Mestizaje and skin color

by Jun Sakakibara

According to the reading, “mestijaze” is a racial concept and national ideology lies in Mexican society. Mexican people understand that Mexico is such a multi-race nation and since everybody is mixed race, there should be no discrimination against racial differences. They prefer to use the word of “color” than “race” when they describe other people.

The reading also brought the fact that it may not be a complete racism, however, at least a sort of preference towards lighter skin color exists in society. People want to be their offspring white, people think white people are more attractive, and some seeks whiter skin colored partner for marriage. Mexican women try to whiten themselves and being white could be a part of beauty for them.

I guess Japanese people also have same kind of preference towards white as Mexicans do. For instance, many Japanese women are addicted to get whiter skin (“bihaku”) and they put a lot of medical efforts to get it. Since in Japan there is only one race, even though we hold preference to whiter skin people, it never is a serious problem and it never is a source to judge people. While Japanese its tendency can be seen just as “preference”, I think Mexico’s case goes a bit further than that. There would be status exchange issue behind. The image of white people can be such as “good people”, “socially better status” or “wealthier”. As I mentioned above, if you are not white and if you have dark colored skin, you want to get married with whiter skin colored partner not only for you own benefit of getting higher social status but also for your offspring. In this sense, it goes over the preference.

The discussion point was whether Mexico should have affirmative action and change to white supremacy. The book of psychology, which I am reading these days said we create oneself by interacting with other people in society and we see ourselves as how others see us. Thus it is a normal thing that we always want to be better than others and we want to be seen better and higher by others. Also, in my opinion their preference is too strong but I do not think they do as much racists’ discriminations compared to US, for instance. So I am not sure if I agree to take affirmative actions in Mexico. In addition, it sounds such a contradiction that Mexicans say they are not racists at all and in reality they do things, which seem like a racist, though, can we say Japanese people are not racists at all? We think we are not racists either, but for example, none of us would be happy to marry with burakumin unless you are burakumin. Isn’t it same kind of discrimination as Mexicans do? In fact, Mexican people’s preference can be much more stronger than Japanese’. However, for me it seems that Japanese society has contradiction of national race concept as well. I feel if we say Mexico needs change, Japan needs change too. The difference is that In Japan, this kind of racial topic is a taboo to talk whereas in Mexico it could be an open topic to discuss. In this sense, I think Mexico has a bit more process towards race issue than Japan.

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Mestizaje, Racism and Blackness in Veracruz, Mexico

by Isabel Cabañas Rojas

“Latin America is a region of mixture”. Many cultures, religions and races are gathered; all condensed in one major community, unified under one idea: we are mestizos. Every country has their own particular characteristics though, but despite historical or regional small differences, we are all mestizos, latinos, sons of a common history and memory derived from the presence of Spaniards and Native Americans. At least this is what we are told since childhood.

This assumption is probably one of the most powerful discourses still present nowadays, that defines our identities, nationally and as Americanos, even transcending internal boundaries within the region. A very powerful and, yet, dangerous discourse, for it hides a latent reality that has enabled discrimination and the suffering of many, a big ‘minority’, who does not enter in this category, as are the descendants of African slaves.

This has happened in many countries of Latin America; however, the case of Mexico is very emblematic: its historical trajectory of mixture has only accepted the presence of Spaniards and Indigenous populations, and has denied and silenced a whole history of sub-Saharan African migration and its role on the Mexican society. Because of Mestizaje, and its strong presence as a national ideology since the nineteenth century, the presence of Africans started to blur, for economic and social reasons. Until today being ‘black’ escapes the limits of being Mexican, and Mestizaje has come to hidden the phenotypic features that is better to erase, by a process of whitening, in order to belong.

As Sue (2009) explains, Mestizaje has become a national ideology category, dynamic and diverse, which makes really hard the analysis of color in the Mexican society, as almost everybody can be included on it (Sue, 2009, pp. 114-115). Thus, in a practical level, Mestizaje is a denial and elimination of any difference, as “we are all mestizos”.

Veracruz–along with the localities of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Tabasco–is one of the historical settlements of African people in Mexico, since the fifteenth century. Therefore, their descendants today, even though very mixed with the local population of Indigenous and Spaniards, have a skin and background of African features, which they try to hide so as to be part of a society that also has segregated them socially and economically (Velásquez & Iturralde Nieto, 2012, pp. 110-113). In a Survey made by the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (2011) around 15% of the interviewees think that their rights have not been respected because of skin color (National Council to Prevent Discrimination, 2011, p. 41).

This case of Afro-Mexicans in Veracruz, and the outcomes of their skin-colors for their daily life, challenges the notion of mestizaje, which not only has shaped the history and culture of Mexico, but of all the countries of Ibero-America; and sheds new light on other issues, such as Racism and Discrimination. Any discussion on Race and discrimination is, in paper, not pertinent, because Mexico became a race-blind country. How, then, can we address racial minority needs if they theoretically do not exist?

References

Martínez-Echazabal, L. (1998). Mestizaje and the Discourse of National/Cultural Identity in Latin America, 1845-1959. Latin American Perspectives, 25 (3), 21-42.

National Council to Prevent Discrimination. (2011). National Survey on Discrimination in Mexico, Overall Results [ENADIS, 2010]. Mexico.

Sue, C. (2009). The Dynamics of Color. Mestizaje, Racism, and Blackness in Veracruz, Mexico. In E. Nakano Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Why Skin Color Matters (pp. 114-128). Stanford University Press.

Velásquez, M. E., & Iturralde Nieto, G. (2012). Afrodescendientes en México. Una historia de silencio y discriminación [Afrodescendants in Mexico. A history of silence and discrimination]. Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación.