So it happened. I had my first encounter with danger today on my way to work for an event.
Once off the bus, I crossed the street and began walking toward my job when the people (three women and two men) behind me squirted mustard on my back and purse. I knew immediately what they were up to — before leaving for Argentina I read about ways criminals try to pickpocket tourists. They usually operate in groups and target people in busy or crowded areas. One person squirts the victim with a condiment of their choice –mustard, kethcup etc. The second person then tries to clean the victim off using this time to pickpocket them.
Once I felt the mustard on my back I walked away as fast as I could. Thankfully they did not follow me. I didn’t run because I was outnumbered and didn’t want things to escalate to violence.
I got to work safely and told Sandra what happened.
“They targeted you because they think all black people in Buenos Aires are tourists,” Sandra said. “Because you are dressed nicely, they automatically think you have money.”
Sandra continued to explain how being Black in Argentina means more than just being exotic. In general most Argentinians think all Black people are from Africa and as a result they assume we are poor. But if you happen to Black and you are clean and dressed well, they assume you are rich. Sandra said this makes Black people prime targets for pickpockets. She also said it does not help that I am a small, short woman, making me even more vulnerable to these types of schemes. There’s nothing I can do about being a small black woman so I am not really sure what I can do to prevent being targeted in the future.
But I thank God for protecting me and I thank God I read that article. I thank God things did not get violent and that I got home safely.
After my not-so-great experience at Kika Disco in Palmero three weeks ago, I’ve been hesitant to go out again. I know that I shouldn’t judge Buenos Aires from one bad experience so I decided to give going out another chance.
Last weekend the other MU girls and I were invited to a house party, the party host was a friend of Danielle’s (MU student) so it was a medium sized crowd. When we got there the place was crawling with teenagers. I am not really into fraternizing with younger kids so I kept to myself. In the middle of the night a group of young girls approached me and asked to take a picture with me. I kindly said yes but a little part of me wanted to say no.
The only reason they asked was because black people in Argentina are considered rare and exotic. The girls just wanted to commemorate such an unlikely encounter with a photo. I understand that they meant well but I don’t like the special attention just because I am black.
Throughout my time in Buneos Aires I am often reminded that I am black. People touch me without asking, they pat my head like I am some sort of animal and the men always compliment me on my “color” — as they call it. I’ve been called an “African queen”, Moreno (black) and many other things. None of these remarks have been said with a negative intent but honestly, the unwanted attention is irritating.
Some of my readers may not understand my experiences or how compliments can be viewed as irritating but the constant staring and touching makes me feel as if am in an exhibit, on display for others’ enjoyment. I am a human, not an object that you stand next to for a photo opp and then show the photo to your friends. I have a name and its not Moreno. It is never ok to violate someone’s space and privacy and just touch them and inspect their hair as if they are from another planet. After all my skin is the same as theirs. We were all created by the same God.
There’s no one word to sum up my first night out in Buenos Aires. I can try… and words like exciting, laughter, hot and frustrating come to mind. But none truly summarize my mixed emotions.
In true Argentinean fashion, we started our night at 1am. All eight of us girls went to Kika, a popular night club in the Palermo Soho barrio. Palermo Soho is known for its night scene and it was crawling with people when we arrived in our taxi.
Most clubs require a RSVP list in order to enter, we didn’t quite understand this when making our reservations so we used our individual names. This caused some confusion at the door but the manager let us in for free. Score! Unlike in the United States I was never carded. Another score!
Once inside, the air smelled of cigarette smoke, alcohol and sweat. The colorful strobe lights matched with intensely loud music encouraged everyone to let loose and dance. We waited in line to order drinks and this was particularly challenging due to a lot of shoving and several attempts from others to cut in front of us. We finally forged our way to the bar to find that they were out of all the drinks I wanted. I settled for a mixed drink but eventually ditched it because it was not made well.
On the dance floor, we attracted a lot of attention. Our “foreignness” seemed to shine like a disco-ball that night. Every five minutes a different man or group of men would approach us.
“¿De donde eres?” or “Where are you from?” they would ask.
“Los Estados Unidos” or the “United States” we chimed back.
After learning we were American, a whole slew of questions poured from their mouths. Where are you from in the states? How old are you? Are you a student? Where are you studying? Can I have a kiss? All that order…and I am not joking, they would literally ask to kiss us.
The aggressive and bold flirting of Latino men is one the biggest cultural differences I have yet to adjust to. Most men love the fact that I am Black and love my braids even more. Throughout the night men constantly touched my hair as if I were some type of exhibit. Being Black in Buenos Aires makes me exotic and this brings a lot of unwanted attention and stares. One of the other girls even mentioned how all the men were staring. I’m used to being a minority, this is part of my identity. However my experiences in Buenos Aires has only heightened my racial and self awareness.