In-Your-Face Racism in Cuenca
(New York, NY)
I am currently visiting Cuenca (Oct - Nov 2012) and in the first two weeks, experienced four instances of in-your-face racism. I am an African American woman, well dressed but not in a manner to attract negative attention. My Spanish is not fluent yet but pretty good, having studied for six years in high school and practiced on my travels. The instances occurred as follows:
1. I approached a woman, speaking Spanish, to verify the address of a nail salon in downtown Cuenca. She did not listen to me. Simply looked at my face, shrugged her shoulder in an I-won't-speak-to-you-if-you-paid-me-a-million-dollars way and kept going. I later saw her in the same nail salon. I wished my Spanish were up to the standard where I could tell her how I felt about her treatment.
2. On that same day on the bus, I approached a woman to ask a question about the bus route. She simply stared ahead and acted as if I was not there. (This one seems common. See # 4 below.)
3. I was standing at the counter of an ice cream parlor waiting to place my order. A North American blonde woman walked in with her toddler, who was obviously of mixed race. She saw me standing there because she walked by me and positioned herself at the counter, close to the cash register. When the Cuencana behind the counter was ready to take order, she went to the blonde. I said, "Excuse me, I was here first." The Cuencana understood me and made a comment in quick Spanish that I did not understand. The North American blonde simply looked down and ignored me. That says to me that some expats have come here and feel free to engage in actions that they would get called on in the USA. I pick my battles. If I were not on vacation and had been living here, I would have called her out and embarrassed her to the point where either she would have left or said, "Take care of her order; she was here first."
4. I was in the bus terminal at Guayaquil, waiting for the bus to Cuenca. There were so many people that it was difficult to determine which line was which and I wanted to be sure I stood in the right line. I approached this woman, aged anywhere between 18 and 25. I received the freeze-out response. I recognized immediately what she was doing, so I asked the person behind her, who responded. As I moved away, the one in front came up with the smuggest smile you ever saw. As in, "Yeah, you think you can talk to me? Not on your life!"
Now folks, these people are going simply by the color of my skin. They do not know me. They do not know that I am a highly educated, professional woman, who could earn more in a day than they can in a month. It matters not that these women, back in the US, could not even compete with me for anything! The bottom line is that I am a black woman.
I met an expat who told me that she met a professional African American couple for whom she tried to get an apartment in her building. The owner of the building is Ecuadorian. She would not rent to them. They also had trouble finding work. Eventually, they returned to the United States.
I must say, to show the other side, that not all Ecuadorians that I have met have been like that. One said he was not aware of racism. Another said he is aware of it and the whites don't like him.
On the other hand, I am smart enough not to take the racism personally. One white European (Spain) said he has experienced where others are in line before him and people have tried to serve him first. He said his response is, "Take care of that person; I can wait." This same guy reported an incident of racism that he experienced. He stated that when he went to see an apartment, a North American guy showed up the same time and the owner simply ignored him (Spanish, white guy). The North American decided he did not want the apartment and when the Spanish white guy indicated he wanted it, he was refused. He is a white European but with an Ecuadorian wife.
This trip was to get to know Cuenca a bit, including temperature, way of life, etc. I visited other smaller cities outside of Cuenca and did not find this blatant racism. I was contemplating relocating here. Hmmmmmm.....
Welcome to life in Ecuador. Racism is common here. Most of it is directed from the mixtos (mixed Spanish and indigenous blood) to the indigenous. For centuries, the mixtos managed haciendas and businesses, and the indigenous were basically slaves, especially on the haciendas. So there's lots of bad blood there.
Unfortunately, blacks are considered inferior to the indigenous, so you have the mixtos and the indigenous practicing racism towards African-Ecuadorians, and anyone else who's descended from African peoples.
As for the woman stepping up to the front of the line, that's not really racism. That's just what's done here. The gringa probably learned it the hard way herself, and has decided to push her way to the front, especially since she has a kid in tow.
I'm a bit surprised by the reactions in Guayaquil, as there are several orders of magnitude more blacks there than in Cuenca.
Most people in this country have no experience with successful, well-off black people, unless their fútbol (soccer) players.
There are several African Americans living in Cuenca. You might want to try to connect with them to see what their experiences have been.
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