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.


  1. That is kinda funny... He didn't name any officer? LOL

  2. I am Afro Latino who came into the US as a child. love the blog, it always amazing how Latin American countries not only go out of their way to diminished Black contribution but straight out suppress their Black populations. I have been to pretty nuch every Latin America country and I am also facinated by the black dispora in Latin America. But I digress, I had a similar experience in Peru both at the Tumbres border crossing and just outside Trujillo city limits. The cops took me off the bus and kept insisting that i was Jamaican. After I kept insisting that I want to speak to the American embassy official, they said I couldn't go until I gave them a "tip" for a "coca cola." the cops then told the bus driver to leave and the bus driver and the people on the bus told the cops that they weren't leaving without me. They took my wallet and 15 soles I had and I went on my way. Now, what actually fucked me was speaking Spanish, I would have been better off pretending that I didn't understand anything. They didn't speak English so they would have gotten frustrated and left me alone.

  3. You know what? Every travel guide I read on Perú said the same thing you said about pretending you didn't understand Spanish. They will get frustrated and leave you alone. But why would they insist you are Jamaican with a US passport? Do you have roots in Puerto Rico, Cuba, or the Dominican Republic? They may have confused your accento caribeña for Jamaican.

  4. One of the most blatant errors committed by African Americans in general related to racism in latin america is that it's non existant. I could literally write a book about my experiences in Puerto Rico and my runins with white Cubans and a short stint in Venezuela. Here in Puerto Rico it's amazing how backward we really are when it comes to race. I've been a Financial Consultant/Stockbroker for many years(I'm now retired)with a major international bank. At a social affair of the bank (Tuxedos,gowns,etc.)I went with my oldest daughter. A woman standing behind me actually tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to get her more champagne! My daughters jaw dropped open when I politely took her glass and got her the champagne. I gave her the glass with my business card and identified myself as one of the senior brokers from the investment division.She apologized. While she spoke face to face, I deliberately turned my back to her and ignored her while she spoke and I continued speaking to my daughter. I have friends locally who still beleive salvery was abolished in Puerto Rico before the US. Not so it was seven years after! My wifes father was told (this was in New York)that she was going out with me. Her father, whos' family made their living selling candy on the street corners of Caguas, screamed at her on the telephone "I hear you're going out with a nigger"? She told me about it and I got his address. The very next day I went downtown, knocked on his door and introduced myself in my most authoritive voice: Buenas tardes. Me llamo Raymond Milián Moura y llevo compañia con su hija. Puedo pasar? That took care of that. Her sister (after we were married) invited us to a party at her home. Amongst the invited was a black couple. The sister told me that she had deliberately invited that couple "So I would feel more comfortable"! I told her that I was going straight home to shoot my father. She asked why? I said because I had to tell my dad what she said as my father was Puertorican but looked Norwegian. It's all a matter of attitude. I don't have a problem with someone calling me Oye Negrito. I'm called Negrito by the woman I sleep with. Do I know your sister? And if they wantb to get nasty, I call them "Jibaro Patisucio" (A barefoot hillbilly with dirty feet). I've traveled to many countries and never paid a bribe. I stand close to people, look them straight in the eye and ask what I can do for them (it helps that I wear a small military lapel pin).Now I travel as a tourist. What I contend with are mostly hustlers. Years ago, when someone would DEMAND to see my passport, I would give it to them and thjeir mouths would drop open when I gave them an official passport of the US government. The customs people would actually carry my luggage. they're not alone. I was pulling Cuban "Balseros" out of the water when some guy yells "Oye mulatico,no me toques la mujer".I threw them back in the water. TS. Of the loads of Balseros I've dealt with, non ever thanked me. They always thanked the white crewman. You can imagine the shock when I was stopped in Brickell Plaza in Miami by a Cuban who said he recognized me. That I had saved him some years before. He was working had a rented apartment with his family and wanted me to come over for dinner! Whats worst is to have a woman I've known for years look at my grandson and say "Mira, Ray tiene un nieto blanco" Response: Si. Pero si es inteligente y culto, es mio. Y nunca sera un jibaro patisucio"
    Un Abrazo,
    R. Milián Moura

  5. Thanks for sharing this with me... so much crap on the internet... and this was worth every minute of my time.

    I'm curious how do most Peruvians or South Americans react when you share this side of their "beautiful country".

    Are they receptive to the criticism or not?


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