Traveling while black takes different forms in countries around the globe. Over the last few years I’ve had a variety of unique experiences navigating norms and thoughts about race. Recently, I have seen more written about traveling while black, and have enjoyed learning how others have been received.
My experiences have aligned, but also take on a unique form due to my fairly ambiguous look. Depending on the country, my appearance can take on different meanings. Essentially, as much as I know I am black, I get that my eyes and skin can make it had to tell what I am. True in the US, and while I am traveling, it can be even more confusing. So my experience is one of traveling while mixed.
In Spain, I can remember being called a Chica Amailla “Yellow Girl,” while being cat called on the street. Thank you? F You? I was not quite sure how to respond. In Jamaica, countless people assumed I was Jamaican, and were surprised when they heard my US accent.
My time in Costa Rica was most interesting, though. My friend and I encountered a wide range of racial comments- from complimentary to derogatory, while in Jaco, Costa Rica.
Many places we were spoken to in Spanish, and were asked if we were from Panama or Columbia. This question was interesting to me and brought me back to my days in college as an ethnic studies minor. Thinking about the African Diaspora, makes me realize that there are people who look just like me from Brazil up to the US.
Chatting with a local Costa Rican girl, she first thought we were Costa Ricans from Limon, a major city on Caribbean side of the country. “Many of them look like you on that side,” she told us. Which makes sense as slaves were transported to the Caribbean side. We were also called Limones out one night in a much less friendly manner, and learned the flip side of the geographical connotation. Black Costa Ricans can face discrimination across the country, especially outside of Limon, which has the largest population.
I was also called a mulatto in, what seemed like a positive manner, and quite a few comments like “que bellos rizos” (what beautiful curls).
One of my favorite topics of conversation is Obama – and it seems like the rest of the world loves him just as much as I do. Many times when others discovered I am American, they took the opportunity to say how much they love the President. Me too, #4moreyears
PEOPLE ARE CURIOUS
For the most part people are just curious! People I interacted with just wanted to know what I was, why my Spanish was so horrible. You are Columbian, why do you sound like that? For me, each of these interactions is a chance to learn – for the people I interact with as well as for myself.
I look forward to my next adventure traveling while black.