Palabras de Lima: Exoticismo

As a mixed woman of color, or Mestiza in the United States, I have always been labelled as exotic because I am tan-skinned. Because of the diverse ethnic groups in Seattle, my identity has remained mysterious when meeting people for the first time. Being mixed with native, there has always been a romanticism that came with telling people my ethnic background.

Travelling to South Africa last summer, I found an entire culture of mixed-race people that is a different race in itself. Because of my dark hair and tan skin, I still was seen as an outsider, but fortunately did not feel excluded from communities as I do at time back at home. If they are not a part of the “coloured” racial group, communities that are neither black nor white in South Africa are commonly Indian or Malay. All other mixes and ethnic backgrounds as still seen as exotic.

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My trip to Peru is the first moment in my life I have not felt as mysterious or exotic. Being mestiza, I found a large community that is dominant in Peru of multiethnic identity. My first week in Peru, I learned the identity, Cholo. Although I would not be labelled as a chola, I do not attracted the same type of attention for my difference in appearance as several of my lighter-skinned classmates. When understanding ideas of desirability, it is consistent that European descendants symbolize a certain socioeconomic status all over the world and are desirable for colonial ideas of beauty. What makes my experience as a brown-skinned person different in Lima then back at home in the United States, is that I have had some abilities to be seen as an insider. It has been surprising to some locals when hearing that I am not Latina and from the United States. Being mixed and looking more Indigenous in my appearance, it has been what keeps me from being seen as exotic during my stay in Lima.

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Being from a country where racial identity is implicitly assigned, I have always been seen more as Indigenous or Latina, and not as the multiethnic person that I truly am. For most of my life it has been much easier to identify myself as native or Indigenous in groups because the oppression and privilege I experience is that of someone who is seen as native. Coming to Peru has been a very different experienced from this because I cannot solely identify myself as Indigenous. With many communities that grew up around a specific culture or region, a stronger emphasis on purity of Indigenous culture seems more prevalent than at home because the dominant racial identity is that of a mestizo identity.This is important to my word exoticism because ideas of exotic involve positionality and desirability. The idea of a woman of privilege in national identity and economic status is one aspect that I do not fit. The idea of the outsider and uncommon appearances are seen as exotic as well, which is an identity that I do not fit as well. To my surprise, I enjoy feeling as though I am not exoticized. In some occasions where I have been the only outsider at local events, I have had an ability to feel safer and included because I was not exoticized or thought of as someone who carried certain means.

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