I’m a magnet for taxis. All taxi drivers see me from a mile away, speed up, then slow down next to me and honk, as if saying “I am here!”
If I ignore them, they honk louder: “I AM HERE NOW!” They don’t care about the other five taxis that just passed me and that I didn’t stop. Casually, I shake my head, indicating that I’m not interested. Then they finally drive away, disappointed. Imagine, a white girl who doesn’t want to ride in their cab.
Other than the incessant honking from the taxis, being white in Lima is not difficult. Sometimes I notice people staring at me in the bus or on the street, and often I feel that people trust me more because of the colour of my skin. But the truth is that I’m not that much of rarity. Many Peruvians of Spanish origin have very white skin, and there are also thousands of tourists and expats in this city of almost 9 million inhabitants.
However, as anywhere in the world, racism exists. On my street in Barranco, there’s a stamped graffiti saying “Rubios NO” (No to light-haired people). A popular band, La Mente, sings “Britney Spears, don’t come to Peru, because there are too many stupid foreign white girls here like you.” In addition to the attitude of these few and ignorant and hostile folks, people automatically assume that because I’m white I have lots of cash. When we go shopping, or get a quote from a carpenter or a cobbler, I hide behind the corner while Eduardo negotiates the price. If I show my face, the price often goes up 20-30%, an addition that is jokingly called “gringo tax.”
But mostly the reactions are positive, friendly, welcoming. As the days go by, I’m becoming more and more accepted as a part of the community here. The neighborhood doormen and security guards recognize me and say hello. The hardware store clerks don’t overcharge me. Some Peruvians even ask me for directions.
So I guess I just have to get used to it.
As anywhere in the world, I will never be able to hide the colour of my skin.