Race, skin color, and identity in Mexico

by Kathy Russo

It’s a nice hot day; you’re minding your own business sipping on a cool drink and enjoying having some ‘me time’ while wandering around the city or campus.

“¡Perdone!”

Suddenly someone comes up to you and asks for a moment of your time to inquire a few questions for their studies. After a few of the basics that near to all interviews contain—name, age, city—the more detailed questions emerge, those specific to the study in particular.

“What is your race? What do you classify yourself as racially?”

Would you be able to answer these questions without hesitation, after a brief moment to pause and think it over, or would you attempt to swerve the question all together?

“What is your skin colour?”

What about now? Would you have the same reaction as to the previous question?

In México, and many other Latin American nations, the individual and collective response would be positive to the latter question, with little-to-no hesitation; while the former would cause for the questioned to become greatly uncomfortable and unnerved. The notion of race, and the open discussion of the matter, has a negative connotation in México for it is almost always robotically associated directly with racism itself. While colour on the other hand, is a positive conception that expression social and economic status, as well as the forthcoming of one’s future generations.

Even in today’s society and modern world, the notion that “white is right” prevails. Numerous individuals in México are seeking out methods of identifying themselves as Moreno clara or blanca, from staying indoors, to taking on cosmetics to whiten one’s skin tone. People take this step a whole new level as well, by seeking out partners for sexual encounters and marriages that are on the lighter end of the skin palate in order to try to safeguard their future generations’ success—by means of a light skin colour.

One may try to argue that the notion for this mind set, in which white skin leads to automatic success, is rooted deep in the nation’s historical origins of colonialisation by the Spaniards and Whites of Europe. While this may ring true for the shaping of the society, many individuals nowadays, especially those in the younger generations, would ardently refute this claim by saying that they are simply fonder of the skin colour and body features. The argument would continue on to lay claim that the ideal of being whiter is more attractive, which ultimately leads to success in the society, in addition to the better treatment of people while growing up, which is why they wish for their children to be whiter than they themselves may be.

Race, however, hold the negative notion that if someone were to openly comment on it, they would be seen by others as ignorant or racist, according to research conducted by Christina Sue. Many argue that the subject matter is far too sensitive for some and that they would rather not take the risk to offend someone. Others claim that race has nothing to do with how society functions and thus should not be discussed in ultimatum.

On the other side of the issue at hand, what is not discussed in Sue’s research findings is that racism is very prominent in Latin American nations like México, not simply by terms of colour but actual race. It is harder to come by when being discussed openly, especially by an outsider for a study, for one does not wish to be coined a racist in actuality, but if observed from a distance or over years of assimilation one will come to notice that the topic of race and where one originates from plays a large part in daily life. From my own findings while in México over the years, I have come to see and hear many speak poorly of people for being from a certain part of the country, for each area has its “own people/kind”, or a different country, such as the USA and Puerto Rico. From “güero” to “chino” to “gringo” to “gabacho” to “chilango” to “cabecita negra,” there are endless racial slurs and insults that one will hear while simply walking down the market but would never be discussed and heavily denied if one were confronted about.

One must try to consider why such a discrepancy occurs in the first place. Why is the discussion of skin colour perfectly acceptable and advocated for, while the mention of race and ethnicity in a public setting is pure taboo? The concept of conscious “race-blindness” and skin colour being the ideal basis for success and power is still going on strong in that Latin American nation of México.

Reference

Sue, C. A. (2009). The Dynamics of Color. Mestizaje, Racism, and Blackness in Veracruz, Mexico. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Mestizaje and the social gap

by Yuan Mingyang

Villarreal (2010) conducted research on social stratification by skin color in Mexico, and found that people with lighter skin usually have higher education than people with darker skin. Villarreal also found that people with lighter skin usually have occupations with better social status and higher salary. Navarrette (2012) also noticed that the jobs with higher salary are usually for people with lighter skin. The author suggested that people can see people with lighter skin “on television, in politics, and in academia”, while people with darker skin are often found “on construction sites, in police forces and in restaurant kitchens” (para. 11).

