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Latino Town Hall addresses ‘Colorism,’ ‘Anti-Blackness’

By La Prensa Staff

 

Nov. 17, 2020: The Toledo Human Relations Commission and Latino Alliance of Northwest Ohio, Inc. took on a sensitive topic, virtually, between Latinos and African-Americans of Latino descent during an online town hall meeting broadcast on Facebook Live: how issues of colorism and anti-blackness affect the Latino community.

 

The Nov. 17 town hall drew a discussion from panelists who stated they experienced anti-blackness in both their home countries and the United States, just varying degrees. All have vowed to change such perceptions as individuals, in their own families, and in the community.

 

According to their individual perceptions, a basic, general bias is ‘the lighter one’s skin color, the more accepted that person will be among other Latinos.’ Panelists stated even Latinos shun darker-skinned peers from their own ethnicity.

 

“Colorism and anti-blackness for me is being looked at as ‘less than’ because of my skin color,” said panelist Mayka Rosales-Peterson, channel strategy manager at Telesystems and a former Miss Panama. “Being questioned when I speak Spanish, getting those sharp looks like someone who looks like her can’t speak Spanish. I know when I watch novellas with my mom, makeup ads, TV shows, soap operas that are Latin-based—there’s going to be no one who is dark-skinned. It hurts for me as an Afro-Latina to get the anti-blackness from my fellow Latinos.”

 

“I think it’s also the negative terms that we use that become the norm,” added panelist Christina Smith, a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and a licensed social worker who helps the prison re-entry population. “Terms like ‘modernita’ or ‘negrita’ and things like that—we need to address that and not make it okay for our children, grandkids, nieces and nephews.”

 

“The idea that the people who you claim to be your brothers and sisters because of where you come from, there’s just this total erasure of black Latinos when it comes to anything related to the Latinx community, whether it’s immigration, difference of pay,” echoed panelist Karla Mendoza, a Toledo-based writer and activist who grew up in Perú. “Are we even part of the Latinx community, because there’s always a big erasure of that.”

 

“Anti-blackness is specifically that no matter what country you go to, you will see that black people are at the bottom of society, according to a racial hierarchy and a racial cast,” stated panelist Veralucia Mendoza, a community organizer who’s a member of the human relation commission’s social justice committee.

 

Co-moderator Teresa Alvarado, Latino Alliance secretary, stated the 75-minute panel discussion

should serve as “a call to action to create a more inclusive community.” The other co-moderator Malaika Bell, director of diversity and inclusion at the University of Toledo and a human relations commission member, called it a “very timely and important conversation that is usually held behind closed doors.”

 

 

 

 

Each of the panelists spoke of growing up in a household where colorism was not a factor, but as little girls, had a shocking moment or wake-up call that served as a day of reckoning in society-at-large—or how lighter-skinned blondes were the only women they saw on TV, no one like them.

 

Ms. Rosales-Peterson related stories of being constantly asked about her race while serving as Miss Panama and her own family advising her to marry someone more light-skinned than her.

 

“When we talk about colorism and blackness, I don’t think it’s anti-African-American. I think it’s anti-dark, anti-being dark,” she said. “I think it stems from slavery. 70 percent of the slaves who came from Africa, where did they go? They went to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. So, when Latinos go into these denials that they’re not black, they disassociate themselves so much, it’s like ‘no.’ We need to start being real, being vulnerable, and checking our families, because they’re the ones causing the issues and prolonging it.”

 

Karla Mendoza recalled an incident in sixth grade, where a Peruvian boy was hurling racial insults at her sister Veralucia while she was standing ten feet away.

 

“I felt so helpless. I remember thinking ‘Why does he say that as an insult?’ when I believed my whole life that black is beautiful,” she recalled. “My parents had always done such a good job and always defined that.”

 

After the Mendozas moved to the U.S. and settled in North Toledo, Veralucia recalled being advised by other Spanish-speaking Latinos in her class not to admit she was black.

 

“That’s one of the first things Latinos hear. Children said that to me. Where did they hear that? Because they’re eight years old. They didn’t randomly decide they didn’t like black people,” she said. “This is something that had to be taught to them, where they’re subconsciously don’t want to be associated with that.”

 

Veralucia went so far as to allege everyone is racist in some way, calling it a “spectrum,” where people can perpetuate racism or colorism in some way because their values are so deeply rooted, even her own.

 

Ms. Rosales-Peterson grew up in Brooklyn, where she admitted to “gravitating” toward other Latinos, mostly of Dominican or Puerto Rican descent. Many of her Latino friends questioned whether she was black and encouraged her to bury that part of herself as a teen.

 

“That’s when I started realizing my own biases against African-American people, saying we’re different, even though we look the same, we’re not the same,” she admitted. “Being a New Yorker, the racism with a lot of Latinos is rampant. They will tell you to your face they’re different from blacks. It’s crazy to me.”

 

 

 

 

Karla Mendoza openly admitted internalizing her black background to fit in with other Latino teens in Toledo when younger, wanting everyone else to know she could speak Spanish in order to be accepted by other Latino kids. She also spoke of switching back and forth between her heritages when convenient so it benefited her socially.

 

But the question remains, what needs to be done to address these issues within the current Black Lives Matter movement in order to make a difference and promote equality, when those with brown and black skin are facing some of the same discrimination and racism when Latinos actively try to disassociate or segregate themselves?

 

“I feel if we can get past the colorism within our own community, our own group, then we could always be the majority, the strong majority,” said Ms. Smith.

 

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the virtual panel discussion came from the panelists encouraging parents to teach their children to self-love, while, at the same time, navigating the tricky waters of preparing them to face the existing biases in the world around them.

 

“You need to have open conversations with them about the expectations of this world,” said Ms. Smith. “You need to have open dialogue and let them know it’s not always going to be peaches and cream, because it’s not.”

 

“As a mom of two black boys, you have to be open, have to be honest, and you have to be real,” said Ms. Rosales-Peterson. “At the same time, uplift them and let them know they’re strong, and that their black is beautiful. They are proud Afro-Latinos, too, but know that you’re going to be in a world where you’re different. You have to have that internal knowledge that you’re powerful beyond measure. I teach my boys that, because I don’t want the world to teach them that.”

 

If parents aren’t sure how to accomplish that on their own, Veralucia Mendoza encouraged them to seek out some of the many helpful digital resources, such as podcasts and PBS articles.

 

On the Internet:  https://www.facebook.com/ToledoHRC/videos/855459184994012

 

Boyd-Franklin.vp (guilford.com)

 

Skin Color, Self-Identity, and Perceptions of Race - Discoveries (thesocietypages.org)

 

Racism and skin colour: the many shades of prejudice | Race | The Guardian

 

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2020 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/24/20 22:05:32 -0800.

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