Within a glance, I saw the target signs: fanny pack (Not the ‘hip’ ones), white New Balance walking shoes, khaki shorts, slight sunburn, and brand new luggage to place all their new purchases. I hover over to my friend Mike and I tell him, ”Typical Tourists”. We take a couple more looks at them, and continue on with our day. We watch a movie, get some lunch, and go home. It’s an insignificant moment in time for us, but I look at it now being on the side of the aisle.
In my travels, I focus on meshing with local communities. In previous travels, I knew exactly what to wear and how to act. I focused on knowing where I can go and what to expect. I looked up the history behind the areas to understand why people are a certain way.
In Spain, my outfits worked with the local seasons and people. In New York, I knew to bring a nice coat and step up my fashion sense. In the Latino and Caribbean countries, I have meshed with the communities through my language capabilities and outerwear. I could move around and people did not expect anything. I appreciated those moments because I can genuinely experience a new location.
There is this pure, raw feeling that you feel when you blend in and people do not try to assist you, target you, or look at you differently. When people notice you, experiences often feel filtered and processed. I wanted to mitigate those experiences at all times. You want to feel engaged like everyone else, not seeing sites from the hypothetical sidelines of possible tourist traps and false excursions. I did not believe I can experience a new area if I could not find a way to blend in with everyone else. Or so I thought…
But with Cape Verde, that was not in my power. We were suggested to bring clothing for the volunteering events and tasks. However, none of the clothing I brought could replicate or match any of the local attire. Even beyond that hurdle, I am around Americans that did not plan to dress like locals either. I look like a European in a hotspot vacation destination. I stand out in a sea of people here. And that is not a coincidence, it is because of my color of skin.
As a fair-skinned Latino, I can blend in many white spaces and avoid the prejudices that many others face . My mother once mentioned how lucky I am to be light because I can blend in most places in the United States. That comment alone can tell you everything you need to know about perceptions of skin in America. This luxury is a quality that is not even afforded to some of my immediate family. There have been very few times where I stood out because of my white skin, and those times were on the football field.
The sport taught me a lot about accepting yourself in a space where you are different from others. The sport also made me realize how it feels to be the outlier in the room. The differences in culture of my teammates opened me up to ideas and viewpoints I never even considered. Despite the difference in skin, I still had the same language and a mutual love for the sport that crossed cultural boundaries. At the end of the day, nobody cared for your skin if you could ball. Furthermore, these events occurred in Miami, a very multicultural space where you could see many different races.
Therefore, all my previous travel experiences allowed me to blend in, through either my skin, my ethnicity, or my language capabilities. But here in Cape Verde, I had none of those qualities. I was placed in a unique position where I had nothing to help me blend in. Even if I knew the local language fluently, I would still be treated and labeled as a foreigner. I had no way to hide and blend in a Black African Country. I also had no ability to find common ground or connect through cultural differences because I could barely communicate with my broken Krioulo.
For the very first time in my life, I was stuck. I was in a situation I could not get out of with my current abilities. In the limited amount of cultural excursions and experiences here, I always get that glance. The same glance I gave to other tourists at the time. There are no hard feelings involved and I know that, but it gives you perspective on placing yourself on the other side.
As a tourist who cannot look like a local, I now viewed changes in behavior in myself that I did not do back home. I attempted to not bring any attention to me. I focused and checked my necessities were in my pockets. I spoke to locals only when necessary to avoid bothering locals.
I then realized the widening gap of possible outings and trips that I am missing out on because of this “I am a tourist and everyone can recognize me” mentality on my free time. Like many other people, I finally had a moment where I thought ,”So what?”. Yes I look different and there is nothing I can change about it, but I am not going to miss out on culturally enriching moments because I felt like a foreigner. I had to stop worrying about myself yet again, and enjoy the waves, the people, the street markets, the beach, and the moments of life that make life special.
This attitude showed in one of my recent trips back from the camp to our home. All my colleagues wanted to stop for some water. On this particular day, our site coordinator was not there to translate. Despite my worries and previous views on trying to hide in the sidelines, I went for it. I stated in Broken Krioulo “I want water, can you take to supermarket”. I realized I needed to take these leaps to get by as a tourist. After a while, these jumps did not seem so bad after all.
I get caught up in my head about how and why I am perceived a certain way. The constant thinking can often lead to unnecessary stressors that bring no benefit in your life. I had to be uncomfortable on being the other side of the aisle. I then had to learn, grow, and see that there are things that I cannot change, and I must only focus on those facets on those that are receptive and possible to adapt. And once again on this Duke Engage Trip, I learned to relax and focus on the moment at hand.