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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Perú: Traveling While Black




























With the recent immigration bill signed into law by the governor of Arizona and its resulting outrage, my mind went back to an experience that I had in Perú after crossing the border from neighboring Ecuador. It was in the border town of Tumbes where I got a taste of what many brown-skinned Latinos in the U.S. have to deal with.

As my taxi driver loaded my luggage into his trunk, a member of the Peruvian National Police (PNP) came out of no where asking to see my papers. This particular officer was cool. He even laughed at one of my jokes. It took him only a couple of minutes to see that I was legally in the country, and I was on my way.

I just happened to be wearing my Obama t-shirt, and with both index fingers, I pointed to my t-shirt saying that I work for Barack Obama (LOL).

Within five minutes, my cab was going through a rough-looking area of town, and I felt a little concern for my safety. When I saw another PNP officer standing watch as we approached an intersection, I breathed a sigh of relief. As soon as he saw my black face, he motioned for my driver to stop. This cop was determined to make a bust. He called for backup to further scrutinize my documents. I just happened to be wearing my Obama t-shirt, and with both index fingers, I pointed to my t-shirt saying that I work for Barack Obama, LOL. In a way I do considering that my company receives some federal money to carry out government business. The officers got a little concerned and let me go.


Another five minutes went by when I was stopped by a third officer. This time, I was getting irritated. Trying to hold my temper, I asked, what's the matter officer? He snapped, I want to see your passport, that's what's matter! This officer was more determined than the others to make a bust. Almost losing it, I snapped in Peruvian slang, ¡Despacio, mi español es monse! (slow down, my Spanish is Whack) My cab driver chuckled; I was not laughing. The officer took my passport back to his patrol car to run a check. Once he learned that my passport and tourist card were valid, he began questioning me to see if my responses would be consistent with the data contained in those documents.

Still not satisfied, he asked me what I was doing in Perú. I slid my sun glasses half-way down my nose and eye-balled him as I told him my three reasons. Mind you, had I not spoken Spanish, I may have gone to jail until they could find an interpreter.

Almost losing it, I snapped in Peruvian slang, ¡Despacio, mi español es monse! (Slow down, my Spanish is whack!)

With an "Uppity Negro" attitude, I explained to this cop that (1) I wanted to practice my Spanish. (2) As a hobby, I explore the black experience in Latin American countries. (3) I want to know why there is so much discrimination against black people in his country. I asked him how many black police officers he knows?

The officer realized that he was wasting his time trying to make a bust (or collect a bribe). As he proceeded dejectedly toward his patrol car, I shouted “¡GRACIAS POR LA PRÁCTICA EN ESPAÑOL(Thank you for helping me practice my Spanish)! The cop responded with, "¡YA (yeah, yeah!), My cab driver contained his laughter to avoid any more trouble.

Had I not spoken Spanish, I may have gone to jail until they can find an interpreter.

Here in the USA, when confronted by a cop, I interchangeably address the cop by both the name on his name tag and badge number so I can have it memorized should I need to report him or consult an attorney. I forgot to do this with the PNP because after having been in Perú three times already, I ASSumed that Peruvian cops were above this type of behavior. Next time, I'm reporting it to the Peruvian Board of Tourism.