What It’s Like To Be Asian-American in Colombia

What It's Like To Be Asian-American in Colombia

pink pangea foreign correspondent Being an Asian-American in Colombia, I immediately stick out like a sore thumb. I have been abroad for about three months now, and I am still not accustomed to the frequent stares or double glances that I get every day. Whether I am in a restaurant or just walking down the street, I will receive some sort of attention from the locals. Colombians seem to be fascinated with my obvious distinct facial appearance.

Based on my personal experiences here in Colombia, I believe there are at least two ways to look at the perception of a foreigner in another country. Being a foreigner, I am a direct target for scams or rip-offs as locals assume that I am unfamiliar with the environment. It is also often conceptualized that foreigners are wealthy. Being a woman, I am susceptible to being catcalled on the street. Being Asian, it is frequently observed by the locals that I am either from China or Japan, and no other Asian country whatsoever. Many a time I have been whistled at with “China” (pronounced chee-na in Spanish) or “Japón”!

What It's Like To Be Asian-American in Colombia
Philia in Colombia

Being a foreigner, I am a direct target for scams or rip-offs as locals assume that I am unfamiliar with the environment.

The combination of being a foreign Asian American woman is very exotic to Colombians. Locals love to ask me the question of where I am from, even though “New York City” does not seem to give them that satisfaction. They will proceed to ask where I’m really from, in which I’ll amuse them with the same answer: I was born in New York. I will then follow up with the fact that my parents are from Taiwan – this gives them instant gratification. It is unclear to me why they ask because sometimes they don’t continue the conversation or ask any other questions. Mostly, they are content with simply knowing what my ethnicity is.

On the other hand, I can be very popular as a foreigner, especially with Colombians who are interested in learning English. Colombians are also very friendly and kind towards foreigners once they get to know you. I can also feel like a celebrity at times when Colombians ask to take a picture with me. Being an Asian American woman is more unusual to the locals here, especially from the reactions from children. The majority of children react as if I am the first Asian person they have encountered, so they are very curious and like to come up to take a closer look at me.

What It's Like To Be Asian-American in Colombia
Posing for a photo

I can also feel like a celebrity at times when Colombians ask to take a picture with me.

It is definitely a change from New York, which is such a melting pot, and I like being out of my comfort zone. At first, I was very taken aback in Bogotá because I felt displaced and I was not used to the random attention and strange looks I was getting. As I met more Colombians during my stay here, I feel much more accepted and became more comfortable speaking and interacting with the locals. I have learned to embrace the differences and let myself open up to the people. Overall, I feel happy and fortunate as it’s refreshing to be someone unique and interesting.


About Philia Yiu

Philia YiuPhilia Yiu is originally from New York but currently located in Bogotá, Colombia. She is a lover of travel, people, food, fashion, and all things digital. She enjoys live music, interior design, photography, and a good read.

3 thoughts on “What It’s Like To Be Asian-American in Colombia

  1. Avatar
    May 2, 2018

    I’ve been all over Colombia 28 times over the years and I spent one month per year at different locations throughout Colombia.Many blogs say Colombians are warm and friendly but honestly it’s just a front on their part to gather personal information about foreigners to proceed further.I’m a Caucasian male from the U S. Stares and more stares I agree I’ve gotten my share as well.I always wear blacked out sunglasses and if someone speaks to me I consider it an invasion of my privacy intentionally.Giving the peace sign only opens the door for an in depth nosey look into my privacy.I give hand signals as a deaf mute would do.A universal language the world understands.I then walk away leaving them standing there in wonderment.Bottom line I wasn’t verbally abrasive, no feelings hurt and it’s efficient.

  2. Avatar
    April 26, 2016

    I’m glad you wrote this article! I received a fellowship to teach english in Colombia, I am an asian-american woman from California! So I do anticipate I’ll have to get used to being “foreign.”

  3. Avatar
    December 13, 2014

    I had the same reaction when I was vacationing in Athens, Greece…25 yrs. ago. I kinda doubt a lot stuff has changed. Greece isn’t exactly a magnet for tons of Asians to live there.

    I nearly hugged a Greek-American shop owner there, when he incorrectly guessed I was from the U.S. I’m Canadian-born. My whole life is in Canada.

    I actually don’t like the feeling of “looking” so “foreign” as a target for scams.

    Anyway we were cycling through the lovely Black Forest area of southern Germany with medieval villages and their flower boxes on houses. In a tiny town, a bunch of local German children crowded around me and stared at me weirdly. Cute. My partner could speak German (he is originally from Germany).

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