Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What's It Like for a Black Man in Perú?

 Late Afro-Peruvian singer Pepe Vazquez
I received the following message in an e-mail from Sean, one of my blog readers, with the following inquiry:

 Good afternoon, Sir:

Are you still in Lima? I saw your blogs about being a black man in Lima where I am about to visit for a week. I wanted to get a perspective of how things are for a black man there.

Afro-Peruvian drumming on the cajon. This popular percussion instrument was invented by Black slaves.

My e-mail response:
 As a black man in Lima, and Perú in general, it has been my personal observation that there is not much visibility of black people working in shops, office buildings, in transportation, on the police force, or in restaurants. 

In the heavily black populated province of Chincha where I did considerable amount of banking, the staff is lily white with the exception of maybe the security guard. Black people are restricted to  certain types of jobs like security guards, pall beaters, nannies, factory workers, and entertainers.

The good news is that racially motivated police brutality and hate crimes are non-existent compared to the U.S.A. I personally know a Black American family who chose to live in Perú because their black male child would be safer than he would be in the U.S.

With the owner of a tourist popular soul food restaurant in Guayabo, Perú

As a visitor with a U.S. passport, you will be treated as an upper-class white person. Even the black people you meet will see you as a brother from another culture, or in the Afro-Peruvian vernacular, "familia" with a pocket full of money.

If you do as I did and try to blend in with the black community speaking only Spanish, then you will notice some racial disrespect. 

 At an El Carmen, Perú resort

In a music store in Lima, I was serruptitiously followed by a white employee. In a high-end shirt shop, the store clerks didn't want to serve me because they thought I didn't make enough money. When I approached the store owner who noticed my Muhammad Ali t-shirt and the heavy foreign accent in my Spanish, he treated me as though I were a fellow businessman.

At a bus station where I was hanging with a local Afro-Peruvian, I approached a ticket agent inquiring about a bus ticket to Ecuador. In a demeaning tone, he blurted a price that he was so sure I could not afford. In each of these cases, had I flashed my passport and burst some English, their whole attitude, like the shirt store owner, would have taken an about face.

 At a block party in El Carmen, Perú

As far as the black community is concerned, I got way too close where people felt comfortable hitting on me for money. That won't happen to you if they meet you briefly knowing that you are only there for a week or two. It was I who made multiple visits trying to immerse myself in the language, including their Spanish Ebonics, and their culture.

With all that said, expect to have a rewarding, learning, uplifting experience in Perú! If you have any more questions, my number is listed in my e-mail signature.