An Illegal Alien, And Putting It On a T-Shirt

Barcelona’s undocumented street vendors spent years running from the police. Then they launched a streetwear brand to fight for their rights. The message? “We belong.”

Kati Krause
15 min readApr 29, 2020

This story was first published in my newsletter, blue whale.

It all began with a panic attack.

Daouda Dieye was sleeping on his cousin’s sofa in Terrassa, a suburb of Barcelona. The immigrant from Senegal had recently lost his work permit. A former street vendor, he’d been working the harvest all over Spain and the owner of a farm in Jaén had agreed to employ him on contract to help him get his papers. But in 2011, a new government toughened immigration laws, rescinding Daouda’s permit. All attempts to get it back had failed. Now Daouda was again collecting scrap metal around Barcelona with a shopping cart. He was stressed out.

That night on the sofa, Daouda suddenly felt his soul leaving his body. Frightened, he called his cousin. “I told him, dude, I’m dying!”, he recalled. An ambulance took him to the hospital, where doctors told him there was nothing physically wrong with him. “They said I suffered from anxiety. I didn’t even know what anxiety meant,” Daouda said.

Soon, Daouda was…