“Prieta”, “Morena” and “Mulatta” are the terms that I heard on my quest to learn about Colorism in the Latino community. For years I have known and witnessed colorism in the Black community. “You’re pretty for a dark skin girl” or “light skin girls are usual more beautiful than dark skin girls” are all phrases that I grew up hearing as a young girl and still today, but what about other cultures? With the shade range for most minority groups ranging from one end of the color spectrum to the other, colorism is a way of life within many minority cultures… but where does it come from? In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I explored this issue and educated myself on the history of colorism and how it affects those in the Latino Community.
Colorism Dates Back to Slavery…
According to historian and documentarian Henry Louis Gates Jr., there were 11.2 million Africans who survived the Middle Passage and landed in the New World, and of that 11.2 million, only 450,000 came to the United States however, Brazil received almost 5 million Africans. Today Brazil is the second blackest nation in the world. In addition to Brazil’s high population of Africans, Mexico and Peru received 700,000 in the slave trade. With the large wave of Africans entering in Latin countries, the Afro Latino community was born. Through the treacherous act of slavery and the privilege that was given to those with fairer skin, colorism was bred deep into the roots of the Latino community and is alive and well today.
Understanding Colorism Today…
Today, fairer skin is celebrated and widely accepted because of the “white is right” mentality. Alienating those in the community that have darker skin are unconscious bias based on what was taught many years ago through slavery. Nicknames that are deemed harmless like Guedo and Moreno all lend themselves to further widen the gap between Afro Latinos and the rest of Latin community.
To gain further insight on colorism in the Latino community, I interviewed Lorena Ibarguen on her experience as a Afro Latina and the treatment that she receives both in and outside of her community.
When you hear words like morena, Prieta, Guedo, gringa what does it mean to you? What is your experience with these words?
Being a Colombian born Afro-Latina and raised in the US, has always brought along the name tag “Prieta” among the older generation of the Colombian community. I’ve never liked the nickname “Prieta” because I associate it with a person of color who’s lost their cultural roots, and I have never lost my roots. In fact, I’m trying to get more in touch with my African roots. I believe that I was labeled a Prieta because I adopted some American ways as I grew up, but to be honest I feel like that word has a racial undertone to stereotype African Americans in a negative way. I would wear certain clothes or hang out with my black friends and I was automatically labeled as a Prieta. My parents and I would argue about what others (their “so-called” friends) would say about me or how they viewed me. That really rubbed me the wrong way throughout my teenage years.
What is your first experience with colorism in the Latino community? Were you directly affected and how?
People, even Latinos, usually ask me if my parents are both black or if I’m mixed when they see my hair and hear me speak Spanish. It’s so annoying! It is impactful to see people think in such a limited view. When I’m hit with those type of questions I usually educate people about Afro-Latinos. Most Dominicans face similar issues with hair in their community. I have more negative experiences that are directly involved with racism rather than colorism within my community.
Do you identify with the Black Community or the Latino community? Both?
I identify with both communities. There are struggles in being black and Latino. Most Latino’s of fair skin and Black Americans do not understand what it is to be a double minority. At times it can be a power struggle between both.
What do you think will be an effective way to rid your community of colorism? Is it possible?
Yes, it is possible. There are two ways to help get rid of colorism between Latinos. Education and integration is the way. People, mostly other Latinos, must be educated on the history of the Afro-Latinos and how they got to South America and Central America. I’ve lost count of how many other Latinos have been astounded to know that there is such a thing as Afro-Latinos and that I speak such great Spanish. The integration piece helps with exposure and of course an understanding that all Latinos, regardless of the skin tone, belong to the same community and culture.
Understanding Lorena’s frustration toward the lack of inclusion of Afro Latinos in the Latino community further proves that education on this issue is key. You cannot expect acceptance from the rest of the world without granting that same acceptance to your own community. What I learned is, much like my own community, it is vital that Latinos push pass the bias of colorism and embrace differences with understanding and inclusion.
By Jasmine Nelson
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