Being Black abroad: Do you see yourself?

In this blog post, I am specifically writing to my minority readers.

As you begin to settle into the routine of life abroad, you begin to look around. You become aware of the people around you. The realization that there is no one around that looks like you hits you. For me, this means every single room I walk into, I am the darkest person with the coarsest hair. I immediately stand out. 

One thing I was not prepared for coming to Peru was the fact that there are very few Afro-Peruvians where I live. At first, I begin to ask why this is? Question the institutions that were set in place that pushed out all of the other Peruvians.  After I run through all the possibilities of why this could be, I begin to ask myself what this means for me. The first week or two I was in Peru there were lots of stares from strangers. This was easy to dismiss because usually the stares occurred when I was with my ISA group. Seeing a group of 7 foreigners all speaking English may be a little out of place, so I ignored it. Once orientation for my university began, I looked around and realized that I am one of two dark skinned black girls that are studying abroad at my university. I justify it by reaffirming Peru is not a traditional place to study abroad, so maybe there is not that much diversity. Still, the feeling was a little unsettling. Then one day when I was walking to school these two guys tried to get my attention and cat called me by calling me “negrita” and “morena”. While annoying, I had to remember that guys catcall everywhere and, in Hispanic countries, calling someone by their physical features is a cultural norm.

Me and my friend Lindsey got stopped and asked to be interview for their class project.

Me exploring the color streets of Callao

Ultimately, every instance adds up and I could not dismiss it anymore. I stand out like a sore thumb. While some days it can feel like being out of place, being the one black girl or being a minority abroad in general normalizes our place in these spaces. Every minority has a different experience abroad as well. I know my roommate, who is Mexican American, loves studying abroad in Peru because she feels comfortable speaking Spanish in way that she does not feel in America. For me, I love being in Peru because I am not reminded constantly of the strong racial divide in America. In America, I feel like almost everyday someone wants my opinion on a social issue or I feel the need to educate someone on black culture or why what they said was offensive.

Me and my lovely friends exploring the Real Felipe Fortress, lots of creepy history here.

I think about how I am making it so much easier for the next black girl who wants to study abroad. She won’t have to be the first black girl to walk down the streets of San Isidro to go to university, and maybe people won’t stare too long. The Spring semester before I came to Peru, I worked incredibly hard to save up money to travel. I remind myself that I have been planning this trip for a year and I have every reason to be just like all the other kids that study abroad. I think that is the best advice I can give is, as a minority abroad, it is important to remind yourself why you decided to study abroad and the sacrifices you made to go to your country of choice. Every day it is so necessary to remind yourself: I deserve to be here.

Mariah Allen

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