Yellow, Black, and White

Alison Rivera - Senegal

April 23, 2013

Frustrated at times, amused at others. Being a Hispanic-American in Senegal is quite an extraordinary experience.    “‘Foo joge?” “Where do you come from?” they ask me as I sit next to the girl with light brown hair and green eyes. My tangled wavy hair and my dark brown eyes. Not only am I a toubab but I’m also confused with the Spanish and Asians. I ocassionally get the “you are African like us… you are just light skinned”.  As I look down to my pale arms, I giggle and agree “Yes, I am like you”. Speaking my Wolof, they become open, for I am not a blond, blue eyed French speaking foreigner.

I am always the insider… here in Senegal, and back home in the South Bronx. I am Dominican and Puerto Rican, which is a common enthicity back home. In High school, I could not gossip in fluent Spanish like most of my close friends, but I never felt like an outcast. I was never a “toubab“. At my high school, all but the exception of two were Hispanic or African American. We were the yellows and blacks. That was the closest I ever got to living in diversity. For some referred to our teachers as “gringos” and “gringas“, which means white people. Being inside, I unconsciously ignored the fault in the names. I was Hispanic; I was in. The cliques divided in my high school depending on race. Yes, the Hispanics talked to the African Americans, but not as much as they did with someone their own ethnicity.

The other day, I called my mother back home complaining about being a “toubab“. It was after a long day of being stared at like an alien, asked for money before the greetings, being treated as an outcast, and the list continues. The point is I was frustrated because that day the Senegalese did not consider me an African but a foreigner. I hated the lack of diversity here, but then I realized that it is an exaggerated verison of the South Bronx.  There is no diversity here or there. I never lived in a place where diversity was rich and present. Therefore, I cannot scream at the kids for calling me “toubab“, but feel disappointed in myself for I never corrected my friends or family when they called Europeans, and Caucasians “gringos“.   What if were we called by the color of our skin?

Alison Rivera