The U.S. has been going under construction over race relations since the rise of viral videos in which police men are seen unjustifiably arresting black men (and some women) and often killing them. President Obama has made this issue his last venture for the upcoming last months of his presidency. He has become the first president to visit a prison and has begun to be outspoken about the disparity between imprisoned Black and Hispanic men versus White men. Then there is Trump.
As a liberal-progressive Mexican in New York, I often find myself taking a specific role in social media. I have made it a thing to comment, share and write on social issues that I find pressing. In school, I am surrounded by similar-thinking minds with whom I discuss current events and theorize about their social implications. But there is an unfortunate thing happening: I am speaking to the choir.
As Mexicans, we know well who Donald Trump is. We are infuriated with the rhetoric and scared of its implications. Most of us, stand against him and what he stands for. We find those that support him ignoring the facts and dismissive of the role the U.S. has had in our country’s need to emigrate. But I find a similarity between the privileged progressive Americans and the privileged Mexican communities, like Monterrey, in our role of speaking out. African Americans talk about it all the time. It’s of the fact that white privilege is there and it has a major impact in the discourse of race relations. In Mexico we fail to do this. Much of it has to do with class relations. In fact, what we fail to do in Mexico is acknowledge that our understanding of skin color is correlated with our understanding of social class. I’ll let you into a little secret, Mexico is in fact a racist country.
First of all, it needs to be said: lighter-skinned communities tend to be much better off then darker-skinned communities. This is not arbitrary. It has everything to do with our history of European colonization. But because we see it as far in the past, it is now seen as a purely social class issue. But in daily discourse this comes out in a variety of ways. Last names matter, ethnic lineage matters, and location of current address matters. Worst of all, skin color matters. We take pride in our mixed history as if it were representative of who we are as individuals. I talk about this with my mother all the time. We discuss how our community of San Pedro, in its infinite wisdom, takes pride in family wealth which has trickled down as some sort of social entitlement. Who your family is defines who you are. It is not about what you’ve done but what your name represents.
A recent poll came out in which it demonstrated that lighter-skinned people are more likely to be hired and sustain a long lasting education. Anthropologist Regina Martinez Casas noted that it is the indigenous that suffered discrimination the most but, ironically, it is these lighter-skinned groups whom are the minority. Ricardo Bucio Mujica visited my home town of Monterrey and discovered that my place of origin holds the number one position as the city in Mexico to discriminate against indigenous, women, and homosexuals. This is upsetting, not only as a fact, but because I am not surprised.
I will never forget a moment in one of my trips home in which I learned the term “nopal en la cara”. I had never heard of it and asked for clarification. It means that a person proverbially wears a cactus on their face. I was shocked. They were talking about someone they knew. As a way of putting them down, they resorted to use that phrase. It basically implies that they are some how lesser because they have darker skin. My first thought was, “Well, what does that have to do with anything?” This is where we need to begin talking about this issue. This phrase and terminology demonstrates a deep rooted issue that is embedded in racial relations in my community. What does it mean to have darker skin? As Martinez Casas noted, lighter skinned individuals are the minority. Why is it derogatory to have darker skin in Mexico?
My own hypothesis is that is has to do, again, with social class. Because its so embedded in the structure of our daily lives, we assume darker skin means less education and lesser financial standing. It is so deeply rooted, we don’t even question it. But this is a problem. How can we root for our own people in a foreign country when we don’t even acknowledge them in our own? I find it ironic that we quickly call Trump a racist when we ourselves play into it in our own communities. When the movie “The Help” came out, I am not kidding, my friends and I found a lot of similarities between the movie and what occurs in our own homes. That was the 50’s; it’s 2015. I even once tried to make it a project in one of my classes. Bringing up the subject in a liberal-progressive institution was one of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve ever had. Not only could no one relate, no one could understand what the hell I was talking about. Why? Because it’s shocking. It’s shocking how we understand class relations in Monterrey; how we understand race relations, and how we approach it in our everyday life. It’s worth noting that it is easily visible in the service sector of our economy. I don’t know where to go from this, but I do believe it is worth bringing up. Particularly in my home town. The number one city with the most discrimination against the indigenous.
We should stand against Trump. He is creating a hostile environment for our emigrant friends. But I’d like to also put it on the table that we must start questioning what role we play as those that are better off. What do we do to help the situation? Who do we choose to give a job to? Who do we choose to invite to our homes? How do we treat those whom we’ve historically chosen to view as lesser? It’s time to talk about it. If I can suggest anything is; the next time you are in an expensive restaurant with friends or family, take a moment, look around, and think.
EDIT: For those who question my sources; look up CONAPRED, the institution which conducted the study.