe and pleasant place to live and work. Let’s hope it never gets gentrified!

  4. Thanks for the article! I’m new to Madrid and am looking out cheaper places to live for the summer. Came across a small but cute apartment in calle Jerónima Llorente and also liked the area.

    I would have to take a 15 mins walk to Guzmán Bueno metro at 6:30am though and am in general not feeling super safe walking alone in the dark :s Do you think there’s really anything to be concerned about? Or just my anxiety levels? :p

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