I came back to Santiago the morning after International Women’s Day. The march must have been something, the walls of buildings all along La Alameda were covered with hundreds of graffiti and posters. A special attention was paid to churches and Catholic universities, with slogans such as “legalize abortion,” “kill your rapist,” “get pedophiles out” and “we are the voice of those who have none.”
And then I stumbled upon three men perched on ladders painting over graffiti. Obviously, they were hired to do a job, it wasn’t personal, but I found the symbolism disturbing—men erasing what women are shouting.
In Santiago, I resumed my very enjoyable usual activities—walking around the city for hours, hiking in the Metropolitan Park, searching for the best empanadas and people watching—fully aware that soon, very soon, I will leave and resume another life in another country I call home.
No, seriously, I’m not living in Santiago. Yes, I’m Canadian. French too. I have both passports, believe it or not.
“No way you’re French, you’re as dark as Chileans!” a French tourist told me, earlier today. The comment was so dumb I was at loss for words. Funny, isn’t it, I totally missed the fact that all French citizens were, by law, pasty white—could all tan, Black, Asian, olive-skinned people surrender their passport, merci? Now, how about a meeting to decide what to do with the French overseas territories, maybe? I’ve heard most of the people are—gasp!—rather tan, almost… Black.
This lovely French tourist isn’t the first person who treats me differently because I somewhat blend into the Latino world. No Chilean would ever think I’m one of them—I’m too tall, my hair is too short, I don’t have the Andean eyes and nose—but I guess I could pass for Argentinean or Southern Brazilian.
I’m alone, I interact with people in Spanish and it looks like I know where I’m going, so most tourists assume I’m a local.
Funny the things that happen when tourists don’t think you’re one of them.
Last week, an old American couple asked me for directions in Providencia. They did start with “por favor” but it was obvious they didn’t speak Spanish at all and since I realized they were American, I replied in English. Even though I spent two minutes explaining them in fluent North American English how to get to the damn chain restaurant they were looking for, they still said “mu-CHAS gra-CIAS” and called me “señora” as if I was a local.
Another directions story yesterday—there are tons of tourists this week, for some reason. Five Canadian women looking for Barrio Lastarria. “It’s just a street, really, and it’s hidden behind this block,” I said. “Look, I’m going this way, I’ll show you.”
Walking together, we went through the usual where-are-you-from routine. “I’m Canadian too,” I said.
“Really? Where do you live?”
“This is where I grew up. Where about in Ottawa?”
“Close to Nepean.”
It’s only after I gave precise information on the neighbourhood that they relaxed and finally talked to me normally, as one of them. Who knows, after all I could have been someone pretending to be Canadian, right?
The worst interaction I had with two tourists took place a couple of weeks ago, on Plaza de Armas. I was taking pictures when I heard a couple behind me arguing over directions. This is my fault, I probably should have kept my damn mouth shut, but we’ve all been here, unable to remember where exactly that street we’ve just taken is, right? Besides, I often ask for directions, so I thought I could help them.
I turned around. “Excuse me,” I said in English. “This street is Catedral. If you’re looking for Bellas Artes, you have to take Monjitas, it’s straight to—”
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when tourists have been brainwashed to believe that Latin America is a dodgy place and locals are a dangerous bunch. Even a tan, English-speaking women wearing shorts, a Pink Floyd t-shirt and carrying a DSLR in plain daylight on Santiago’s busiest square could be a mugger.
I was so hurt I would have mugged them just to show them.
But I wouldn’t know how, so I just walked away.
I hope they walked around for ages looking for their subway station and got food poisoning later that night.
As hurtful as it was, this is a very enlightening experience—this is how some people treat you if they think you’re a local. Suddenly, the whole “walking while Black in the White gaze” makes a lot of sense to me. Apparently, the darker your skin is, the more dangerous you could be.
Shit. Is this how Feng feels in the West? Is it what it feels like to be a visible minority?
Fuck, sometimes I hate this world.