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Anti-Asian Racism in Portugal

I just wanted to report this somewhere in case it helps anyone in the future.

My husband and I decided to go to Lisbon and Porto, Portugal for our honeymoon. On our second day in Lisbon, we were walking back to our hotel near Avenida Liberdade at night around 9:30 pm, and a man began yelling racist remarks at us. My husband is Chinese American and I am white. We feel sometimes that people don’t like seeing a person of color with a white woman and that it may have drawn extra attention to us. We were walking quietly, but holding hands. He continued to yell at us, and we both told him to stop. In the future we will say nothing as I believe it made it worse. We continued walking and a minute or two later we heard a noise and realized he had followed us and thrown a rock at us. At that point we stopped to assess if he would come closer but he didn’t. We continued walking back to the hotel without incident. At no point did anyone intervene or warn us that he was coming after us. We talked to different people in Portugal and the people of color told us that there is a lot of racism, but that it usually not directed at tourists. We ultimately decided to come home early. It was a hard decision, but we felt we would be paranoid the rest of the trip. Next time we go anywhere else (and of course, there is tons of racism right here at home, but we know the laws here, and we know other people we can call for help), we may choose not to hold hands at night, and we will be more vigilant. We know other people of color who have had wonderful trips in Portugal, we were unlucky, but as I said to my husband, it doesn’t help when someone tells you “that almost never happens here!” when it has already happened to you.

Posted by
10294 posts

I'm so sorry that this was so aggressive and disturbing that it ruined your vacation. It can ruin a place until you've been able to clear it out from the front of your mind.

I, an elderly white woman, was accosted where I live in France in the tram during the day, by a mentally ill, homeless African man. In my case, the French hoped he'd stop and felt if they intervened, the aggressor might be triggered further. It was other Africans who intervened, speaking to him in his native language. I was shaken enough that for several weeks I asked either my husband or friends to accompany me home after dark. Since I live here, over time I had enough positive experiences to outweigh the aggression.

Yes, we have racism all over Europe. We also have mentally ill and homeless people all over the streets.

I hope with time, you'll be able to travel again and feel safe. I hope you do not alter your behavior, or think that your activity triggered this person or that you could have controlled his behavior. So when you do feel comfortable, please hold hands as much as you want.

Posted by
3768 posts

I am sorry to hear that this happened to you. It sounds like a mentally ill person, which could have happened anywhere but that sort of incident can totally ruin a trip. I am a person of color who has had nothing but good times in Portugal but that does nothing for your trip. I stopped traveling to Italy even though it is a beautiful country with great food because of a couple of incidents including one in Venice when a woman muttering racial slurs in Italian punched me in my kidney from behind because I was in her way on a bridge so I get where you are coming from. Last year, there was a thread about racism in Portugal that I find more interesting now in light of what happened to you: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/portugal/another-question-for-a-solo-female-traveler.

But here is the thing, is racism a type of mental illness? Last year, I was having lunch in New York City with my daughter who had moved to NYC the week before and we were seated outdoors at the last table on the sidewalk. I was in the middle of telling her that NYC is great when a man who had approached all the other tables asking for money and been rebuffed approached ours and asked for money. When we said no he stayed at our table and got progressively louder and louder and spouting Nazi slogans and eventually started calling us racial slurs. Is this guy racist or mentally ill or both? The waiter did nothing. The other guests did nothing. Eventually, we got up and went inside and paid our bill and left. I would not take it too personally that no one told you that your guy was following you. That kind of thing can happen anywhere.

Posted by
5357 posts

But here is the thing, is racism a type of mental illness?

No it's not, it's a personal stance. To label it a mental illness does a real disservice to those with a genuine mental illness. Nobody chooses to suffer with a mental illness but people choose to hold racist views.

Posted by
1679 posts

Oh, I'm so sorry you experienced that, and sorry that your honeymoon was spoiled.

