Thursday, June 14, 2007

I know you understand me

Chile, like the United States, can be a racist country. Last week, my Catholic Chilean co-workers couldn’t shut up about how horrible Peruvians are. If you were to listen to many Chileans, Peruvians are the scum of the earth. Having a good friend who grew up in Peru, the constant barrage of racial slurs towards Peruvians has, over time, worn me down.

In March, a man came up to me in the downtown area and asked me, in broken English, if I was from the United States. After I replied yes, he handed me a flier and spat at me, “go home Yankee. You not wanted here.” The flier said the same thing (but with better English).

Weeks later I placed a simple food order when I was out with my friend Emily. I spoke clearly and correctly, and the woman turned to her co-worker and as if I were not there, and said “I can’t understand him. You talk to him.”

And if it is not that, it’s a postal worker pretending I can’t understand Spanish, a store owner pretending they can’t understand my simple questions. It’s being called gringo and hearing choppy English phrases shouted at you when you are out and about. Right now, a popular one in my neighborhood is “what up nigger.” Bienvenido a Chile, disfrute su tiempo.

You think you can escape some of the things you shunned in your life in the United States, and sometimes it takes traveling half way across the world to realize the more things change; the more they stay the same. I have received but a tiny taste of what so many of my own friends have experienced in their own lives in the United States. From the United States to Chile to Europe, there will also be racist people. I guess then, the real challenge is learning to address it, and try to change it. There are racist Chileans and non racist ones, just like racist U.S. citizens and non. I guess I just wanted to write this, to dispel that idea so popular in my own liberal circles in the United States, that racism and bigotry is somehow unique to the United States.

“If you don’t have the courage to speak up for human beings, you don’t have the right to speak up for God.” Luis Espinal, S.J.

1 comment:

Verónica said...

How sad was to read your post!I'm chilean, from Santiago. All the things you tell are probably true, but I think you can't generalize to an entire country the behaviour of some people. I guess that's racist too.
There are many people in my country with racist thoughts and attitudes, but there are also many people (like many I know, and myself) who are interested in know other cultures and languages. I have many friends from other country, my sister in law isn't chilean.
Perhaps you haven't know yet the right people.
I really hope you can have better experiences in my country!