There is often a myth or stereotype about falling in love while abroad. Everyone always says that all men outside of the U.S. are amazing, so “you better find you a boyfriend in X country!” and have the most amazing time of your life. Especially given the assumptions and stereotypes that all the men in Spanish speaking countries are super gorgeous and will always throw themselves at you, I feel as if a lot of single girls going abroad think that as soon as they hop off the plane they’ll be swept off their feet by the most gorgeous man they’ve ever seen, fall in love, and salsa (or bachata or cueca or what have you) into the sunset and live happily ever after.
I personally never really had those assumptions or fantasies. Going abroad and finding a “Latin lover” was never one of my goals. To be honest, I don’t think it crossed my mind because as someone who is constantly cynical about love for Black women, and the intricacies of heterosexual love relationships between Black women and partners of all races, I just never thought it was possible. These thoughts also exist in the midst of what I feel is a common stereotype in the African-American community that “Oh, men in X country? They love Black women!” This is something a pre-college and pre-study of Black feminist and Womanist theory me would have totally believed, but these days I am nothing but skeptical.
I’ve been studying abroad in Santiago for a month now, so given the amount of time that I’ve been here, and a host of other things that could be coloring my perspective, I’ve gathered a few things that have thus far encompassed my views on Black girls in search of a pololo (Chilean slang for boyfriend) and love overall in Santiago de Chile.
One thing that I’ve learned is that the cat calls of Chilean men are by no means a way of showing affection. In one of the few articles I found on a Black girl studying abroad in Chile, the writer states that “folks who discredit Black female beauty at home WERE LYIN’” because the numerous cat calls and “flirty eyes” she received from Chilean men proved otherwise, but, to me, a grungy old construction worker whistling at you and calling you beautiful on the street is not validating your beauty, but is rather just a sexist assertion of male dominance and control. Furthermore, although catcalling does not just happen to Black women like me here, but rather to all women, I feel as if catcalling can be misconstrued as a display of the affection or desire of Black women because we often feel like we do not get that same attention in the states.
During the month that I have been abroad, I have also been trying to come to terms with the social dynamics of Chilean men, especially given the fact that I’ve learned that they tend to be more shy than other Latin men. Being someone who is painfully shy in unfamiliar spaces, and also has a resting face that is anything but approachable, I initially found it really hard to deal with the fact that Chilean men are supposedly so shy and won’t necessarily approach you as openly as you would think. I’ve recently learned that Chilean men might be even more shy toward gringos due to assumptions of language and economic barriers, but I have still been left confused at the fact that I haven’t able to obtain as much as a smile or moment of eye contact from a Chilean man my age, yet the amount of young Chilean couples publicly displaying affection around the city seems to be endless (so Chilean guys must talk to some girls if so many of them end up in relationships, right?)
I’ve been approached by exactly one Chilean guy at a club, but I’m slightly convinced that the interaction only occurred because I was only with one other friend at the time, as opposed to the large group of girls I had been with throughout most of the night. I’m still wondering if my surroundings and state of mind not only made me more approachable, but simply just an easier target. Although the guy in question turned out to be very nice, and we both willingly went our separate ways at the end of the night with a mutual understanding that (in reality) we would probably never see eachother again, this one interaction has caused me to wonder what will be the extent of all my interactions with Chilean men here, given my shyness but also given my identity.
In a history class I’m taking, we’ve been learning about the emergence of different racial groups of the Criollos, the Mestizo, and the Indígenos of Chile, and my professor once commented on the fact you will rarely, if ever, see an interracial couple in Chile. This initially surprised me because without previous knowledge of the racial divisions in Chile, I had never thought about the fact that these groups would be so divided in such a way. This also led to me to think about the fact that if people in Chile rarely date outside of their race, what are my chances as an African-American gringo who is also often mistaken an immigrant (usually from Haiti, but recently I’ve also been mistaken for Colombian)? The extent of the social interactions and dynamic between Chileans and Black immigrants in the country, and especially what those interactions mean for romantic relationships, is something I’m still hoping to learn in order to better understand how a Black girl like me might be seen as a romantic partner.
All in all, I am, by no means, in search for the love of my life while in Santiago, but I’m interested in what my experiences and interactions mean for Black girls who are looking for a nice little pololo to have during their time abroad. With over three months still remaining in my time here, a lot can change and a lot of new and different experiences can be made, so I truly hope to take every day as it comes and learn more about the parameters of my identity and being in this city, country, and beyond.