Monday, May 31, 2010

Racism - Latin-American Style

Why do so many Latin Americans insist that there is no racism in their respective countries?

Javier, an intelligent, sharp-witted black Peruvian who cannot get a good job due to racial discrimination, works odd jobs from sun up to sun down to make ends meet.

I remember Gwen, a Puerto Rican woman of mixed racial ancestry, whom I met at my church. There was a strong mutual attraction attraction between us. The first time I asked her out, she cheerfully gave me her phone number, and it was on; so I thought! Before long, she became distant refusing to go out with me again. Yet, other church members and I would often catch her watching me intently. She even showed her displeasure at another woman with whom I began to date. Word eventually got around that her mother did not want her getting involved with black men. I've heard of other cases where Latino parents threatened to disown their daughters if they were to marry a black man. As disgusting as this sounds, it is only a minor example of Latin American racism.

In Quito, Ecuador, droves of empty cabs passed me by showing preference for white passengers.

One Sunday, out of curiosity, I bought a Colombian newspaper already knowing that at least 10% of Colombia's population is black. I was disappointed to see that the only blacks featured were criminals and athletes. Whoopi Goldberg was the only black I saw in the entertainment section. This, to me, also suggested racism and discrimination. Juan, an Afro-Venezuelan graduated from college in Venezuela majoring in journalism. All of his white classmates got jobs. Juan never got as much as an interview. In Venezuela, as in other countries, you have to put a photo on your curriculum vitae.

I'm hardly a fan of Fidel Castro, but I have to give him credit for being the only Latin American leader to speak out and take action against racism in his country.
When I visited Perú, I found the racial divide to be quite blatant with only a few Peruvians speaking up, or even seeming to notice. With employment want-ads asking for “good appearance,” a code-word for white, black Peruvans are limited to certain types of jobs such as security officers, cooks, chauffeurs, pallbearers, nannies, entertainers, or professional athletes. When I passed through Lima’s Jorge Chávez Airport, I saw only four black employees and no Asians or people of indigenous ancestry. Yet I personally know Peruvian immigrants in this country who insist that there is no racism in Perú.

Jesús, a black Cuban immigrant, told me that he does not watch Spanish TV because they discriminate against black Latinos.

It was in Quito, Ecuador where I often had extreme difficulty getting a cab, particularly at night. One Friday evening, as I was trying to get to Gloria's house on the other side of town, I saw a cab driver drop off a white couple. When I approached the cab, he wagged his finger in staunch refusal. When I waved five-dollar bills, he changed his mind (Lord, have mercy, LOL!). Once in the cab, I found it v-e-r-y interesting that he felt so relaxed to learn that I was a harmless African-American tourist and not the feared African-Ecuadorian native--Hmmmm.

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  1. It's interesting that you pointed out how reactions changed when people realized you were an American. Racism is such a funny, flaky thing

  2. Frenchie, the flakiness goes both ways. Blacks who come come to the U.S. from other countries (legally) are cut a bit more slack (with their cute, accents :-) )

  3. Many times, it is those who profess not to be racist who are the most blinded by racism. Latinos are often integral members of this club, as you've pointed out. (Keep up the great work, Bill – adelante!)

  4. My fiance's father forbid her to date me because I am Jewish, but she was more tenacious than Gloria. Your blogs take me into places and situations I could never go--travel resistance!

  5. Medhed, how is the relationship going so far? I'm so surprised that her father had a problem with you. Although most Latino families would prefer that their daughters marry a Latino, preferably someone of their own nationality,they usually cut white guys some slack. It's considered “marrying up.”

  6. I was born in South Africa(under apartheid),
    studied in the former USSR,then in France and the UK and know what what racism is.I have a friend(doctor)from Panama with whom I travelled on duty/working for Médecins Sans Frontières
    "Doctors without borders".One day in Belgium,I welcomed him to my club when he said,with a smile,that in Panama he was a 'respected' white while in Belgium he was a called a filthy
    'something'and other negative "compliments" for looking foreign(i.e.,alien??).Having had a racially prejudiced upbringing,he suddenly
    discovered he was not white enough.Only then did he feel how bad being discriminated against was.He says that experience made him a 'born again' human being.
    p.s:I do not mean to say that people in Panama or Belgium are racist.Like anywhere else,there are good people and 'the rest'.

  7. There are good people and “the rest.” That was well put. In regards to your friend from Panama not being white enough, this happens to Latinos in the U.S. as well.

  8. The truth is that many Latino fathers would rather have their daughters marry a Latino but whites also sometimes given a hard time and are called Gringos which is not an endearing term. However when we talk about Latino usually it is a specific Latino and not just any Latino. In fact in many Latin American countries people do not call themselves Latinos. Usually it is a people with either a Spanish, Portuguese or Italian background that are desired by Latino fathers& Gringos & Ingleses are tolerated but not throwing the welcome mat. Wealth and money has always been the great equalizer.

  9. Hay, “I have” been called gringo and gruingito too. LOL.

  10. That is true because it can also mean foreigner. Usually it isn't said with love & is most commonly used for Whites. Los Gringos.

    "Gringo" has been in use in the English language since the 19th century.[14] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the term in an English source is in John W. Audubon's Western Journal of 1849;[14] Audubon recalls that he and his associates were derided and called "Gringoes" while passing through the town of Cerro Gordo, Veracruz.[15]

    source wikipedia

  11. Part is racism, part is classism, that is assumed through racial stereotypes. For example, in Perú they did a study where they sent Afrodescent and Eurodescent people to interview for jobs. The Eurodescent person was favored every time. But when resumes were put into the picture, the favoritism dissapeared. What the study found was that, in Perú, there is a strong assumption that Black people are uneducated, and once that assumption is removed the person is treated accordingly. In sharp contrast to the US where similar resumes but with marked African American names were discriminated.

  12. Gringo does mean foreigner. It descends from the use of calling foreigners Greeks.


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