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Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page

2013 Fascinating Latino Story 3: How Exploring Racism & Latino Identity Can Help Us Leave This World Better Than We Found It

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Because the U.S. Census does not consider Latino/Hispanic a racial category and because Latin Americans over time have consistently tried to move further and further away from Blackness, the question “Who is Latina/o?” and “Can Latinas/os be racist?” are very much intertwined. As I mentioned in my first post, George Zimmerman was immediately called “not a racist” because he is of Peruvian descent, even though there have been claims that his Peruvian mother and other family members have revealed anti-Black sentiment. Thus, it continues to be important, and remains a relevant topic of discussion, to analyze not just Latina/o identity but also the characteristics that we as a society use to define a racial identity. Furthermore, these discussions also reveal how important the exploration of race is to understanding how racist feelings manifest itself in people of color. It is important that we begin to  specify “racism”  by connecting it to “White Supremacy” in order to help us understand that people like George Zimmerman and his mother could in fact live out White Supremacist values that affect their decision making in how they perceive as “positive” in our society and in this case, who is worthy of a life.

I begin this section by exploring the events or people who have caused us to question “Who is Latina/o?” Pope Francis has become increasingly more popular for his anti-capitalist views and his service to the poor. But, for Latinas/os, he has also crept into our Latina/o collective consciousness for his racial/ethnic identity. Born and raised in Argentina, Pope Francis is also of Italian descent. While he is hailed as the first Latin American/Latino Pope, many have questioned how Latino he really is because of his Italian heritage.  A very interesting conversation indeed, but what outlets do Latinas/os have to have full discussions about this very important topic?  The point is not to find an answer or come to a conclusion about Latina/o identity; the point is to help bring forth the conversations that many are having but with very little educated facilitation of these questions.

In Reality Show news, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (RHOBH) has a new cast member, Joyce Giraud Mojica, who is a beauty pageant queen and actress from Puerto Rico.  As with most predominantly White casts, racist comments and colorblind racist events are bound to happen, particularly when there is ONE cast member who identifies as a person of color. In one instance another cast member told Joyce that she was a Black person because Joyce didn’t know how to swim. This racial microaggression heard around the Bravo Twitter world caused a bit of a stir (as it should). Because people generally do not know how to respond to such microaggressions, I must admit, I thought Joyce was going to turn around and consider this an insult. Instead, Joyce made it very clear that she actually is Black because Puerto Ricans do have African heritage. This was a whole new moment for me in Reality Show television. I never heard any Reality TV star clearly delineate Latino heritage and I would imagine this was a first for some  people who have none or minimal awareness of who Puerto Ricans are. In one sentence, Joyce gave RHOBH audience a lesson on Latino heritage whether some may agree or not that this is what being Puerto Rican means. BRAVO to Joyce.

Then, of course, there is Zoe Saldana and Nina Simone. The news of Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone broke in late 2012 but her response (or repeated responses) came in 2013. Critics are largely unhappy with the Zoe as a choice to play Nina Simone, and Zoe has openly claimed that she does not have time to worry about whether she is “Black” enough to play Nina Simone. This leads to the other question that many Latinos face – what does it mean to be “Latino” enough – particularly if you largely see yourself in different racial categories. For example, AfroLatinas are still largely unincorporated into the Black imagination, even though many AfroLatinas will tell you that people will often see them as Black first. Thus, there is clearly still a large miseducation of who Latinos are not only by non-Latinos but also, sadly, by those of us who identify as well.

(Side note: I wish Zoe would realize that this is not just whether she is Black enough but whether her “lighter skinned, more European appealing traits garnered her a role over a Black woman [AfroLatina or not] who didn’t appeal to a more European aesthetic and if she was REALLY doing it for her “sisters” as she claims she would realize this…but this conversation is for another blog post. Entirely!)

(Another side note: As I reflect on this piece, I continue to be dismayed that at the heart of figuring out Latino identity, there is so still much anti-Black sentiment. This is an important topic to place at the center, one which I will continue to focus on, which other blogueras and other racial analysts should explore as well.)

