Tego Calderon: “Black Latinos are not respected in Latin America”

Posted on April 12, 2007. Filed under: News & Politics |

Tego says skin color's still a major issue for Latinos.
Yesterday, the New York Post published an article titled “Black Pride” by Tego Calderon. In this extensive article, the internationally known rapper explains that Latin America needs its own civil rights movement as skin color remains an issue of prejudice in the region: “Black Latinos are not respected in Latin America and we will have to get it by defending our rights, much like African Americans struggled in the U.S.” He comments on how popular the belief is that those with darker complexions cannot be beautiful or reach the par of those with European resemblances, and uses examples from popular culture. For example, “In Puerto Rico, Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” was only shown in one theater and unlike all the other movies shown here, there were no subtitles. It’s as if they don’t want the masses to learn. I remember, too, when Celia Cruz died, a newscaster, thinking she was being smart, said Celia Cruz wasn’t black, she was Cuban. She was pretty even though she’s black. As if there is something wrong with being black, like the two things can’t exist simultaneously and be a majestic thing. There is ignorance and stupidity in Puerto Rico and Latin America when it comes to blackness.” We certainly see this biased view in Hispanic soap operas and magazines, where most models and actors/actresses are white.

In the article, Calderon also describes his experiences as a kid: “When I lived in Miami, I was often treated like a second class Boricua. I felt like I was in the middle – Latino kids did not embrace me and African American kids were confused because here I was a black boy who spoke Spanish. But after a while, I felt more embraced by black Americans – as a brother who happens to speak Spanish – than other Latino kids did.” Despite his status of fame, Calderon continues to experiences racism, “When I check into hotels and use my American Express they call the credit card company in front of me saying the machine is broken. This happens a lot in U.S. cities but it’s not because there is more racism there, it’s because they don’t know me. When I’m in Latin America, I am known, so it’s different. That is not to say that there is less racism. The reality for blacks in Latin America is severe, in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Honduras …”

While some white Latin Americans understand the racial complexities of their countries, others are blinded by white privilege. But it’s not only white Hispanics who can be blinded to this racism. Darker Latin American can become accustomed to their daily moments of prejudice. And this feeling of “getting used” to racism is dangerous as it does not give room for accurate observation, representation, and improvement. Calderon describes this accustoming in Puerto Rico: “In Puerto Rico you get used it and don’t see it everyday. It takes a visitor to point out that all the dark skin sisters and brothers are in the service industry.”

Fortunately, many people are dealing with this issue head-on and are making blackness a fad, instead of a means of biased rejection. Calderon explains, “It makes me so happy to see Don Omar call himself el negro and La Sister celebrate her blackness. Now it’s in fashion to be black and to be from Loiza. And that is awesome, it makes me so happy.”

In order to fight injustices, Calderon suggests, “Young black Latinos have to learn their story. We also need to start our own media, and forums and universities…And each of us has to put a grain in the sand to make it into a movement where we get respect, where we can celebrate our blackness without shame.It will be difficult but not impossible.”

I certainly agree that a civil rights movement is long overdue in Latin America. I remember that my first personal experience with racism happened in South America last year. I was in Argentina for a month for a study abroad program. It was a great experience. I saw great works of art and architecture, I learned a lot about Argentinean history, and I improved mi español. And I even got an opportunity to taste mate, and now I’m a mate queen with my own mate cup and bombilla. Besides, I love to travel, and what better reason to visit another country than to learn about one’s heritage. While these cultural experiences are unforgettable, some negative experiences with locals have scarred my initial notion of Latin America. I learned that if you’re darker than the sand of Punta Cana, you may become the subject of constant observation and sneers and be called “un caballo negro.” Don’t get me wrong! This did not occur only with light skinned locals. The horse comment came from a man darker than me, and I was the color of cinnamon dust after my numerous trips to the beach. Despite my apparent resemblance to a horse, I know that I can’t stress it. To make racism the essence of my life is to live enraged at the “white man”. I know that not everyone who is white is racist. Like Calderon says, “This is not about rejecting whiteness rather; it’s about learning to love our blackness – to love ourselves.” And I know that beauty is independent of skin color. It is not how light your skin is and one’s attempt to bleach it to a European’s tone, nor does it depend on how wide your hips are, how big your butt is, how wide your nose stretches, and how full your lips are. It does not depend on what others see in you, but rather beauty relies on your own self-perspective:

My skin is the color of God’s earth when fully nourished and the color of the cinnamon stick that adds spice to your cup of tea.

My lips are pink Hollywood lips lacking syringes and injections.

My hair is curly like the waves of the sea before hitting the shore.

My hips are wide like beauty before anorexia.

My mind is a bilingual, cross-cultural map that has dabbled in European history, Latin American literature, US politics, and everything in between.

My heart lacks frontiers as it stretches from my current Big Apple home to my grandparents Dominican farm, and my ancestors’ African and European homelands.

I am beautiful as the sun kisses my skin to a warm tan beyond white obtainment.

SOURCE: New York Post

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