As previously explained in The Unknown: Random Reflections on Peru, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Peru this past July to visit the lovely lady Cassie, who I am dating, to travel around the country with her in the days after her study abroad in Lima ended. One of the stops along our journey was the city of Arequipa. In Arequipa, we experienced an unforgettable event that I am going to discuss in a series of posts titled “A World of White (WoW).” I want to narrate the event and then offer a sociological analysis to make sense of what happened. This unforgettable event occurred when we decided to go on a tour bus around the city…
Since Cassie and I had not previously been to Arequipa, we asked our hotel host about ways to explore. She suggested we take a tour bus and we quickly responded with a, ‘sure, why not?!’ Soon after, Cassie and I walked down to where we were supposed to meet the bus. At that meeting point, we found an enormous, double decker bus that was painted green. Also painted on the bus was an American flag along with flags of other western European countries. ‘This ought to be interesting’ we thought to ourselves.
We climbed up onto the second floor of the bus. The roof was open, which was done to allow the passengers to look out upon the city. Our tour guide, a man named Percy, sat on the first floor near the driver. Since Percy was down below, he wasn’t able to see the passengers up above. He assumed that the entirety of his audience was Spanish speaking and thus, he proceeded to address the audience in only Spanish.
At our first tour stop in the city, Percy interacted with his touring companions for the first time. He quickly noticed that three white people were in the crowd (Cassie, another woman and I). After he was done talking to the whole group, he approached Cassie and I to ask us where we were from. Cassie kindly replied, “Los estados unidos.” From hearing Cassie’s response, Percy noticed that Cassie spoke Spanish. He also noticed, however, that I did not. Thus, to be able to accommodate his paying customer, Percy told us that he would narrate everything in Spanish and then repeat his narration in English. Ugggghhh… face palm.
Cassie and I were upset at Percy’s decision to speak bilingually because we had not wanted to draw attention to ourselves as English speaking Americans. We knew we would be treated differently because of our identity and we wanted to avoid that. I would have been okay with Percy speaking in Spanish only and then asking Cassie to help translate.
Unfortunately, after Percy discovered that he had American customers, the situation escalated to be more uncomfortable. After talking to Cassie and I for the first time, Percy immediately switched the Spanish music radio that was playing on the bus to his English pop music playlist. If the big ass colorful bus with the American and British flag painted on the side didn’t already scream, “TOURISTS HERE ⬇️,” then the music was certainly the last straw.
All throughout the tour, citizens of Arequipa would turn their heads to our bus after hearing the extremely loud English music. It was intrusive and aggressive. There were times where he would skip over Spanish songs to be able to play another English one.
Percy took it one step further by giving Cassie, the other American girl and I a personalized tour at one of the stops. He let the rest of the group do their independent thing while he personally took us three around.
Needless to say, I felt quite uncomfortable as a result of Percy’s actions because the loud music and narration in English drew unnecessary attention to Cassie and I. Cassie noted a reason that Percy acted the way he did was to receive a large tip from us. There is a notion/stereotype among some in Peru that many Americans are wealthy and that we can afford anything. In Percy’s attempt to receive a large tip from us, he escorted us through a “foreign” area, while he simultaneously created an environment that wasn’t “overly foreign” that would cause Cassie and I to feel “uncomfortable.” Even though Percy sought to make us feel comfortable by facilitating a certain type of space, his actions inadvertently made us feel uncomfortable.
I do not want to end by making it seem like the whole tour was disastrous. Cassie and I were able to see beautiful locations in Arequipa and learn a lot about the city. I was very grateful to be able to go on the tour, although I didn’t appreciate the unnecessary attention that Cassie and I received for being Americans.
To read the next part of “WoW,” please go to: WoW Pt. 2: Slave, Colony, Economy