What’s more, the ideology of mestizaje in Veracruz, which makes people try their best to “clean the race” and lighten their skin color (Sue, 2009), may further enlarge the gap of education, financial power and social status between people with lighter skin and people with darker skin in Mexico. According to Sue, many people in Veracruz prefer lighter skin and European body features, even for those who are dating people with darker skin. Therefore, a large proportion of people in Veracruz would choose people with lighter skin as their partners. The author also mentioned that it is not acceptable for everyone to marry someone with lighter skin. The author claimed that many partners of men with darker skin who are rich or have high social status usually have lighter skin.

Since Villarreal (2010) argued that there is a stratification of skin color in Mexico, it is a reasonable conclusion that the number of poor people with darker skin is larger than the number of wealthy people with darker skin. Therefore, the descendants of this relatively small proportion will leave other people with darker skin behind, who are expected to be poor, and become people with lighter skin. As a result, the financial gap between those who have lighter skin and those who have darker skin will be enlarged. The situation in Mexico is not like that in the US where White people tend to get better jobs.

In Mexico, two trends of force enlarge the gap. People with lighter skin can get better jobs in Mexico, which means that they are wealthier. In the same time, the skin color of wealthy people is getting lighter and lighter. The ideology of mestizaje gives no chance to most of people with dark skin color in Veracruz, who are treated unequally while still believing there is only one Mexican, since there is race blindness in Mexico, according to Sue.

References

Navarrette, R. (2012, November 20th). In Mexico, racism hides in plain view. CNN. Retrievd from http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/20/opinion/navarrette-mexico-racism/

Sue, C. A. (2009). The dynamics of color: Mestizaje, racism, and blackness in Veracruz, Mexico. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters (pp. 114-128). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Villarreal, A. (2010). Stratification by skin color in contemporary Mexico. American Sociology Review, 75(5), 652-678.

The preference for lighter skin in Mexico and Asia

by Han Si Hun (Jake)

In the book Shades of Differences, Christina Sue talks about the categorization of the color in Mexico (especially in Veracruz), and I believe that this categorization of color in Mexico is similar to the discrimination of races. As Sue argues, “Veracruzanos do not embrace their mixed-race status in and of itself: instead, they strive to ‘whiten’ themselves and their progeny.” It can be said that Veracruzanos have a strong preference for white. Sue also argues that Veracruzanos are looking for partners who have whiter skin for the possibility of the next generation coming out with lighter skin, and that Veracruzanos have strong images of black people related to the history of slavery.

This kind of discrimination and the preference of lighter skin color actually happened to my friends when I was staying in Singapore. I never really had an issue with the light skin or dark skin thing in Singapore. However, I went to of those middle schools where most of the black friends (Malaysian and Indians) dated either light-skinned black women or people of another race (lighter skinned people). I did not have a problem with people preferring light skin but sometimes I feel it people are sort of implying “darker” skin is worse. I used to be able to see people’s preferences for things as simple as that. But I remembered the question that I raised to my friend “why are you preferring to meet lighter skin than you?” and my friend was saying, “It is because I want my kids to be lighter than me.” This can be said that the preference of lighter skin is not only happening in Veracruz, but also in Asian countries.

I found out a report from The Asia Market Intelligence (AMI), which showed that the 68 percent of Hong Kong men are more appealing to lighter skin women (Schwartz 2012). In the case of Korea, white skin is also one of the important points for a beauty of women and it is also a part of men`s preference for their partner as well. We Koreans are also having stereotypes of darker skinned people as the people from the countryside. This can be said that the color discrimination on people is not only happening in Mexico but it is also a problem happening in Asian countries as well.

Works Cited

Schwartz, S. (2012, July). Men find fair skin more alluring. South China Morning Post. http://www.scmp.com/article/374509/men-find-fair-skin-more-alluring