When people think of Buenos Aires, the first couple of things that come to mind are tango and, of course, the soccer player Lionel Messi. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to watch professional dancers perform this stunning form of dance at La Ventana – Barrio de Tango, and I can confidently say that it is one of the most amazing things to witness. In all honesty, however, that’s probably it as far as what most people know about Argentina, myself included.
As I embarked on my journey to NYU Buenos Aires, the nerves that tend to accompany studying abroad were much less intense, as this was my second semester abroad. However, I personally did not know much about the city of Buenos Aires, or Argentina in general, so I took to Google to do a little bit of research. As Argentina is located in South America, I assumed – like many other students in the program – that the presence of people of color would be inevitable: we would see a mix of indigenous people, black people, and white people in a country that also went through the complicated process of colonialism.
Incredibly, my research and actual observations surprised me. Two months before my journey to one of the most southern countries on Earth, I searched the web about Argentina’s colonial history and modern race relations. I was awestruck to find out that there are less than half of one percent of Afro-Argentines in the country. I also learned that there aren’t as many indigenous peoples in Buenos Aires as I expected; most of them live in Argentine provinces and have complicated relationships with the current government. Being a person of color, I started to get nervous because I knew that I would become hyper-aware of who I am in comparison to the people around me. I began to mentally prepare myself for everything from getting stares to people deliberately touching my braids out of curiosity.
Now that I am actually here in Buenos Aires, I am happy to report that my experience has not been has bad as I initially thought. Yes, there have been stares and the occasional “Hola, morena!,” which translates to “Hey, dark skin!” But, what is interesting to note is that nothing that’s been said or done to me was malicious: people in Argentina call anyone who isn’t typically white “morena,” and most of the time it is done out of genuine curiosity. I am also currently volunteering at Agrupación Xangô, an organization that works on human rights, equality, and social justice for both Afro-descendants and the entire community. Volunteering at the organization has allowed me to interact with so many people of color and explore areas of the city where these people tend to spend the majority of their time. It is an interesting dichotomy between the area where my school is located and the area where I volunteer at. NYU Buenos Aires is located in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Buenos Aires called Recoleta. To get to my internship, I have to take an hour bus from the Recoleta to La Boca, the neighborhood where my internship, Agrupacion Afro Xango, is located. It is interesting because during orientation, NYU BA staff told us that we have to be careful when we go into neighborhoods such as La Boca, but when I actually got there for the first time, I didn’t feel as unsafe as they made it out to be.
Being black in Buenos Aires is a remarkable experience and differs so much from being black in the United States. In Buenos Aires, I do get the occasional stares and have people touch my braids, but you can sense that they do it out of mere curiosity and not out of any malicious intent. In New York, on the other hand, even though there are significantly more black people, sometimes there are moments where I feel I have to watch myself a little more. My sense of awareness of my body, my mind, and my emotions may not be as “on display” as I expected, but there are still moments where I know my blackness is the only thing people see.