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Traveling as a White Latina

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The common question to all travelers,“Where are you from?” has never seemed so invasive…

I don’t “look” Peruvian.  Reactions vary on where in the world I am and if the person asking the age old question of “Where are you from?” even knows where Peru is.

Currently, in Sri Lanka, three things happen; they either hear “Beirut” instead of “Peru”, they stare blankly or they say “America?”. When they hear me speak Spanish they ask if it’s Italian, French, or if I’m from Spain. When I lived in other parts of the world, I heard all versions of the “But you don’t look Peruvian” commentary.

You guessed it, I am a White Peruvian.

Around 20% of the Peruvian population is considered “white” due to the color of their skin and ancestry. That doesn’t mean that outside of Peru, people know this fact. Thanks to stereotypical tv shows, stock photography and cultural articles, Peruvians are generally seen as Quechua natives who are usually missing all their teeth or holding an Alpaca.

Ages ago there was a show called Laura, or El Show de Laura or something like that. On that ridiculous show, the guests were all dark skinned, short, and generally stupid (I’m sure she chose them like that on purpose to create better ratings). She would incite over-dramatic situations that even if it got her ratings, it painted all Peruvians as stupid, toothless short dark people.

This show was seen all over Latin America and the United States.

It was so saddening to know that the Peruvian people, who are the nicest most generous in the world were being portrayed in this manner. It was all lies and it really hurt us as a Nationality. It mainly hurt the dark skinned Peruvians because they are not like that. They are regular people, like you, like me.  Add on top of that all the visual stock that is fed to the rest of the world of what a “Peruvian” looks like. Just search stock photography to see what I mean.

I am a White Peruvian, and we also have a stereotype.

All you need to do is watch Peruvian television to know what I’m talking about. Most white Peruvians live in the capital so are considered “limeños” and sometimes negatively “limeñitos”. We are stereotyped as stuck up, privileged and spoiled. We are the minority but we still monopolize visual marketing and advertising.

The stereotyping goes both ways.

Being a White Peruvian, especially if you have lived abroad for some time and have lost your “limeño” accent can create all sorts of interesting situations. When I was 17 I came back to live in Peru after living in the US for 8 years. I spoke more English than Spanish and I sure didn’t look Peruvian or sound Limeña. Every single day for years I would get asked “Where are you from?” by taxi drivers, shop owners, friends of friends and pretty much anyone new I met. It was exhausting having to show my DNI to them every time.

Years later I went to study in Argentina and that’s where things started getting very weird.

Sadly, a Peruvian in Buenos Aires is generally considered to be a housemaid, a doorman, a shop cleaner. Most people would think I was Porteña (from Buenos Aires) until I opened my mouth to speak. The most outstanding things I heard were “but you have teeth!”, “but you aren’t short and ugly”. I was offended for my fellow Peruvians every single time. I hated it.

This phenomenon comes as no surprise to every single White Peruvian, even inside Peru.

Unfortunately, racial stereotyping doesn’t just happen to us, it happens all over the world. Racist events going on all over the world are enough to show us how racial stereotyping hurts humanity. It hurts us, it hurts our children and it will continue to hurt if we don’t try and change it.

Now when someone comments that I don’t “look” Peruvian I tell them about all the immigrants that came to Peru as early as the colony and constantly throughout history. I tell them that even if we are not indigenous, we White Peruvians are still Peruvian. In the same way that Algerian descendants are French and African descendants are American etc.

If you are a communicator, writer, artist or photographer it is your duty to portray the diversity in every nationality. If you travel to a country with deep racial stereotyping, don’t fall for the ruse and try and find all the different faces of that place. Don’t just photograph the serranita with her alpaca, try and meet some other Peruvians on the coast, in the jungle and the city.

Over and out from a White Peruvian trying to change racial perception one person at a time.

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Orana Velarde

Orana is an Expat Nomad originally from Peru. She travels the world with her family while working as a freelance writer and designer. Her kids are Worldschooled with a great influence from the Arts and life itself. She writes about their adventures in her blog Crazy Little Family Adventure. She is currently living in Sri Lanka.