Living While Black in Chavin de Huantar, Peru

By: Nylah Byrd (’18), B.A. in Archaeology

Being black in Peru amongst a group of diverse races and backgrounds is very interesting to say the least. I want to start off by saying I was the only Black girl on the trip, simply for context. To be honest, for the most part I only thought about my apparent melanin upper hand when I didn’t rush to put on sunscreen like my lighter skinned peers. When race was the topic of conversation, I was stunned when I learned that my Latin American friends several shades lighter than me are called dark by some of their family members. Not necessarily in an insulting manner, but it was apparent that the observation wasn’t innocent since pointing out light skin simply doesn’t happen. I knew there was a stigma against dark skin in Latin American culture but I imagined dark as milk chocolate, not a latte. In that moment I realized that your family accepting your skin tone is not a given.

 

“Kids say the damndest things” is a saying for a reason. One night, I went outside to see a few of my friends were playing with some of the local children. The kids were showing them how to use their spinny tops that used a string and a good wrist flick to get them going. One of my friends who was outside is Ethipoian and he introduced himself to the children as being from Africa. I walk up to join the group and one of the small boys no older than 9 looked at me, looked back at my friend, then back at me and exclaims “You look like you’re from Africa!” in Spanish of course. My first instinct was to be defensive, but I realized that potentially the only other dark skinned person this boy has seen in his life is indeed from Africa. Then I couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm in his conclusion.

 

I simply told him “No, I’m from America” getting my Spanish practice in as well at taking the opportunity to educate a child.

 

“What is it like in Africa?” another small boy asked.

 

“I don’t know. I’m from America” I said.

 

“Do they kill lions in Africa?” the same small boy followed up.

 

I laughed a little and replied “I don’t know. I’ve never visited Africa”.

 

He finally dropped the topic and we began to talk about his school and he even practiced some English. I’m not sure if it’s because my words went in one ear and out the other or if he simply didn’t believe me when I said I was from America the first time. My best guess is a combination of both.

 

I went into this trip with very basic expectations. I knew I would be digging dirt, practicing my spanish, and making a few new friends. Little did I know those “few friends” would be everyone on the trip, from my peers to my superiors in the field. When it was time to say goodbye I was ready to stop digging but not ready to leave all the wonderful people I encountered. I knew I’d see some of them once school started up again but Stanford students get so busy so fast that I wasn’t actually sure how often I’d see them.

 

I also fully expected people to stare at me because of my melanin. But in reality, we all got stared at. Chavin is a small town with it’s own specific feel and it was very apparent that none of us were natives. Instead of standing out on my own I stood out with my friends, and that only brought us closer. Instead of “Black”, “White”, “Mexican”, “Chinese”, we were “American” and it felt good.