Before visiting Puerto Rico, I heard rumors about the poor treatment of Black people in Latin American countries.
From the relationship between Dominicans and Haitians to colorism within the Latinx community. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine traveled to the island of Puerto Rico just a few weeks before I did, and she told me bluntly that “they didn’t like black people”. I wasn’t surprised based on what I’d heard before, but it definitely made me apprehensive towards the trip I was about to take.
My mindset going into my vacation was to expect the worst so that I wouldn’t be caught off guard. I learned my lesson after traveling to Italy and assumed that I’d find myself caught up in some beautiful European love story only to be greeted with racial slurs, ignorance, and contempt. I was not going to let that happen again.
From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was ready for someone to say something I didn’t like, favor my fairer skinned friend over me (a dark-skinned woman), or completely ignore my existence. I can say now, that after six days traveling around the Island, I didn’t experience any of that (at least not blatantly). Now, it may have had something to do with the fact that I blended in as a local, especially as I walked with my Spanish-speaking biracial (half African American and half white Jewish) friend, understood 80% of the Spanish conversations I was involved in, and opted to travel mostly sans tour groups, because I’d often heard that some Latinx people see a difference between African Americans and Afro-Latinx, so that may have garnered me more respect. Or, it could have been because many of the people I came in contact with simply didn’t hold any real contempt towards Black people. All I know, is this was definitely not like my trip to Europe.
However, on several occasions, I noticed that I attracted attention because of my long braids. A few women from Argentina living in Puerto Rico asked me about my braids and the process of getting them done. One asked if it was my hair, and I told her yes even though it wasn’t because, why not? Black hair has the ability to grow to the waste length strands neatly braided unto my TWA, so I figured my lie may have helped to dispel any stereotype that black hair doesn’t grow. I regret nothing. The other Argentinian woman told me that she loved my skin, and made a point to mention that her boyfriend “has [my] skin”.
For some, attention like that can be off putting and feel a bit like you’re on display, which in some instances can disgustingly resemble the Human Zoos Blacks like Saartjie Baartman were once put in. But I would only feel that way if their curiosities came with unwanted gawking or groping, and rude gestures. But, for the most part, no one crossed the line. Though one waiter in a Mexican-style restaurant looked like he was about two seconds away from grabbing my hair after he mentioned how nice my braids were, but I think my what-is-this-fool-about-to-do stare let him know to keep his hands to himself.
So, my experience with race relations in Puerto Rico was luckily nowhere near what I expected. I do admit that could be for any number of reasons and that someone else could have an entirely different experience, but at the end of the day, I do believe that if you make up in your mind that you’re going to have fun regardless, no back-handed compliment, micro-aggression, or blatant racism would ruin your entire trip. Ignorance and racism, as we’ve seen time and time again is quite alive even 2016, so don’t fool yourself into thinking all will be fine. Remain aware of the possibility for hostility, but don’t allow it to dictate how much fun you’ll have on your trip.
Nicole is a contributing writer for The Knockturnal. follow her on Twitter and Instagram @NcolAlexandria. And check out her newest vlog: http://bit.ly/294uElq