Unfortunately, this year we saw much structural and interpersonal racism come alive and targeted to Latinos and Latin Americans. In November we saw how dangerous the intersection of immigration status and race can be when the law is used to legally discriminate against a certain population. In the Dominican Republic, we learned that the DR made a whole new class of undocumented immigrants by ruling that those born after 1929 of parents who are not Dominican born, specifically, Haitian parents, would find themselves without Dominican citizenship. It’s horrifying to think that this can happen in the 21st century, but, if we follow the interpersonal racism steps that could lead to or maintain the justification of legalized racism, then perhaps this may not be so surprising. Good articles to read about this are found here and here. In solidarity, four prominent authors (Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, Julia Alvarez and Mark Kurlansky) wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times that can be found here.

Social Media can be great for many things like sharing information but it also helps allow racism to rear its ugly head.  Along with hatred spewed by racism is also the ignorance that is often displayed by racist individuals. In July, we saw how ignorant people are about Latinos because Latinos are still not considered Americans. Case in point: Marc Anthony sang God Bless America for the MLB All Star Game. Once he stopped singing the racist tweets came in: “Why is a [insert all words describing non Americans here] singing the national anthem?”

Oh, boy. Some Americans need to go back to school.

For one, Puerto Ricans are not immigrants, and two God Bless America is NOT the national anthem of the U.S. Yet, people INSISTED on showing their racist, ignorant selves on Twitter and got caught for making these stupid remarks.  Interestingly,  some Latinos responded in a weird fashion, as well. While some were vehemently reacting back to these racist responses, others were responding with anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant sentiments, too. Puerto Ricans have the privilege of being U.S. citizens while other Latin Americans do not have this automatic birth privilege. What both kinds of critics failed to realize is that immigration status or our parents’ orgin of birth does not make us any less American, either.  Yet, many Latinos continue to participate in some kind of anti-Latino sentiment that was completely inappropriate by vehemently claiming that Marc Anthony is not an immigrant and they would understand the anger if he was. WHAT??!! It might serve us more if we (yes, Latinos, talking to you) begin to understand the complexities of Latinidad, one of those being immigration status. At the end of the day, Marc Anthony  should be able to be invited to sing a song even if he wasn’t “American” not just because he has US citizenship!

Another example of public social media displays of racism happened in June to 11-year-old Sebastien De La Cruz who sang the national anthem for an NBA finals game. These interpersonal cyber racist attacks are becoming the norm and IS the new stage for White Supremacy. Thus, it is of high importance to explore social media racism and its discontents.

Speaking of stages for performing Latinidad or anti-Latino sentiments, in October we witnessed the birth of Fusion. Fusion is meant to target younger, Latino viewers, but they neglected to mention that many of the reporters are White Latinos mirroring the class, gender and racial regimes that reign supreme in Latin American television such as Univision and Telemundo. One commentator (a Greek reporter) when describing the network said that Fusion was what happens when you marry Univision and ABC.

Ok. Did we mention that both networks are really very White? So what does that make Fusion?

Right.

You can find more critiques of Fusion here and here.

Thankfully, there are venues that have seen the light of day but has been a long time coming!  The AfroLatino Festival in New York saw its birth in June.  They are in fund raising mode to ensure a second festival is in the works.  Read about the festival here. Happily, Seattle, Washington seems to be ahead of the game in this area. Check it out here.

As with my earlier posts, I need to recognize the importance of platforms for artists, educators, reporters, social media activists, and others to discuss Latinidad.  These platforms have the important responsibility to nurture these individuals and also create a community among these individuals interested in the exploration of Latinidad in the US and beyond.  I wrote this piece on the sixth day of Kuumba, the principle for Creativity, which helps us reflect on creative ways to work toward a world better than we found it. In this second year of my writing Fascinating Latino stories, I think it is time to expand this to a larger platform and create a community discussion around these issues.  Therefore, I am thinking of a master plan… who knows what will be in the works for 2014!  Stay tuned…

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