Trump era col­ors life for Lati­nos

Light skin, more An­glo fea­tures re­warded; dark skin, more eth­nic fea­tures pe­nal­ized

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Brit­tny Me­jia

LOS AN­GE­LES — Over her 42 years, Lisette Flores’ brown skin has at times struck at a rich vein of in­se­cu­rity.

In the more mun­dane mo­ments, she’s been quizzed about her back­ground, whether she’s Mex­i­can or Na­tive Amer­i­can. In col­lege, the young woman tak­ing her ID photo of­fered to lighten the shade in the back­ground to make her look less dark.

In Mex­ico, a bouncer at a night­club looked down at her and asked if the oth­ers in her group looked like her — far from the blond, light­skinned women of­ten fea­tured in the coun­try’s pop­u­lar te­len­ov­e­las.

In Jan­uary, her darker skin made her a tar­get of a more po­lit­i­cally fash­ion­able at­tack.

As Flores walked back from lunch, she en­coun­tered a group of Trump sup­port­ers protest­ing out­side the Ari­zona state Capi­tol build­ing in Phoenix.

“Go back to Mex­ico!” a woman shouted, sin­gling Flores out of a group of six. Two light-skinned Lati­nas es­caped the sting­ing words.

Colorism — a sub­set of racism that re­wards light skin and more An­glo fea­tures and pe­nal­izes dark skin and more eth­nic fea­tures — long has af­fected how peo­ple are per­ceived in this coun­try. But it has con­trib­uted an ex­tra layer of angst in the Trump era, as the rhetoric around im­mi­gra­tion draws at­ten­tion to those whom some peo­ple, with seem­ingly more au­dac­ity than be­fore, judge as not be­long­ing.

“I’ve never com­mit­ted a crime, I try to be a good neigh­bor, a good friend, a good per­son,” Flores said. “And to know that any con­tri­bu­tion, how­ever big or small I’ve done, is seen as ir­rel­e­vant in cer­tain eyes be­cause I’m not blond­haired, or blue-eyed or light skin-col­ored, that all I’m seen as is some­body that they con­sider as an invader, as an alien, as a crim­i­nal, is dis­heart­en­ing.”

The day af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion in 2016 — ac­cord­ing to Doc­u­ment­ing Hate, a project that tracks bias in­ci­dents around the coun­try — a stu­dent re­port­edly told a sev­en­th­grade girl in Clarks­burg, W.Va.: “You’re go­ing back to Mex­ico now.” The girl’s father is Na­tive Amer­i­can, and she is not of Mex­i­can de­scent. Her skin is darker, the re­port noted.

Later that month, a woman re­ported that she was in line at a gro­cery store in Austin, Texas, when an older man picked up a news­pa­per with a pic­ture of a Latino man.

“Trump is go­ing to get rid of you peo­ple,” she said he ex­claimed be­fore shak­ing the pa­per at her. The woman was white, but had darker skin.

For many Lati­nos, the Trump era has ham­mered home the priv­i­lege, or lack thereof, that comes from be­ing the light-skinned

or dark-skinned of the fam­ily.

On so­cial me­dia, some Lati­nos have called on oth­ers whose ap­pear­ance makes them closer to “white­ness” to ac­knowl­edge their priv­i­lege and sup­port Afro Lati­nos and indige­nous Lati­nos.

“Peo­ple who can pass (as white) are less likely to be called names on the street or at sport­ing events and that kind of thing, which can make it eas­ier to turn a blind eye to or to min­i­mize when you’re not fac­ing it as di­rectly,” said Mar­garet Hunter, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Mills Col­lege in Oak­land. “Some of the fis­sures in sta­tus by skin tone are get­ting am­pli­fied in this con­text of height­ened racism and xeno­pho­bia.”

Celia La­cayo was known in her fam­ily as “negrita” or lit­tle black girl. For her god­par­ents, her mother and father picked her dark­er­skinned aunt and un­cle.

“The three of us were the out­casts in the fam­ily, so to speak. We were called these words, and of­ten­times they would say, ‘Oh, it’s just out of love.’ But it re­ally didn’t feel that way,” La­cayo said.

In ad­di­tion to praise within fam­i­lies, be­ing a light­skinned mi­nor­ity also trans­lates to ma­te­rial ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing a higher in­come and greater ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment, data show. Lati­nos and black peo­ple deemed to have lighter skin tones are sig­nif­i­cantly more likely to be seen as in­tel­li­gent by white in­ter­view­ers than their dark-skinned coun­ter­parts, ac­cord­ing to a 2015 study pub­lished in the jour­nal So­cial Cur­rents.

The col­o­niza­tion of the Amer­i­cas and spread of slav­ery played a large role in the den­i­gra­tion of dark skin and eth­nic fea­tures, Hunter said.

Skin color and lan­guage are stereo­typ­i­cal fac­tors that many peo­ple use to judge some­one’s Amer­i­can­ness.

In the same way that some In­dian Sikhs have been at­tacked for wear­ing tur­bans, darker-skinned Lati­nos can be­come tar­gets sim­ply be­cause they fit some stereo­type of what a Mex­i­can looks like.

“When you’re in an era of Euro and white na­tion­al­ism, color or skin tone can of­ten be a proxy for a va­ri­ety of dis­tinc­tions,” said Brian Levin, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for the Study of Hate and Ex­trem­ism at Cal State San Bernardino. “Of­ten­times, darker com­plex­ion is ex­ploited as vis­ual proof of a par­a­sitic in­va­sion of the coun­try, that is not just ev­i­dence of chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics, but a proxy for a sin­is­ter at­tack on our val­ues, cul­ture, econ­omy and safety by out­siders.”

Grow­ing up, Glo­ria Calderon Kel­lett rec­og­nized that she and her brother, both Cuban-Amer­i­can, were bound to have dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences be­cause her skin is light and his is dark.

“We would go out places to­gether, and he would be treated so dif­fer­ently than me,” Calderon Kel­lett, a TV writer and pro­ducer, said.

But last year, as her brother walked with his two chil­dren on a San Diego beach, some­one told him to go back to Mex­ico.

“He was just so stunned,” Calderon Kel­lett said. “We’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced that in San Diego.”

Calderon Kel­lett de­cided to ref­er­ence the in­ci­dent in her Net­flix show “One Day at a Time,” which fo­cuses on a Cuban-Amer­i­can fam­ily liv­ing in Los An­ge­les.

In the first episode of the sec­ond sea­son, the char­ac­ter played by ac­tor Mar­cel Ruiz is told to “go back to Mex­ico” af­ter he is over­heard speak­ing Span­ish with a friend. He tells his mother that, in an­other in­ci­dent, the op­pos­ing base­ball team saw him and yelled, “Build the wall!”

“Ever since some­body de­cided to call an en­tire group of Lati­nos rapists and crim­i­nals, ev­ery­one thinks they can say what­ever racist thought oc­curs to them,” his sis­ter, played by Is­abella Gomez, says in the episode.

“It’s amaz­ing how lucky I’ve been,” she adds. “Even these days in this openly racist world, I’ve man­aged to never have an in­ci­dent.”

“You and your brother are of dif­fer­ent shades,” their mother, por­trayed by Justina Machado, says.


Celia La­cayo grew up known as “la negrita” in her fam­ily be­cause her skin was darker.


Is­abella Gomez and Mar­ciel Ruiz re­hearse their show, which has fea­tured a colorism in­ci­dent drawn rom real life.

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