In a shocking essay for TheGrio, Ama Yawson recounted her time in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where by virtue of her skin and features she was regularly propositioned as if she were a prostitute.
Argentina is often referred to as South America’s most “European-like” country due to the large influx of European immigrants who came to the country in the 19th and 20th centuries, changing the face of Argentina to that of a mostly white one.
Because of this, those with darker skin are viewed as outsiders, or in Yawson’s case, as a sexually trafficked prostitute from Brazil, the Dominican Republic or Colombia. Throughout her five month stay, studying abroad in Buenos Aires, she was harassed constantly, even receiving dirty looks from other black people. She describes the time a Nigerian man assumed she was a Dominican prostitute until he saw that she was typing in English on her computer screen. When she asked others why people didn’t see her as American even when she spoke English they told her that when they thought of Americans they thought of an overweight white woman, not a black woman with braids.
Here is her story:
“Puta! cuanto?” — or “Whore, how much?” — were the words that were hurled at me almost every day during my five month study-abroad stay in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was astounded!
When I decided to study abroad in Argentina I knew that I would not see many black people there. I had studied enough about Latin America’s “embranquecimento,” or “whitening” campaigns, to know that even though many Latin American countries tried to dilute their African populations by recruiting European settlers and encouraging intermarriage, Argentina was deemed to be the only country that had “succeeded.”
But what I did not know before I arrived in Buenos Aires in 2001 was that many of the few black women in Buenos Aires had been trafficked from countries such as Brazil, Colombia and the Dominican Republic for the purpose of prostitution. Contrary to popular belief in the U.S., those countries have sizeable populations of women who look like non-mixed black women. As a result, many Argentines would assume that I, too, was prostitute by virtue of my skin tone and gender.
Moreover, due to the immutable aspects of color and gender, there was nothing that I could do to stop it. My large book bag did not challenge their assumptions. I tried to wear looser clothes. At one point, I started wearing an Islamic style hijab. But to no avail.
The street calls continued.