Sunday, August 18, 2013

Visiting Rough Parts of Lima, Perú—I’VE BEEN WARNED!!!

  La Parada Market in the District of La Victoria in Lima, Perú

As many times as I’ve been to Lima, Perú, I’ve never been to the District of Callao (pronounced Kah-YOW), which is said to have a large Black community. That is except for the times I’ve inadvertently passed through going to and from the airport. 

I have several friends from Callao, including Alberto, a black Lima police officer I met in the city's ritzy Miraflores District through a mutual friend. There is a young sister named Monica Carrillo, who has committed her life to empowering young Afro-Peruvian youth who is also from Callao. And one of my favorite Salsa music stars Antonio Cartagena whom I met when he performed in San Francisco years ago is also from Callao.

I recently contacted Mariela, a Facebook friend from Callao who is now living in New Jersey, and explained to her that I wanted to visit Callao’s Black community. I asked her for advice on where to go. She told me that Callao is a dangerous area for tourists, and recommended that I go to the Miraflores and Barranco distrits, which are the touristy areas of Lima. 

Having grown up in the hood myself, I was a little insulted. She doesn’t know that I been to those areas and would prefer to spend my time in areas where I get to see the real citizens and their real lives, and not the overpriced facade presented in Miraflores and Barranco. I am a traveler, not a tourist! There is a huge difference between the two.

I explained to her that I received the same warning about another rough area of town, La Victoria, where I rented a room from a family, hung out, and was barely noticed let alone harmed.
Just yesterday, at a local Peruvian restaurant here in Oakland, I chatted with Julio, the owner who is also from Callao. He told me the exact same thing Mariela told me, and added that if I should go, not to go alone, but find someone who is willing show me around. I immediately explained my tranquil experience in La Victoria, and although I spent a relatively very short time there, I would have never known that it is a rough area. He then changed his tune as my race entered the picture.

He went on to tell me that, like Callao, La Victoria has a lot of blacks who are respected on the street for being ready to unite and “throw down” (viciously fight back, and not tolerate aggressive behavior). 

I recall another Peruvian I met in the US who asked me emphatically, you mean nobody messed with you in La Victoria? I said no. He then shook his head and concluded that they probably thought I was familia. The first time I went into La Victoria in a cab; we passed a Mestizo construction worker who grinned at me with excitement and shouted, ¿qué pasó, familia (what’s up, bruh?)  The cab driver explained to me that Afro-Peruvians refer to themselves as familia, and looking at my skin color, the construction worker had no clue that I am an international traveler.

However, there was a police officer patrolling on foot who did notice that I am not familia because of the way I strutted past him with the swagger and bounce in my step that is common among so many African-American males. Our eyes met, and instead of speaking to me in Spanish like everyone else, he blurts out, HOW YA DOIN' MAN?! I just burst out laughing as I acknowledged him and kept stepping. His reaction to me was something I might expect in Miraflores, but not in La Victoria, the hood.

I have to admit that I've been blessed to go into these communities and come out unscathed. Every Peruvian I talk to about my ventures into La Victoria tell me that I've either been lucky or that my skin color protected me. They just don't know that before every trip, I pray and get prayed for. However, the next time I'm in Perú, I want to take Julio's advice, and that is to go into Callao with someone who is from there. Someone like Alberto, the Lima police officer.

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