Being in a country with a non-existent “indigenous” Black population (actually, there is a small Afro-Chilean community in the North of Chile–bordering Peru–that is currently fighting to be recognized in the census. Read more here.) I find myself commenting on, or making a mental note of every Black people I see in a day. David as well. “Oh look! A Black woman!” we will say to each other. “Hey, is that a Black family? Yes, yes it is!”
There is a growing community of Black immigrants in Santiago now. There was a surge of Haitian immigrants who fled to Chile after the 2010 earthquake (which is interesting considering Chile also had one of it’s biggest earthquakes measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale, only a month after the catastrophic Haitian one). And since Chile is a peaceful nation with a stable, growing economy there are increasing numbers of immigrants from across Latin America, including Black Colombians, Peruvians and Ecuadorians. So it’s not completely strange to see other Black people here. I was told that 5-6 years ago, I would have received many stares but today no one gives me a second look, not even children, so I assume that means the percentage of Black immigrants has grown considerably in a short time.
Still, whenever I come across another Black person we will often lock eyes and look at each other for a moment. I often nod and smile. A sort of, “hello my fellow African brother/sister” kinda thing. What’s interesting though, is that I rarely get a nod/smile back. And it has made me think about what being Black means to Africans in Latin America. And it’s made me question what my assumptions are about the things that connect us.
Politically, I feel passionately in solidarity with my “Black brothers and sisters”. I feel united by a shared history and legacy of racial oppression that can be felt across the African diaspora, bonded by the shared historical/cultural similarities from music to religious practices and even family dynamics, and sharing similar skin and hair types makes me feel connected to other Black people as well. But then…
I do not share a language with the Black Haitians who speak French/Creole or the Black Colombians and Peruvians who speak Spanish (or the Black Brazilians and their Portuguese). We may share a history of racial oppression, but being from Tanzania my ancestors didn’t go through the Atlantic Slave Trade, and theirs did not go through German and British colonialism. I do not share blood with indigenous Americans or Europeans, while many of them do and it makes for very noticeable differences in physical appearance and history. I have no idea what it’s like to live in Peru or Colombia or Haiti. I have no clue what it means to flee a country because of political instability, or economic hardship, or a natural disaster. And in terms of culture…I spent the majority of my childhood and adolescence on the East Coast of the United States, listening to Notorious B.I.G, Mariah Carey and N’Sync; watching Salute Your Shorts, Saved by the Bell and All That; going to malls and driving down I-95.
Despite or maybe BECAUSE OF our differences, I find myself wanting to connect with other Black immigrants here. I want to hear their stories, and I really want to know what Blackness means to them. A few months ago I started watching the PBS documentary by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “Black in Latin America” and from what I saw all I know is that Black identity here in Latin America is rich, diverse, complicated. How do they identify themselves primarily? What do they think or know about Africans, African-Americans (from the United States)? And what do their experiences have to do with my own identity? (I smell my next film…)
Right. This guy actually deserves his own post, not just a footnote. He sits outside my mother-in-law’s building in a corner. I’m not sure what to make of it. Of course he looks very similar to a lot of Blackface memorabilia and many of the residents are appalled by it. Not sure if they are appalled because it looks like a guy in Blackface (probably not), or because it’s just really tacky and weird looking.Anyways, the building management put it out there a few months ago. I’d like to ask them about it and maybe record their answer on video….