Sunday, June 17, 2012

Latin Americans Don't See Color?

My first open discussion about race with a Latin-American person came about when I was 17 years old with a classmate directly from Puerto Rico. Out of the blue, he told me that there are no racial problems on the island, and that everyone gets along. I believed him. I heard those exact same words from many other Latin-Americans, most recently, from a woman who responded to my blog post entitled Semantics: Black and Latino with these words:

When you grow up in one of the islands, like Cuba or Puerto Rico, race is very much secondary. We don't even think about it. We are all Puerto Rican, Cuban or whatever else we might be. It is not until we get to the US that all of a sudden people are trying to put us into a racial category. Most families from the Caribbean islands, at least the ones that once were a part of Spain, are mixed. So how can we define ourselves as being part of a race when our brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, grandparents, or other close relatives may have a completely different color combination than we do? We don't choose to isolate ourselves that way. Is there racism in the islands? I'm sure there is, although I didn't see any growing up there nor did my husband who grew up in a different island.

I know many Latin-Americans of all colors who believe as this woman does. However, not one has been able answer this question. Why is it that when I pick up a newspaper, magazine, the only blacks I see are entertainers, athletes, and criminals? If color is so secondary, why are there so few black politicians, managers, police officers? Why is it that in every Latin-American country that I've visited (nine of them), the racial discrimination in terms of jobs and educational opportunities are worse than the U.S.A for black people? An old friend from Venezuela, was the only black in his graduating class of journalism. He could not get a job in Venezuela. Fortunately, he speaks very good English and had to migrate to the U.S. to find work in his field. 

I have a goddaughter in Perú whom I see almost every year. She is the only “black” in her family. She is loved by her family, and gets along very well with members of her community, regardless of color. Yet, I'm concerned about the job discrimination that she is going to face when she grows up that other members of her family will not face because of the color of her skin. My goddaughter lives in an area of Perú where there is a relatively large black population. But when you go into the business district of this area, there are hardly any blacks working in shops, banks, and offices. Even the shops that sell Afro-Peruvian cultural paraphernalia do not employ blacks. There is something wrong with that picture!
To you who are reading this, and feel that Latin-Americans don't see color, I humbly ask that you educate me as to why out of nine Latin-American countries that I visited, blacks are hardly visible in business districts, government, airports, law enforcement, and politics?
To date, I've been to the following Latin-American countries: Cuba, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, *El Salvador, **Mexico (yes, there are blacks in Mexico and they are marginalized), Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.

*El Salvador does not count for obvious reasons.
**Yes, Mexico has a black population, which is very marginalized.