Published: April 21st 2012March 22nd 2012
Part of the boardwalk.
While doing my research before coming here, I discovered that there isn't much information out there on people of African descent in Chile. Simply because there are virtually no black people in Chile. True story. Since I've gotten to this country, I've seen less than 10 black people and that includes my time traipsing around Santiago, the capital of Chile, which has over 5 million inhabitants. As a result that means that black people here are seen as extremely exotic. I've never experienced anything like it. Over this past month, I've come to see myself differently and I've also come to recognize the destructive influence that the U.S. media can sometimes have on the selfesteem of my African American community. It's a subtle, unnamed problem in society that I've lived with my whole life. I've lived with it for so long that I began to think it was normal. But now I see that it's a United States problem and not something that is experienced in the rest of the world. Living in Chile has opened my eyes. Let me share my thoughts and experiences.
In preparation for my trip, I began researching gender roles, racial demographics, and other social
dynamics in this country. My study abroad advisors advised this so we wouldn't get to our foreign country and be surprised. I had heard that although things have gotten tons better there is still a lot of sexism in Chile "machismo"
. I'd also heard that it is a very classist society. Those things I was prepared for. As a black woman, I thought it would also be prudent to see if there is any racism here that I should be aware of. I couldn't find anything so in that aspect I came blindly. I was in no way prepared for how people would respond to me here.
Chilean men are professional cat-callers! They do everything from whistling, to kissing noises, to cat hisses. You name it, they do it. The colectivos
(taxis) even have special horns that sound like sexy whistles that they use to honk at women. For the longest time I would hear "tweet-twoo" but I had no idea where it was coming from! It also sounded like a car horn so I was super confused. Finally I realized it WAS a car horn as I stood on a street corner waiting for the bus and a colectivo
driver honked it at me as I looked right at him. Amazing.
Black women here are considered beautiful. Probably because we're so rare. My host dad was trying to explain it to me one night at dinner. He said Chilean men like foreign women--a lot. I understood that because I remember getting shouted at while walking around with my girlfriends in Santiago. Not surprising. Then he said they really like blonds. Not surprising either because everyone's brunette here so blonds really stand out. Then he proceeded to tell me that seeing blonds here is becoming much more common because of tourism, and that Chilean men really love black women. I wasn't expecting that. But as I go places every day, I see that it's true. Papa Samuel gets a kick out of it and loves to relate the tales to the family at dinner, much to my embarrassment at times! His favorite story is when he took me and Cassandra to a store to put money on our prepaid cell phones. It was barely our 3rd day in Valparaiso, so he had to show us how to do it. As we were all standing at the register, there
Twistin' like it's going out of style!
I promise I don't walk around like this everyday. Haha! I was being silly and Lauren caught me!
was a gentleman behind us in line. I didn't really pay attention to him. All of a sudden, the next thing I know, the woman behind the register gets quite angry and sternly tells the guy behind us "Sir! There is another clerk over there who can serve you." I was just like, "Dang. This chick's grouchy." Haha! But when we left the store Papa Samuel told me that the dude behind me was looking me up and down like a nasty perve and that's why the lady got mad and told him to change lines. She was actually looking out for me! So sweet of her because I was super oblivious! Then Papa Samuel told Mama Sussy that he's amazed by how much attention I draw in the streets. He's so funny. It's like I'm his little bobble. Haha!
Anyway, I wanted to think that Papa Samuel was just exaggerating. I told myself that part of the attention I drew was because usually Cassandra and I walk together. A tall black girl and a tall blond girl walking together is not common at all. Well, when I went to the boardwalk today...alone, I realized that Papa Samuel was right. It WAS me! And it was quite the experience. I got out of class and decided I wanted to spend some time on the beach so I headed over to Muelle Baron which has a boardwalk along the beach in that particular area. The sun was shining and it was a great day for a stroll. There I was, with my big hair, my favorite green shorts, and my Indian sandals and the breeze coming off the water felt so good on my face. I was only there for an hour but it was going down. Men walked by and called me hermosa
(beautiful), starred, whistled, and waved profusely. One man approached me and started walking along side me to talk to me. A group of men shouted "¡Oh que linda la morena!"
as I walked past. Another man said, "Muchas gracias. Tu eres muy hermosa"
and practically thanked me for the shorts I was wearing (and no I wasn't the only one wearing shorts). Then yet another asked me if I spoke Spanish. When I lied and said no he yelled that he loved me...in English! It was intense!!
When I finally left, and hopped on a micro to go meet some Missionaries in the Plaza Victoria to be a translator, I realized that it isn't just Chilean men who love black people. Chileans in GENERAL love black people. I sat next to this really sweet older lady on the bus and she smiled at me and said "Oh que lindo el color de tu piel"
(oh how lovely the color of your skin). Wow. I mean wow. And I remembered some Chilean girls in a discoteca
telling me how much they love negras
(black women), and then one girl even told me that she wished she had hair like mine! That's when it hit me. Everything just hit me! I smiled back at the older lady and realized wow...the United States has a freaking problem!!
I don't have low selfesteem. But I have never felt as beautiful as I do here in Chile. And no, it isn't because I get hit on every 5 minutes when I'm walking in the streets. It doesn't hurt (haha!) but it is truely because I feel like my type of beauty is appreciated here! I see beautiful Chilean women every day. Many! I also see lots of beautiful European and American women every day. But I noticed that in the U.S. we don't tend to appreciate all types of beauty. We appreciate white-beauty and there's no other way to put it. There are many beautiful black women but from the things on the TV, there is a subconscious message that for us to be beautiful, we have to look as "white" as possible. We have to be "light skinned" and have hair down to our butts. Oh, and our hair better be straight and not kinky. Look at all the black leading ladies in movies. Light skin. Long hair. Look at most of the black ladies in sitcoms. Light skin, long hair. Look at the black women they have in commercials, billboards, magazines! Lighter skin. Longer hair. It is a terrible bias and trust me, the message is not lost on my African American community, nor other communities. In the Mexican community, it's better to have "whiter skin". In the Indian community as well. The Bollywood stars are the ones who more closely resemble caucasions. It's considered more attractive to have blue or green eyes and blond hair. But you know what? There is more than one way to be attractive and beautiful. I really feel that here. I walk around with my poofy hair, my dark brown skin, and my sparkly sandals and people love it! From the men outside, to random chicks in the discoteca
, to the little old ladies on the bus, these Chileans think I'm beautiful how I am. When I washed my hair yesterday, I couldn't straighten it which left it a little poofy and big. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't lookin' like Don King or anything but in the U.S. if I went outside, it wouldn't necessarily be considered cute. But at dinner, my host family was enamored! They were like "We love your hair Chekeitha". When I asked why, they were like, "because it's different and it's cool". Who ever thought that being black in Chile would teach me to appreciate the way that God made me in new ways. What a gift. :-)