Friday, July 4, 2014

Any Guilt Feelings Among Black Americans Traveling in Latin America?

Terri, an African-American member of a Facebook forum, Brothers and Sisters in Latin America, posed a question to those of us who have lived or visited a Latin-American country. She wanted to know if any of us felt any guilt or felt badly that we, as Americans, get better treatment and more respect than the black citizens of the countries we visit.

The reason I personally do not have guilty feelings is because, as much as possible, I try to connect with the black community in the countries to absorb as much as I can about their black experience and history. Monetarily, I offer support in ways that I can afford, but at the same time, I do not allow anyone to take advantage of me. 

In the commercial district of Cartagena, Colombia, I came across a black woman selling her wares. Although, I saw nothing that I wanted or needed, I handed her some money just to be helpful. There were other times, in certain countries, that I blended so well with the black community that I too sometimes experienced disrespect due to racial prejudice. 

In Chincha, PerĂº, an Afro-Peruvian friend escorted me to a bus station to inquire about the price of a ticket to Ecuador. The man shouted the price at me in a tone of voice expressing doubt that I could even afford it. In Quito, Ecuador, I had trouble catching cabs in certain parts of town, especially at night, because I was profiled as an Afro-Ecuadorian thug. One Friday night I saw a cabbie drop off a white couple, and when I tried to enter, he wagged his finger in utter defiance. I then waved two $5 bills, LOL; he changed his mind instantly. Once in the cab, he was pleased to learn that I'm an African-American traveler and not an Afro-Ecuadorian native...sigh!

Tamara, another one of our African-American members, was generally treated with warmth and respect in her travels, however, she spoke of one isolated incident in a department store in Lima, PerĂº. She saw some soccer jerseys that she wanted to get for her nephew. She tried to get the store clerk's attention, but the clerk turned and walked away. Within minutes, the store clerk returned with a man who was possibly a security officer. When Tamara addressed her in English, the clerk's attitude changed abruptly giving Tamara a very pleasing smile. Tamara was so turned off by the obvious racial profiling that she decided to shop somewhere else (good for Tamara!).
Thierry, an Afro-Latino member of the group stressed that in Latin America, tourists of “any” color get treated better than local Latin-American citizens, regardless of their race. I tend to agree. I believe that if I stayed in a fancy hotel speaking English only, and perceived as having a pocket full of money, I would not have experienced any racism. In Latin America, money “whitens” your skin.

He [Thierry] also added that the great hospitality that visitors from other countries receive from Latin Americans may also be a way for them to take advantage of you, i.e., to charge you much higher prices—the famous gringo tax. Fortunately for me, my attempts to establish bonds with local citizens and immerse myself in the language and cultures of the barrios (the hood) results in cheaper prices for food, lodgings, entertainment, and souvenirs, which always saves me an enormous amount of money.

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