This ones a bit different. I’ll be sharing my direct experience and thoughts on being Asian American in Latin America. I spent much of the initial global lockdown in 2 Latin countries, Mexico & Brazil, 5 different states in the former and 4 in the later from April to September 2020. This topic seems under-covered so I will give an overview of my first hand experience.
Oaxaca City/Guadalajara/Mexico City
This region of Mexico, which I will generalize as being Central Mexico, sees far fewer foreigners then other parts of the country. It does not have the beaches of the Yucatan nor is it close to the US/Mexico border.
As such I was the only or one of the very few ethnic Asians in the area. The above in turn led to me standing out from the crowd and not always in a good way. Going into detail will be left for a different post. This one will be kept broad.
There were many assumptions that I was loaded with cash (not yet) and some of the beggars were aggressive with the wails of “Chino dinero (Chinese person, I want money)” or something to that effect. And an aura of fear or mistrust with my presence. Example, some locals called the police on me and I was brought to the police station for questions (future story).
Did I feel safe: Well I did have a heightened sense of awareness in these parts. A heightened sense of awareness, something I didn’t have to do previously.
This covers 2 states in Mexico, the Yucatan and Quintana Roo, with tourism being a big industry here. As such I did get some odd looks from people, but for the most part, no problems here. Most locals were sympathetic and helpful when I would be looking for directions, one even offered me a lift in the more rural parts. And speaking of rural areas, the kids in the area would stare at me, but a smile and an “hola” opened/brightened up their faces.
Did I feel safe: The people here tend to be alright, I exercise normal precautions in these parts.
Sao Paulo/State of Parana
These 2 are neighboring states in Brazil so I’ll bunch them together. Sao Paulo has a long history (over 100 years) of Japanese immigration with Chinese/Korean migrants as well post WW2. I asked Brazilians in Sao Paulo and they said if they just looked at me and presumed I’m a Brazilian from Sao Paulo (before they figured out I don’t speak Portuguese). It was sort of like when I was in East Asia where I could just blend in (“You look Pinoy.” “You look like Thai people.” etc.) as long as I kept my mouth shut. It was a refreshing throwback experience where I didn’t get stared at.
As for the State of Parana (Foz do Iguaca specifically), there is a heavy European influence with few Asians, I was only here for a few days but no one seemed to pay me much mind.
Did I feel safe? Petty crime is rife in metro areas in Brazil, but in terms of how I looked, there was no need for concern there.
A city of 2 million in the middle of the Amazon jungle. It felt and looked different then the other parts of Brazil (Sao Paulo is 5 hours by plane away for reference.) Folks here tend to be of Native American background. I definetely looked different from everyone else (and I mean everyone) here. I got a lot of stares and backhanded comments. And I’ve been to enough places where I could just sense there was bad news here.
Did I feel safe? I was really on edge here walking the streets alone.
Rio de Janeiro
Kind of unfair if I grouped the entire city in one broad stroke as I spent time in more well off regions as well as in the favellas (slums). Rio is only a few hundred miles from Sao Paulo, but I could count with one hand the number of Asians I saw. The say I looked didn’t produce too many problems, in the main streets. Most interactions were pleasant. THe favelas though, were much more like my experience in Manaus.
Did I feel safe? Just in terms of how I looked, there are few problems for Asians in major thoroughfares.
Kingston S. Lim
September 18, 2020
San Francisco, CA
About Kingston’s Journey Series: Kingston’s Journey is a lifelong series. This is the travel journal I take with me. Whether you have questions such as how to change my life or how to travel the world, I think you’ll find value in the life lessons I’ve experienced and documented in this travel notebook. They may serve as travel inspiration for you. In Chinese, there is a saying, “讀萬卷書,不如行千里路.”
This means, instead of reading ten thousand books, why don’t you walk a thousand miles. This is my inspiration to travel every nation (or as many as possible) in my pursuit of my global MBA by learning as much as possible and recording these life lessons learned only by travel. In the end, I think the achievement of dreams, personal growth & aspirations out there through travel and adventure will lead to a more fulfilling life. Living and experiencing the “now” is how I’ll make my life a great memory in the future.