The conversation about erasure in the Latinx community cannot be centered on white Latinx voices.
By Mariana Viera
Latina magazine recently published an article titled “Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Question My Latina Culture.” The piece details the frustrations of Alexis, a U.S. born-Latina woman who feels that her light skin robs her of Latinx authenticity in the eyes of the Latinx community.
She claims that white Americans exoticize and tokenize her, while other Latinxs see her as “just una blanca.” In a world where white Latinxs are already overrepresented in Latinx media and white Latinx voices are magnified at the cost of black and brown Latinxs, Alexis feels it is critical that her “struggles” as a white Latina woman be given a major platform. She begins, “What you don’t understand about being a light-skinned Latina is that my ‘legitimacy’ is always being questioned by both sides.”
In some ways, white Latinxs’ frustrations with having their identity “denied” do speak to an important issue. There is such a thing as white Latinxs. Latin America is not a racial monolith, and there needs to be discussion around that. It is not the racially homogenous, post-race society that people like to imagine it as (nobody knows this better than black and indigenous Latinxs). But if there is a proper way to discuss this issue from the perspective of a white Latinx, this isn’t it.
For reasons beyond the scope of this piece, mixing between black, indigenous, and white groups did occur in Latin American countries more than in the United States. But by no means did this result in the expiration of a racial hierarchy that continues to place white Latinxs like Alexis at the very top and black and indigenous Latinxs at the very bottom. “Latinx” is not a race, and Latinxs are not a unified group. White Latinxs exist. Indigenous Latinxs exist. Black Latinxs exist. The racial makeup of countries like Brazil, which has one of the largest afro-descendant populations in the world, and Argentina, a 90% white country, speak to this reality.
At one point, the article boldly remonstrates, “When people give me a skeptical look when I say ‘person of color’ or puertorriqueña in reference to myself I want to be able to hand them a pre-made list of all the things I know and do that ensure my acceptance into this culture — my culture.” Alexis can claim Latinxness, but she is gravely mistaken in her claim to a “person of color” identity. To equate being Latinx with being a person of color is to erase the centuries-long, unabated violent oppression experienced by black and indigenous people at the hands of white Latinxs in Latin America.
To equate being Latinx with being a person of color is to deny a history that eerily mirrors that of the United States in its treatment of non-white people. Racism is a defining feature of Latin American society, and its racial hierarchy does not dematerialize for Latinx people living in the U.S. To umbrella all Latinxs as people of color is both dishonest and harmful.
Alexis acknowledges her white privilege at one point, as well as the prevailing racism that targets black and brown Latinxs. But what she doesn’t seem to understand, is that as a white person, she can never relate to these lived experiences. Still, her article attempts to level her experiences as a white Latina with those of POC Latinxs. She sees her experiences with “discrimination” as different, but equally harmful.
One of the many missing links in her reasoning is the fundamental difference between individual hardships and institutional oppression. Alexis’ grievances include being mistaken as Italian and being called “spicy” by her friends when she’s upset; these experiences must be calamitous. But her whiteness also means that more often than not, she sees people who look like her represented in Latinx magazines, novelas, and film. It means that she will never be denied a job or an opportunity because the hiring team decided to go with a less qualified white person instead. It means that she will never be the target of systemic racism. To as much as hint that her imagined oppression in the form of annoyances is comparable to that of brown and black Latinxs’ is quite simply irresponsible.
White Latinxs, as often as white Americans, take up space in spheres that desperately need to magnify the voices of marginalized people. When we speak of, for example, the lack of Latinx representation in U.S. media or the exploitation of Latinx labor, we must be deliberate in the specific Latinx groups we’re referring to, that is black and brown Latinxs. The Latinx narrative in the United States cannot continue to be ahistorical. The conversation about erasure in the Latinx community cannot be centered on white Latinx voices. It must be centered on, for one, the violent erasure of black Latinxs and the blatant disregard for black and indigenous representation.
Author Bio: Mariana Viera is a first-generation, brown, femme Latina writer and educator based out of Oakland. Her work seeks to magnify the voices and experiences of women and femmes of color. She is particularly interested in issues of race, gender, queer identities, sexuality, and pop culture. You can follow her on Twitter at: @_malditamari
Featured Image: Photo by María Victoria Heredia Reyes on Unsplash