Being Black in Buenos Aires: A Chronicle

Pheonix Pittman
November 25, 2019

Yesterday at dinner, my host mom asked me if I had faced any discrimination during my semester in Buenos Aires. At first, I was a bit surprised that she asked, and then I immediately started thinking through the list of experiences I’ve had here because of my race. The answer I gave her was that I had not faced outright discrimination, but there has been a lot of curiosity. 

As I mentioned in my pre-departure blog, one of my main concerns was adapting to a predominately white city and IES Abroad cohort. As one of only two black students in my program of 32 students, I felt like I was back in high school, once again being the minority in classrooms and my city. So while this was something I had experience with, coming to Buenos Aires from an HBCU in Atlanta meant that I had a lot of adjusting to do. However, I found it fairly easy to establish a good group of friends and get along with most of the students. In addition to my core friend group, I also found a lot of comfort in talking to other ethnically diverse students in my program who felt some of the same things I did. Though I can only speak to my experience, I think you’ll find that most students who want to study abroad have an open mind to people from different cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities. So even if you find yourself in a situation like mine, you should be able to connect with someone. 

Now, for my experience with the locals. The saying that there are no black and brown people in Argentina is false. However, the upper-middle-class neighborhoods that study abroad students live in are indeed predominately white. This context might explain why, on my very first day in Buenos Aires, an older woman felt that it would be okay to touch my hair without so much as a hello. I came into the semester expecting an experience like that, but could not believe that it happened within the first 5 hours of my semester abroad. Luckily, my host mom was with me and quickly diffused the situation. After that, I don’t remember another profoundly uncomfortable experience until I went to Peru, where I encountered several people asking to take pictures with two other black women who were also just tourists themselves. Little did I know that the same thing would happen to me about a month later in Argentina. 

A few weeks ago, I visited a town a couple of hours outside of Buenos Aires called San Antonio de Areco. My friends and I visited to see their annual gaucho tradition day, which overall is an event I would recommend. Right as we were about to leave, a man came up to us (me and my four white friends) and asked to take a picture, but only with me “por la raza” (for the race). I was taken aback, and while two of my friends stayed to tell him why that was not okay, the other two ushered me away from the situation. About two minutes later, a bird pooped in my hair, and my friends also helped me pick it out. It was an interesting day, but it was that day that made me realize how important it is to surround yourself with supportive friends, even ones that may not look like you. 

These, among others, were the incidents that were going through my head when my host mom asked me that question. I answered that there was more curiosity than discrimination because I had not personally been the victim of being shut out or persecuted in Argentina, though I have heard of that happening to others. My run-ins with this racial curiosity and the stories of other study abroad students, however, influenced my academic research, and my professors at IES Abroad welcomed that. In my Spanish class, I wrote a chronicle on my experience with locs in Argentina and exploring the cultural appropriation of white people with locs (surprisingly, there are a lot of them here.) I was able to present that research at the IES Abroad Buenos Aires Simposio, and it will be published!

All in all, I think that being a young black woman enhanced my study abroad experience because my identity forced me to think about everything from museum displays to dinner conversations in a different context. If you are a black student at an HBCU or PWI, I highly suggest taking the leap to study abroad. Though the road was a little bumpy, this journey has positively influenced my life, and if you have any further questions, feel free to contact me, my dm’s are always open (@pheonixnotarizona on Instagram.)

Pheonix Pittman

<p>I am a third year student at Spelman College double majoring in International Studies and Spanish. I claim Boerne, Texas (right outside of San Antonio) as my home, but I have lived in over 10 places both in the U.S. and abroad as I am an Army Brat. This however, is my first time going abroad without friends or family, so join me on my journey of learning how to tango, bonding with my cohort, and learning to love Buenos Aires!</p>

Home University:
Spelman College
Boerne, TX
International Studies
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