Racism Among Latin Americans: How to Navigate Away From It

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Not too long ago I logged into one of my personal social media accounts and encountered an atrocious post on my feed. It was a rant from someone stating that the Latin American community needed to stop feeling so offended with racism considering that it was part of our culture. They went on to “support” their statement by saying that it’s no secret our culture uses terms like “ese negro” and “ese chino” to refer to someone. As if that post couldn’t even get worse, they went on to say that we should stop fighting and continue using these terms because it’s part of the Latin American community. Apparently, we should all stay stuck in a world of ignorance. Now, what concerned me the most after reading this was the amount of people agreeing to this sentiment. This is why I feel the need to explain why it’s necessary to navigate away from some of the troublesome (and racist!) behaviors of our past generations. 

First of all, there’s nothing wrong in admitting that many of us have been exposed to racism growing up. I suppose many of us don’t talk about it because it’s honestly horrifying, but it’s a reality we were acquainted with at some point in our lives. If you’re someone that didn’t have to endure these toxic behaviors, then I’m glad. However, more than likely most of us have heard how people around us used “negro,” “moreno,” “chino,” and “indio” as a form of a derogatory remark. I’m not just talking about direct family members using these terms, I’m also talking about friends and other people in the community. Perhaps we brushed it off when we were younger because we didn’t know any better, but this type of mentality is neither cute nor right, now that we are adults. 

What I find most mind-boggling about the use of these words is that the Latin American community is filled with a variety of people. We have people of color, those who have indigenous roots, and even Asian roots! Our community has a bit of everything and that’s what makes us so beautiful. So, why all the name-calling? 

The short answer is that this has a lot to do with the influence of Eurocentrism. 

Eurocentrism has been inscribed in many of us whether we’d like to believe it or not. It is the belief that idolizes anything regarding European or Anglo-American cultures. So, of course, this also means that European features are seen as superior. Even if there’s no such thing as a superior race. That’s just a jaded social construct that was brought to fruition by our predominantly inhumane colonizers.   

It is important to remember that most Latin American countries were colonized by Europeans, mainly the Spanish, at some point. Our ancestors were most likely enslaved, raped, and mistreated in unimaginable ways. Since these colonizers were seen as the ones with power, it was no surprise that people admired them. After all, these people were the ones causing the suffering and avoided the cruelties that had been reserved for the natives of colonized lands. 

Even after the unwelcome European settlers were driven away from our Latin American lands, the damage had been done. Our ancestors had been conditioned to believe that anything or anyone that didn’t resemble European or Anglo features didn’t carry much worth. In fact, Eurocentrism has been used to determine who was fit to enter a family. Historically, families (even those in Latin American countries) have been judging who’s right and wrong for their lineage based on appearance and race for as long as time itself. This actually happened in my own family. 

According to my mother, my great-grandmother came from a well-off family in Spain. She had long, curly hair, light eyes, and porcelain-like skin. Oh, and she was an actual Spanish woman. She allegedly looked like a dream. Everything was at her hands, but she decided to give it all away because of who she fell in love with. On one of her family trips, she ended up in Colombia, where she was destined to meet my great grandfather. It would’ve been a lovely fairytale-like story, except for the fact that her family didn’t want to accept my great grandfather. The reason? He was “un negro.” Despite their incessant pleas to not go off with him, she did. She married my great-grandfather and decided to stay in Colombia for the remainder of her life. Of course, this led her to lose her financial stability and to be shunned from her family in Spain, but she didn’t care. My great grandfather and her had found love and they planned on letting it blossom. Fast-forward many years and there’s a bunch of us who are happily mixed. But it is still so disheartening to see how racism is so deeply involved in our culture and how much power it had. 

Now that we have briefly touched upon how prominent racism has been in our Latin American community, we must take the necessary action to stray away from these atrocious behaviors. 

One of the things that should be considered a top priority for everyone is learning how to be tolerant of differences. 

It’d be ignorant to say that we are all the same and that should be suffice to carry out our behaviors. But that’s not the case. The world is filled with different races, ethnicities, cultures, and it’s completely normal. Instead, we need to embrace these differences and try to learn from them. 

As soon as you learn how to navigate through the variety of people that live among us, teach others to do the same. 

It is imperative that you teach others the things you’ve learned that make the world a better place. This is how we will start molding a world that works for everyone and not just for specific groups. Remember, any positive thing that you learn is an opportunity to share with someone else. 

If you are just realizing that you’ve been permissive of some toxic and racist behaviors, don’t worry. You still have time to stop causing pain to others. 

Reflect on how unnecessary it is to use race-based derogatory remarks. Truly think of how using this kind of language is harmful for many people. Think of children who may hear you saying this and how they too may one day be the culprits at perpetuating these despicable behaviors. It really doesn’t benefit anyone to target someone because of the race they may resembe or because you are trying to be funny. I understand that many may feel as though there are just too many things that are offensive nowadays, but that’s because people are finally realizing that we should respect one another. What a novel idea, right? 

Once you understand that certain actions are perceived as racist and you’ve done away with them, then it’s time to go back to the people you originally heard it from.

Whether you heard these perturbing comments from family members or others around your circle, you need to call start calling them out. I know some people may say that some people won’t budge because they don’t see anything wrong with it, but that’s why you should be more persistent. I promise you that once these people constantly hear the harms of racism and why they shouldn’t engage in it, they’ll stop those racist behaviors in no time. You will have to teach them the importance of tolerance and how it makes no sense to discriminate against anyone under anycircumstance. You’ll probably have to get a little historical on them, but do whatever is necessary. The less racism there is in the world, the better for everyone. 

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Hate crimes and racism are closely linked to one another, which is why we need to be mindful of our actions and words. There’s no need for anyone to ever feel uncomfortable simply because of who they are. So, take this as a lesson and wash away any racist tactics that you have been exposed to during some point in your life. You are now in control of your decisions and being a racist or a “racist-for-the-laughs” shouldn’t be in your path. I don’t mean to be so harsh, but trust me, it’s for the best.