“There is not necessarily this happy race-free dynamic within Latinidad,” Professor Tanya Hernandez told The Root in a viral video exposing the corruption of Hispanization. “If we want to have a liberation politics, all of us have to be part of the liberation politics and that means also be attuned to the ways in which we create our own hierarchies and need to unpack them and work against them as well.”
I’ve sensed a lack of authenticity in the propaganda of Latinidad since the campaign captured my attention as a young brown girl growing up in a predominantly white town in the ’90s. As a mixta person with a racially ambiguous appearance, my identity seemed to be made up of more questions than answers. Having a catchphrase like “Latina” to satisfy interrogators gave me a measure of security but never belonging. More and more millennial and Gen Z Latinxs are shedding the label, divesting from the racist pathology of Spanish imperialism and centering Black and Indigenous voices leading the charge towards intersectional liberation.
Much like the United States, Latin America grapples with confronting its history of racism, slavery and Indigenous genocide. Statistics show that, of the enslaved people trafficked during the Atlantic Slave Trade, 90 percent were shipped to the Caribbean and South America. Following emancipation, colonizers sought to produce a “progressive mixture” of people by courting European immigrants to Latin America — a calculated government-led strategy to disappear African and Indian civilizations from the landmass entirely called blanqueamiento.
The Spanish developed the casta system to catalog the colonization of the Americas, and centuries later the same systemic oppression persists. Professor Tanya Hernandez described the “pigmentocracy” of Latin America as “the ways in which there is a social hierarchy that is arrayed from light to dark with light being places with the most economic success, at greatest access to socioeconomic opportunity and darker spheres with less and the only additional nuance in that is that you could have light skin but if you have African features or African hair texture then that lowers your currency.”
One of the greatest challenges diasporic people face is the lack of information regarding our genealogy and how susceptible that makes us to manipulation. As mixta people, the primary purpose we served was to demonstrate how near or far we were to the most ostracized: Black and Indigenous people. Everyone participated in the denial and denigration of our Afro ancestral roots and prescribed solutions to obscure any presenting features.
“In centering a common Spanish or Iberian heritage,” Adriana Maestas wrote for Zora, “the Latinx and Hispanic labels signal proximity to whiteness built on a white supremacist foundation that is reinforced by the media and by those who are invested in marketing products and ideas to people who may fall under these labels.”
The erasure of Indigenous and African people has had deep ramifications throughout Latin America and among US Latinx. Mestizos, sensing the precarity of brownness, a condition born of destruction and rape, are often recruited to wave the flag of la patria, denying true aspects of our identities for a piece of the white supremacist pie. Likewise, as some mestizos arrive at a greater awareness of our calamitous cultural programming, the colonizer in us can often lead us astray and into appropriative territory.
“I wish more White Latinxs identified their Whiteness,” wrote the creator of the #LatinidadisCancelled critique, Alan Pelaez Lopez, “and then betrayed their Whiteness to take on an everyday anti-racist framework so that they can be nuanced and active allies to their fellow non-White Latin American community.”
A few weeks ago, in the midst of Latinx Heritage Month, my sister texted me a link titled, “No I’m Not a Proud Latina.” With my interest seriously piqued, I clicked immediately, and read the essay in record time (I’m a very slow reader). The author Dash Harris, a popular multimedia producer, is always unapologetic and brilliant, but I’d never read such a brave interrogation of Latinidad — ever.
“Powerful,” I replied to my sister. “I know right?” she said. “It’s so true.”
Latinidad has reached a moment of reckoning, and the reality of who actually benefits from the white supremacist structure has been exposed. For now, another Latinx Heritage Month draws to a close. But it will be up to us if Latinidad is forever canceled.
If you enjoyed this story, check out Jessica Hoppe’s recent article on Indigenous icons Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and Nathan Apodaca.
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