Once, in Germany, my husband and I were waiting for a train to return to Mainz from a small town along the Rhine. While we were waiting, we were practicing our Cree. (We are both Cree, but I am white presenting.) Before my husband's hair turned white and he finally managed to grow a beard when he was working from home (First Nations men tend not to have a lot of facial hair), he was often mistaken for different ethnicities--typically Asian or Middle-Eastern. (He got pulled aside for extra pat downs/wandings quite frequently at airports.)

Anyway, a man nearby glared at us, muttering, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch." We moved away from him, and he followed, glaring and muttering. Fortunately, the train came along, and we made sure to get in a different car from him.

It can be VERY unsettling to feel like a target. It's bad enough in a familiar area, but in a foreign country, it is even more intimidating.

Hugs.

Posted by
9429 posts

I, too, am very sorry this happened to you. I would be very upset if it happened to me. Thank you for posting about it to help others.

I agree with JC, racism is a choice.
And it’s evil.

Good question JHK, the guy that assaulted you and your daughter was a racist with mental illness thrown in, imo. A dangerous situation, and i’m very glad you both got away from him unharmed.
Your experience in Venice is so disturbing. I admire how you handle these situations, so much better than i would.

Posted by
2454 posts

I am so sorry this happened to you and that it spoiled your trip. My husband and I are white and elderly. We were accosted by a big, beefy, belligerent drunk in Edinburgh several years ago who obviously had it in for Americans. It was terribly frightening. Luckily for us a young man stepped between us and the drunk and defused the situation enough for us to get away. We subsequently returned to Edinburgh last year with no incidents. The people of Edinburgh and Scotland are wonderful. Our previous bad situation was a one off. This can happen to any of us no matter our ethnicity. There will always be haters out there looking to make life miserable or frightening.

Posted by
9429 posts

Yes, this can happen to any of us by drunks, the mentally ill, ragefilled people, but if you’re of Asian descent or a person of color, you’re a target for a racist. This incident, and JHK’s, was racism.

Posted by
8512 posts

So sorry that this incident ruined your trip. I hope, with time, you will be able to see it as a one time occurrence and not necessarily a reflection on an entire country.

What an upsetting event in your vacation!

Posted by
14157 posts

Welcome to the forum and thank you for posting your dreadful experience. It will be a good reference in the future if someone else asks about possible racism.

@BB - that is very interesting. I wonder if he would have said the same "sprechen sie Deutsch" if you had been speaking English. And I wonder what he thought you were speaking? I'm sure it would never have occurred to him it was a First Nations language.

I do believe that there are times that mental illness can magnify racist thoughts and behaviors.

Posted by
1679 posts

Pam, I wondered the same, especially given that there are quite a few Germans who are fascinated with "Indianer" culture.

Posted by
7567 posts

That’s so sad that your honeymoon was cut short, but I’m glad the jerk didn’t hit either of you with the rock. I wonder … was he yelling at you in English, or in another language? Had he targeted you as English-speakers, or was he just spewing his vile remarks, whether or not you knew exactly what he was saying?

Back in 2002, despite many wonderful people we met in Lisbon, there were some sketchy moments. A man was passed out/sleeping in the doorway of our Rick Steves-recommended budget hotel when we got back to it at night. We unlocked the door and had to step over him.

One morning, a guy started walking alongside us and offered to sell my husband heroin. I wouldn’t have thought we appeared to be likely customers.

I hope your next trips go well.

Posted by
3 posts

Just editing to add he was speaking English, so we knew what he was saying. I am fluent in Spanish and can manage in Portuguese, so I feel I would have gotten the gist either way. I appreciate the comments and the understanding. I don’t believe he was mentally ill, at least not anymore than the many people I know (myself included) who struggle with mental illness but manage not to attack others. We both feel it would be unrealistic to assume we would never encounter this kind of behavior, and will have to manage the risk/reward of this particular type of threat. I agree anything can happen at any time, but racism no doubt increases the odds, which I always knew but now understand viscerally.

Posted by
3 posts

I also just wanted to add that I’m so sorry so many of you have experienced events like this and worse. I appreciate you being willing to share your stories. I wish you all peace.