Home > discrimination, race relations, Travel > Between Two Small Worlds

Between Two Small Worlds

Today there was a great post on Racialicious about Blacks & Latinos, specifically, Afro-Latinos. Explored in the post (and ensuing discussion) were issues of self-identification, cultural pride, what “recognized” Hispanics/Latinos think of Afro-Latinos, etc.

I love these types of discussions because they remind us that race and identity aren’t clearly defined, especially when you are a subset of two minorities. As a black person who speaks fluent Spanish, I can identify with this and detailed a few of my experiences in my comments. Speaking Spanish (and my affinity for the language & its cultures) means that I have given myself a global view of my experiences as an African American, and for that I often feel like an anomaly. I live in Texas, which doesn’t help — people here, white or black, still call Mexicans “Spanish”.

Strangely enough, the only time I’ve ever felt comfortable in this cultural divide is when I traveled to Puerto Rico late last year. Being a Spanish speaker and a black person was no longer an anomaly (and neither was being a full-figured woman) and I believe it was the first time I ever felt completely accepted and included. It was a great feeling, and one of the main reasons I want to go back.

A Racialicious reader asked me about my experiences in Puerto Rico, and my answer to her got so long I decided to make a post out of it. Thanks for your question, Xey!

I’m also an African-American Spanish-speaker (studied Anthro and Foreign Languages), and coincidentally, I’m planning a trip to PR with one of my A-A female friends who also speaks Spanish. Small world. Got any pointers, tips for travelling in PR?

Hey, congrats on your upcoming trip!

Hmm, tips for traveling… well if you are speaking in terms of general travel advice (where to stay, etc.) then I don’t have a whole lot to offer; I stayed in San Juan the entire week I was there, but plan to visit the whole island the next time I go.

Socially, I noticed that I was treated more like a “local” the more relaxed I was. I spoke Spanish very freely (instead of the usual “I hope I’m not making a mistake” mode I’m often in) and got more comfortable with myself. It happened very organically, and my favorite moment was when a white tourist came up to me, speaking his very bad Spanish. I was very excited about that, as I haven’t ever traveled anywhere I was not seen as an “other.” In PR, I found it very liberating to be in a place where the standard of beauty included me (I say this as a woman who is also full-figured; this may not be an issue for you or your friend).

Also, I was in San Juan with my white fiancé. I wasn’t in a tourist area, but was staying in a rented apartment in a residential area that seemed quite upscale to me. The general perception was that I was a boriqua who had brought her boyfriend to the island. However, I was there for a full day before his plane arrived, and I did notice that I was treated differently as a single black woman than as a black woman with a white guy, although I was assumed to be a “native” in both cases. I’m not sure if this is because of the racial/color issues inherent in PR society, if it was because it’s more acceptable to be with a man–any man–than to be a single woman, or if it was a class thing and people were being nice because they thought we had money. I would love to explore this more, given the chance. But I also loved that we were freely spoken to by black Puertorriqueños, and I felt embraced by them in a way I don’t often feel from blacks in the US.

Racialicious also has some posts on Blacks in Brazil (another place I intend to visit) and I will respond to that another time.

  1. Xey
    June 10, 2009 at 7:23 am

    Oh, wow! Thanks for the post! I was curious as to how I may be viewed socially in PR (San Juan). I always worry about looking like a tourist when I travel, even if domestically. Glad to know that people may not even notice. 🙂

    My friend has actually travelled to Dominican Republic before, so she’s somewhat used to Caribbean travel. She loved it, and she felt very accepted. I haven’t been out of the country since I was a toddler, and I was in Europe then anyway. I’m really looking forward to this. I haven’t been to a Spanish-speaking country before. 🙂

  2. June 11, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Hi there!

    I am glad that you noticed THAT in Puerto Rico!!

    As a person who is black Puerto Rican woman and was born in the Midwest, I can assure you that it’s not a big deal to be black in Puerto Rico!!! *LOL* It is soooo common that no one blinks.

    You would not believe how many blacks I encounter in “the States” who act STUNNED and bewildered to hear me speaking Spanish. They’ll say “where’d you learn to speak Spanish?” I say “well, I am a black Puerto Rican so Spanish is pretty much a norm!” *LOL*

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

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