Race, Culture and Ethnicity in South America

Aidan Dennis
October 28, 2017

Over these past few weeks, I have traveled a lot. I ended my program in Buenos Aires and quickly flew to Lima for my week long field trip for cultural immersion in Peru. This also included a flight to Cusco, a visit to the iconic Macchu Picchu, and then flying back to Lima to fly to Santiago for the second half of my program.

From the minute I landed in Peru, I found myself drawing a lot of comparisons between the two countries in regards to their people and culture.

Buenos Aires had a lot of European influence, perhaps the most out of all cities in Latin America. At times I was taken back to the trip I took to Spain in high school, having glimpses of European infrastructure and European people around me. From what I’ve learned in my Contemporary Argentine History class while in Buenos Aires, an overwhelming majority of Argentines are immigrants from Spain and Italy… which explains a lot.

As a result, Buenos Aires is prone to Eurocentric standards of beauty. You would only see the white passing Argentine’s promoted in the media. I would walk by billboards and different advertisements throughout a city that I thought was diverse, only to learn that it is very far from it.

I would often scope out the streets for people of different and darker skin tones and found myself often unsuccessful, which is probably why I drew so many (curious?) stares on public transit and throughout the streets with my 6’2 frame, dark skin and thick, curly hair.

It was a pleasant surprise when I landed in Peru to find that the standards of beauty were not so ethnocentric. Through my multiple tours throughout the city and through many Incan historical sites, I discovered that many Peruvians had descendants from these civilizations. Many Peruvians found themselves mixed with Spainard and Incan, maintaining the Quechua language. I got a glimpse into this society through the music, food and clothing that was dispersed throughout Peru.

At one point we saw an Incan shaman participating in a spiritual ritual for Pachamama (Mother Earth), who was idealized in their culture. You could see the lack of eurocentric influence in their standards of beauty, but you could definitely observe it in the class division. The richer and wealthier Peruvians were of a fairer skin complexion, while the poorer Peruvians were darker and more ethnic looking. This comparison can be juxtaposed to several societies in the world, which I think is an unfortunate reality of the world we are living in.

However, I came to more of a surprise in Santiago de Chile. In Argentina and Peru, I could’ve went days without seeing somebody with a similar skin complexion to mine outside of the other black student in my program, but in Chile that is not the case.

From the get go, I could tell that Chile presents itself as more of a diverse society in general. With less of a closed economy and political system than Argentina, I can see how that ties into the culture and the ethnicities I see on the street. I feel like less of a stand out just trying to make my way to class and I really enjoy it.

Chile has more of a defined culture than Argentina does, in terms of food and society. Although they have the same Spainard and European influence, there is still influence from the local Amerindian societies and from other countries that have interacted with the coastal country. Fun fact: did you know Chile is as long as the United States is wide?

Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every country I’ve been in and the plethora of places I’ve gotten to visit (Machu Picchu, Montevideo, Iguazu Falls… and soon I’ll visit the Atacama Desert!), there are definitely places I’ve felt more comfortable walking around with my skin. I’m ready for the next step of my study abroad adventure that takes place in Santiago, Chile!

My next blog will address adjusting to Chile, my first haircut (!!!!) in South America and the travels I will take!

Aidan Dennis

<p>I'm a New York City born and Long Island raised lover of food, travel and culture who currently goes to college right outside of Boston, Massachusetts! One of my favorite hobbies has to be reading and I spend every summer dedicating myself to a very intensive reading list.</p>

Home University:
Babson College
Long Island, NY
Business Administration
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