Race-work, Race-love

Open Letter to Latina: The Racialization of Latin@s, Healthcare, & the Latina Warrior

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Fascinating Story Number Four: The Continued Racialization of Latin@s

Although Hispanic/Latino is an ethnic classification, Latin@s are a racialized people in the US.  Racialization is a process that occurs over time. Latin Americans have their own process of racialization and thus have their own brand of racism. Thus, it should not be a surprise that in the 2010 Census, Latin@s picked White as their racial classification of choice which helped increase the White population by six percent. However, if given the opportunity, Latin@s would choose “Hispanic” or “Other” as a race.  This has inspired the US Census to consider “Hispanic” as a racial category, removing the option to choose one of the traditional racial categories.  The racialization of the Latin@ population is not a new phenomenon; it is an ongoing process, one that still has many stories that have yet to be told and one that we should not expect to end.

Media provides a strong documentation of this process of Latin@ racialization. Interestingly, magazines like Latina and reality shows like Love &Hip Hop (LHH), Basketball Wives (BBW), The Real Housewives of Miami (RHOM) sitcoms such as Modern Family and the upcoming  biopic of Nina Simone have introduced different types of insights and conversations  about how Latinas are and continue to be racialized.  

Reality TV stars such as Evelyn Lozada (BBW) and Joseline Hernandez (LHH) raise questions about colorism:  while depicted as Black Women, neither has openly identified as AfroLatinas, despite passing as African American women on these shows.  The discussion of AfroLatin@s took a more overt and serious conversation when Zoe Saldana, (self-identified as AfroLatina), decided to take the role of Nina Simone, an African American woman. Saldana’s portrayal of Nina Simone is questioned not just because of her lighter skinned complexion (relative to that of Simone) but also in the varying differences and life chances that AfroLatinas may face as opposed to African American women, specifically dark skinned women,  in the US.

Joseline Hernandez (LHH) and Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) demonstrate how language aids into the racialization process of Latinas, as they hyper exaggerate their inability to articulate in English (to the point of damn near ignorance) exacerbating this (perhaps purposefully) with heavy accents. In fact, making fun of the ways in which Latinas speak English has become so openly acceptable and public that even Ellen Degeneres jumped on the bandwagon by openly making fun of Sofia Vergara (talk about White Privilege) in commercials and on her popular show “Ellen”.

Finally, many of the women of RHOM identify as Latinas but their heavy use of surgery and their exaggerated Whiteness with the exception of “subdued” accents (as opposed to Vergara and Hernandez) that hint at their being bilingual has some questioning how White are they, really? Sandra Bernhard makes that question clear here. Unfortunately, even George Zimmerman entered into our racial imaginations when he conveniently disclosed that he is of Latin American descent via his mother in order to prove that racism was not a motive for murdering Trayvon Martin. This mis-use of “brown-ness” and choosing “Latina by convenience” is just another story that needs further exploration.

These examples not only provide an insight into how Latin@s are racialized in the US (and how we are all complicit in this racialization) but these stories also uncover another story: Black-Latin@ relations in the US. More needs to be said about we come together as communities and build to produce more excellent coalitions – and increase love between our people.

In summary, the racialization of Latin@s is happening not just at the government level but also in our homes as we are introduced to these Latinas via various forms of media.  Resources like the AfroLatin@ Reader, AfroLatina documentarians like Dash Harris, tumblrs and blogs like AfroLatin@ Project  and many other Latin@ Warriors, are important to help us make sense of all the projections of how we are, and will continue to be, racialized.

Fascinating Story Number Five:  Latina Warriors and Healthcare

Latin@s are the least likely to have heath care insurance and three times more likely than Whites to be uninsured. Sadly, they are also often on the frontlines of recovery efforts when natural and man made disasters such as Hurricane Sandy occur.  The combination of the two is a cause for  policy concern. The impact of Hurricane Sandy, much like Katrina, proved to be more devastating than the actual storm: many questions are left unanswered as to how undocumented immigrants and other uninsured Latin@s will be able to access adequate health care while also aiding into recovery efforts.

At a more personal level, I want to turn our attention to author Sofia Quintero, also known as Black Artemis and self-identified Cancer Warrioress. Her story is an amazing one: as an author known for her insightful and amusing portrayals of Latin@ teenagers and young adults, her writing took a turn when she embarked on the quest toward health from breast cancer.  She began with announcing her news via videos to friends and family, and took her daily journey to Facebook, Twitter, and her blog.  There, we witnessed her grappling with Audre Lorde, who also took a public stance against breast cancer, her feelings about shaving her head after realizing she would lose her hair, and her tension with treatments and mastectomy. Her journey caught the attention of Cosmopolitan Latina, who published a four-part series of her story. 

Given the context described above regarding Latin@s and healthcare, it is not a surprise that illnesses such as cancer is not openly discussed in Latin@ communities. Not many of us know what to say, how to act, what to do, when a loved one becomes ill. Thus, by sharing her story, Sofia Quintero used her journey, her life, to serve her community. A once private illness, Sofia’s personal journey and road to physical and emotional recovery and taking this to a Latin@ public – merits a mention for fascinating Latin@ stories.

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  1. […] FSN 4 & 5: Open Letter to Latina – The Racialization of Latin@s, Healthcare, and the Latin… […]

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