Latinos come in every race and color. Despite popular belief, a lot of us come in variances even within immediate families.
We represent a whole host of cultures and histories even languages other than Spanish.
But many Latin American communities share a similar history with African Americans in the U.S. Countries like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where my parents are from, that have afro-centric communities. It’s mostly in part because there was once slavery in many parts of what is now Latin America. And with that shared history, comes a shared Euro-centric enforced beauty standard.
As much as African Americans have images of lighter skinned people as beautiful, and markets for skin bleachers, hair relaxers, and nose clips, so do Latinos.
Novellas and Spanish language movies often portray straight haired, thin nosed, lightly tanned people as protagonists and beauty queens, while Afro-centric and more indigenous looking actors are usually servants, poor, or villains. It may have been why people fawned over my straight hair, or why my paler cousins were always referred to as “elegant” and my darker cousins were not.
When I was younger, I didn’t have a word for it. I just knew that when someone was darker, they weren’t as pretty. It was communicated to me in different ways.
Some older relatives would pull on my nose and joke about how it was too wide. A neighbor who saw me talking to a boy in elementary school joked that when I got to high school I should look for a “real American boyfriend.” She meant someone who wasn’t a person of color. Other people would make jokes about arreglando la raza or “fixing the race,” which meant…making it even more Eurocentric. It was hard to hear things like that sometimes.
I grew up in Queens and had classmates from all over. My siblings and I had fun talking to our different friends, listening to different types of music. We’d spend after homework hours doing different activities, such as watching different kinds of music videos on television, and binging on The Parkers and The Fresh Prince.
Relatives would scold my dad and tell him not to let us watch “those people”. They explained that we should be “American” but “not that type of American.” And though there weren’t many adults that had those sentiments, it stood out when they did.
It made me uncomfortable. I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time to express how disappointed I was to see people treating each other that way.
In high school and college, I began to understand why older people in different parts of Latin America had a low-key disdain for dark skinned people. Slaves in Latin America were subjected to the same color hierarchy that American slaves were.
Years later, people in power were still mainly of European decent. There weren’t necessarily the same laws in the United States outlawing who could marry who, which made it so that people mixed a lot sooner in some parts, especially in some parts of the Caribbean.
But my own great grandparents on my mother’s side were not allowed to legally wed because my grandfather’s mother was a dark Dominican, and his father was practically Spaniard. El Jefe, who dictated draconian laws over the Dominican Republic for several decades, called for the massacre of Haitians in the country in the early half of the 20th century. Dark was always dangerous, and poorer. And sometimes it was deadly.
I think that’s why I was so frustrated when I began reading comments in Spanish on Twitter about recent shootings. I understood that people would have opinions about the complicated issue. However, I also thought that more Latinos would understand that when certain groups of people are subjected to unfair rules, we all suffer.
I read everything from “afro Latinos aren’t exactly real Latinos,” to “I’d rather side with real Americans than with those hooligans.” The name calling disappointed me, as did people who refused to look at statistics or those who resorted to insults instead of having a realistic discussion about why the country seems to be having racial tension and how to solve those tensions.
I understand that everyone his going to have a different reaction. Latinos aren’t a monolith. We are comprised of a wide range of races, backgrounds, and cultures. We have different upbringings and can be anything from a NYC, bilingual Caribbean Latina like myself who tries to research new movements, to several generation Americans who may not feel very affected by those movements.
We need to look into why we have some of the sentiments that we do and maybe try to learn about what’s going on in the United States. Not everyone has to agree with how to address the issue, but I’d like to see more awareness or intersectional social issues in our communities. We’ll all be better off in the long run.