Are you Black/African American? Are looking to spice up your life with a new adventure? Wouldn’t you just love to be out and about – buying groceries, going to the bank, checking your mail – and be called more or less “little dark girl?” If so, I’ve got the solution for you! Come right on down to Peru to get your fix! I promise you that you’ll never go a day without hearing it!
Truth is in Latin America its normal and not offensive to use physical characteristics to describe someone or to just get someone’s attention. So for example if you’re a girl with a little more meat on her bones people might constantly be calling you “gordita” which
basically means fat girl. To Americans, this can be taken as an extreme offense but here, more times than not (in my experience) there is no offense meant and is many times said with affection and care. Me? I hear three specific things constantly:
Negrita more or less meaning “black /dark girl”
Morenita more or less meaning “brown girl”
Sambita (reminiscent of our American word sambo, unfortunately) which from what I understand is a mix between a person of African descent and a person of indigenous descent but is also used to describe the texture of one’s hair. When people are using sambita with me they are usually referring to my hair texture.
Now, although these terms can be used as slurs depending on someone’s tone (more on that for another post), I generally don’t allow myself to get worked up or super offended over negrita, morenita, and sambita. If I did, I would have probably left this country a long time ago because it is something I hear CONSTANTLY. I could be walking the 10 minutes from the municipality building to my home and I’ll hear 3 or 4 different people yell out their moto-taxis, “Oye! Negrtia!” or “Hola, morenita!” And yeah – its like , you for real, though? You actually thought it would be a good use of energy to yell out “Hey, dark skinned girl!” to a random stranger on the street? But asÍ es Peru and its a part of my life here that will never go away no matter how much I want it to.
I will, however, correct someone with the quickness if they greet me directly using anyone of those words. With adults, I try not to get too preachy and I like to keep it short and sweet while still letting them know that I don’t prefer to be called anything out of my name. So if an adult says to me, “Hola, morenita! Como estás? I’ll hit them with the polite but firm, “My name is Brittany and I’m doing well. How about you?” They usually get the point or at least most of them do. Persistence is key so if the same person keeps making doing it, I make sure to correct them every single time.
On the flip side, I find that kids are willing to listen a little bit more so for them I’m
more likely to go in depth. I’ll say something simple like, “In my country its offensive to call someone that. There is a word that is very similar to negrita in English but it is used with hate so I prefer you to use my name.” I usually make using my name a ground rule when I’m speaking with a group of kids so they know my expectations from the beginning. If they slip up (I’ve been called Miss Morenita before – ridiculous, I know.) I’ll make a joke like, “Hmmm there’s no one in here named Morenita? What funny name.” They usually laugh and self correct and generally won’t make the same mistake again.
It can be frustrating to feel like who you are is being reduced to the color of your skin in a very obvious and direct way – especially when you feel you already have to compromise so much of yourself to integrate into another culture. There are days when I can really ignore it successfully and other days where I’m just so beyond done with it. But I think the best thing was knowing what I was getting into before coming here through other PCV blogs so the first time someone look at my hair and called me Sambita, I wasn’t alarmed or super thrown off guard. And in writing this, I’m hoping that someone considering Peace Corps service in Latin America who looks like me is getting a little insight on one of the potentially more frustrating things they might encounter in their service. I’m just out here trynna pay it forward, ya’ll.
Until next time.