Sitemeter

Friday, August 3, 2012

Racially Profiled at Peruvian Border


It was in the Northern border town of Tumbes, Perú where I had just crossed over from Ecuador, where I spent the last six days, by private taxi. I was on my way back to El Carmen in Southern Perú to reunite with my extended family and goddaughter.

My cab entered a rough-looking area of town, and I felt a little concern for my safety. When I saw a Peruvian National Police (PNP) officer standing watch as we approached an intersection, I breathed a sigh of relief. As soon as he saw my black face and Ecuadorian license plates on my private taxi, he motioned for my driver to stop. This cop was so determined to bust an illegal alien that he called for backup to further scrutinize my documents. I just happened to be wearing my Obama t-shirt, and I told them that I work for Barack Obama, LOL. In a way, I do work for Obama considering that my company receives federal money to carry out government business. The officers got a little concerned and let me go without further questioning.

I just happened to be wearing my Obama t-shirt, and I told them that I work for Barack Obama, LOL.

It wasn't even another five minutes as I was on my way to their airport in Piura, Perú when my cab was stopped by yet another PNP officer. This dude seemed desperate for a bribe or bust, and I was 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! Almost losing it, I snapped at him in Peruvian slang, ¡Despacio, mi español es monse! (slow down, man, my Spanish is whack).  My cab driver chuckled; I was not laughing! The officer was pleasantly surprised that I had a U.S. passport, but thinking it might be fake, he 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.

As he proceeded dejectedly toward his patrol car, I shouted “¡GRACIAS POR LA PRÁCTICA EN ESPAÑOL (Thank you for helping me practice my Spanish)!

Still not satisfied, he asked me what I was doing in Perú. I explained to him that, as a hobby, I explore black cultures in Spanish-speaking countries, and that I was staying with a reknown Afro-Peruvian family in El Carmen. The officer, at last, 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 (meaning yeah, yeah, yeah!), My cab driver contained his laughter to avoid any more trouble.

The driver explained to me what was going on. I was suspected of being one of the many Africans who were involved with the drug trade. Many of them come to Perú and Ecuador to buy drugs to sell in Europe. And to show that he knew what he was talking about, he named specific African countries. A lady-friend in Ecuador confirmed this fact as she herself met and was romantically interested in a French-speaking African who turned out to be involved in drugs.