No blacks allowed!: An expat’s first encounter with racial prejudice in Cuenca

May 3, 2018

I was enjoying breakfast with some friends when one mentioned an experience she encountered while apartment hunting. Apparently, the owner took exception because the potential tenant was an African American. The owner spoke no English and so what she said in Spanish was directed at the Ecuadorian woman who accompanied my friend:

“No alquilo a negros!”

The translation revealed her words, “I don’t rent to Blacks!”

I had to admit that I was surprised to hear of overt bigotry because I have not experienced anything like that in my time here in Cuenca.  For the months I’ve lived here, I’ve been the only foreigner in the area of my residences. Not once have I had a Cuencano express a disdain for me because of my complexion. Having grown up in Chicago, I do not think of myself as naïve, or lacking street smarts; so, I think I would know when someone I don’t know took exception to me based on skin color. I know the difference in facial expressions, the intonation of words, and the revelation of body language that cannot be masked.

A sign in Michigan in the 1940s.

Still, I’m saddened to learn that a woman I consider a friend had to experience something so distasteful as bigotry here in Cuenca.

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I’m curious as to whether others have had similar experiences from Cuencanos which indicated a bias (whether you’re African American doesn’t matter). I’ve had women primarily share experiences with the attitudes of Cuencano men toward foreign women. But in this instance, it was a Cuencano woman.

I don’t know this woman who was renting her apartment. I don’t know if she had some terrible experience with someone of African ancestry. I could speculate about her bigotry, and resentment, but that is all it would be; speculation.

I’m aware of a bias exhibited by many Cuencanos towards Venezuelans who’ve arrived in Ecuador. I admit that I’m just as puzzled by this bias and resentment as the resentment I learned of in the former Yugoslavia. If you put me in a room with a Serb, a Bosnian and a Croat, I couldn’t tell you the difference.  I wouldn’t be able to distinguish a Venezuelan from an Ecuadorian, and yet no matter where I’ve lived there is this compelling need by some to feel superior.

Why?

Why do you think you’re better?

This rule that establishes your superiority, who made it?

If it’s a rule you created, or was handed down by earlier generations, then I accept that you’re simply misguided, flawed, and in need of enlightenment.

You have no empathy for those who are different from you, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s this:

You reap what you sow.

You know what the man on trial for brutally murdering someone pleads for?

You guessed it: Mercy

It’s ironic how when I would give no mercy, I expect mercy.

Perhaps the owner of that apartment who doesn’t rent to Blacks will have a dream which opens her eyes to see the precarious position she felt so secure living in. The blind person never sees the deep hole awaiting his next step.

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