By my last few days in Buenos Aires, I was ready to leave. I adored the Palermo neighborhood, the shops, the fashion scene, the city’s buildings, the food, but I could no longer handle the unwanted attention I was receiving because of my race and hair.
Of course, I get comments on my hair in the US and in Colombia, and I usually encourage an open dialogue! People of all races are curious if it’s actually this naturally curly, what products I use, etc. But I’d never before felt like such a spectacle until Buenos Aires. I felt isolated walking down the street, as I said in my last post, but even that didn’t prepare me for the number of comments I received while walking through the outdoor market in San Telmo on Sunday. I eventually lost count of the comments, finger pointing, etc., but I’d say I heard around 40 comments on my appearance in a little over two hours.
And these weren’t comments like what I get in Colombia (“Cariño, que divino es tu pelo! Como es así?”) or in the US (“What products do you use in your hair to get it that curly?”). This was vendors yelling across crowds of people to say something to me, this was girls my age pointing at me to their friends and parents. At one point, as I was buying a purse, I turned around to see some guy’s humongous DSLR Nikon camera pointed at my face. When I asked him why, in Spanish, he was taking pictures of me, he became flustered and rattled off something about never having seen someone like me/hair like mine before, then he quickly left. Why did he only become uncomfortable sticking a camera in my face after I spoke to him? Did he forget that there was an actual person attached to this hair?
Overall, my trip to Buenos Aires was enjoyable, but I am so, so happy I didn’t apply for a Fulbright grant there. No amount of good food and beautiful architecture can make up for a general public that treats me and my hair as such an oddity. I get that Argentina – and especially Buenos Aires – strives to be the “European capital” of South America. Every advertisement I saw and so many of the women I encountered were fair skinned, with light hair. Even in their previous Constitution, they spoke about actively recruiting Europeans to Argentina. But I guess they missed the memo that Black people live in Europe too– in London, in Vienna, and in Paris, to name a few cool cities where I’ve seen Black populations in the last few years.
Although the racial experience sucked, I should make it clear that I had a good time generally. The Argentine people who I actually spoke to were very kind; my Airbnb host was super helpful. The conference (my actual reason for being there) went really well; I learned a ton and met some of the leaders in the women’s reproductive health field in South America, many of whom live in Colombia.
The day after the conference ended, I went on my second walking tour of Buenos Aires (both times I used Free Walks Buenos Aires; and I’d highly recommend them to other tourists). This time, it was of the Recoleta neighborhood and I met several solo travelers. Two of the girls from the tour and I spent the rest of the day together, touring the famous La Recoleta cemetery, getting dinner, and shopping in Palermo. Then on Sunday, my last day there, I got breakfast with a friend of a Fulbright friend and ventured over to the infamous San Telmo feria. When I wasn’t dodging racial/hair comments, I managed to buy a beautiful leather purse and patterned shoes that I’m excited to have for the rest of my Fulbright year. I couldn’t believe how many miles the feria expanded for; I’ve never seen anything like it.
I left the city super early Monday morning and enjoyed a direct flight to Bogota ( 6 ½ hours though. woof.) and literally smiled with relief when no one paid any attention to me upon landing. Home, sweet, home.