Photo: Lucho Molina
1. Think that Cumbia and Salsa are the same dance.
Cumbia is a type of music and dance that originated on Colombia’s coast. It is a beautiful fusion of cultures from native Colombianos, slaves brought over from Africa, Panamanians and the Spanish colonials that blended together to create this genre of music.
Salsa, on the other hand, originated in New York with influence from the Latin community. Salsa has Cuban roots and the dance differs from Cumbia greatly. When out in Colombia, it may be tempting to fall back on the three Salsa steps you clung to from that semester abroad, but chances are you’ll be dancing Salsa while listening to Cumbia — which would be like line dancing to dubstep.
2. Spell it Columbia.
It’s C-O-L-O-M-B-I-A. How do you still not know one of the most basic things about our country? You’ve seen Colombia in the news, you’ve lusted over Sofia Vergara, you’ve moved your hips to Shakira, and watched stunned as we swept through the 2014 World Cup.
When we see a friend sharing gorgeous snapshots of her Cartagena vacation and see she spelled it “Having fun in Columbia!” it is infuriating. It’s one thing to misspell it and quite another to misspell it when you are physically standing on Colombian soil surrounded by signs that read COLOMBIA!
3. Assume all Colombian women are beautiful, yet crazy.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a compliment to come from a country where our women are revered as some of the most sexual, sensual, and beautiful women on the planet, but (spoiler alert) we do not all look like Shakira nor do we all have accents that roll off the tongue. Colombian woman — like all women — come in different shapes, sizes, skin tones, hair colors, eye color, and accents.
And not all of us spend our days walking around in crop tops shaking our hips to Cumbia on the beach and go home to throwing dishes in fits of rage while yelling in Spanish at our lovers. True, we may have done both of these things at one point or another — I once threw frozen pork chops at a man who deserved it — but I’d like to think this is just a sign of my passionate nature and not my Colombian heritage…I think.
4. Ask us for cocaine or coffee.
Thanks to an internal conflict, rampant civil war, drug lords, and a very real drug problem in the ‘80s, Colombia was front and center on the world stage and became synonymous with cocaine. Along with exporting this highly addictive drug, Colombia is also a known primary exporter of coffee. Both coffee and cocaine are a part of Colombia’s history and culture and thankfully the country has risen from the ashes of its internal strife like a phoenix and is ushering in a time of change and success.
That said, just because we are Colombian does not mean we have coffee or cocaine in our back pockets. If you think this, all it shows us is that your knowledge of our country doesn’t go beyond old movies about Pablo Escobar.
5. Ask us if we’re related to Pablo Escobar.
Which brings me to my next point: We are not all related to Pablo Escobar. Colombia is not the size of Rhode Island; it is a large country filled with many people of different origins. Is everyone in the United States related to George Washington? Of course not. Similarly, Colombians are not all related to Escobar, or somehow connected to his family, friends or cousins. Yes, there might be a six degrees of separation story floating around (my father’s high school senior class had the son of a well-known drug lord in it) but unlike the United States thinking everyone is six degrees separated from Kevin Bacon, we’d rather not look into being connected to Escobar.
6. Assume we are all pretty much Mexican.
It’s safe to say I’m probably speaking for almost every Latin American country south of the Mexican border — we are not all Mexican. Let’s not even get into food or other cultural differences – just focus on language for a moment. Spanish spoken in Colombia is very different than that spoken in Mexico. All Latinos have different dialects, sayings, words and slang that vary from country to country and, trust me here, we are not all speaking “Mexican” in Colombia.
7. Imagine Colombia as a third world country.
I understand that imagining Colombia as being in the boondocks of South America, as a cross between a village in Texas and a forgotten city in Africa might be tempting, but that simply isn’t the case. Brace yourself here; people in Colombia are not living in huts. The country is home to large cities like Bogota and Medellin, beautiful coastal areas like Cartagena or Santa Marta, and each part of the country is bursting with culture, art, flavor, and music.
8. Say we don’t look Colombian.
I have medium skin tone, dark wavy brown hair, hazel eyes and virtually no accent, yet I am a citizen of Colombia and was born in Bogota. How can this be? Colombians all look very different depending on from where they hail. Bogotanos can be of European descent with lighter skin, while many Cartagenos are of Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. We are a beautiful country of many backgrounds and ethnicities and there is not one face for how we look.