- Personal Stories & Opinions>
- Race, Nationality & Identity in Latin America
I am a white American with short brown hair, brown eyes, about 5’9 in height and roughly around 155 pounds in weight.
When I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I fit in.
It wasn’t uncommon for people to assume I was Argentine based on the fact that so many people in Buenos Aires are white.
Similarly, when I was in Bogota, Colombia, I didn’t feel too out of place either.
While less white than Buenos Aires, it definitely had its strong share of white Latinos in the city.
When I first arrived there, I flew in from the Colombian city of Barranquilla…
A city that has some white Latinos but not anywhere near as much as Bogota.
More black and brown Latinos overall from what I remember with some white ones.
So when I got to Bogota, I was quite surprised at how white the folks were there and I honestly thought to myself “am I in Buenos Aires?”
On the other hand, I remember living in Cochabamba, Bolivia prior to my time in Colombia….
While there, I think I saw 5 white Latinos in total anywhere in Bolivia from Cochabamba to any other city I went to.
And I traveled around quite a bit for a short time while I was there.
Anyway, white people were definitely not as common in Bolivia from what I remember and I definitely could be recognized as a foreigner.
The same could be said for when I was in Cusco, Peru or Guatemala.
In Nicaragua and the DR, while there are some white folks in either country, I didn’t feel that I “fit in” a local so to speak by my appearance alone.
Where I have spent the last 3.5 years in?
In some parts of Mexico like Chiapas, I would say white folks don’t fit in as well as parts like Mexico City.
In Mexico City, I feel I could possibly fit in a tiny bit.
There are white Latinos in Mexico City without any question – some of them with brown hair even like me!
And the only white Latinos here that I have seen with blonde hair are usually young Latinas who seemed to have dyed it.
Well, if I dyed my hair black, I think I would fit in better in CDMX and also Hidalgo where I spent some time there.
The Mexican Who Isn’t Mexican
Funny enough, when I was in Hidalgo…
I remember going to a house party full of local Mexicans and my girlfriend at the time…
The house was in a very private gated community for probably some of the richest Mexicans in Hidalgo…
I remember the taxi driving taking us there mumbling to himself about “this is where all the politicians live…”
And, to be fair, the neighborhood was very nice.
Anyway, we got inside the house and I think literally everyone in the house was white except my girlfriend.
There was even a fat Mexican guy there who had blonde hair and blue eyes!
Let’s call him El Gordo.
At first glance, I was positive that El Gordo was a gringo.
He had blonde hair and blue eyes!
Well, after getting to know him, I learned that El Gordo is Mexican actually with a German dad and a Mexican mom who is white herself.
So that explains it.
Curious, I asked him what is it like being this white in Mexico…
With blonde hair and blue eyes!
I have brown hair and brown eyes and often get assumed to be a foreigner down here by most individuals (though some have confused me for a Mexican in CDMX).
El Gordo goes off talking about it then – “oh, it sucks, everyone assumes you are a foreigner, they try to gringo tax you all the time, etc”
In his mind, he doesn’t “fit in” so to speak because of those features he has.
But all of this is to bring up a very broad topic…
A topic that could and probably has been written about in books before.
Race, nationality and identity in Latin America.
What does it mean to be Latino?
So on and so on…
And what are the experiences of folks down here who are Latino but don’t necessarily “fit in” so to speak?
Well, it’s a large topic obviously since we are literally talking about an entire region and not even just one country.
As well, as you already know, I am not Latino.
All of this is from an outsider’s perspective – so there will obviously be some nuances that I have yet to understand that will not likely be included in this article.
As well because this is an article and to do this topic any proper justice would need to be written out as a larger book in my opinion.
So, suffice to say, we will be just scratching the surface of a very large topic from an outsider’s perspective.
Feel free to leave any comments below from your own experiences on this topic.
We will be breaking this topic down by each factor I consider to be important before having my final thoughts in the end.
And much of this article was inspired by some comments by an individual named Dazza as you can read in this article here.
We will be addressing some of the comments in this article when relevant.
So let’s get to it.
Diversity in Latin America
First, as you hopefully know, there is a lot of diversity in Latin America.
Though there are plenty of people in the US and other countries who think all Latinos are medium brown skin individuals.
On the contrary, there are obviously plenty of black, white, Asian and brown Latinos as well.
Though, from an outsiders perspective, it sometimes seems not even all Latinos know that or want to deny that in their respective countries but we will address that below.
Anyway, let’s start by breaking down the statistics for this region so that we have a good foundation.
According to this article here titled “Étnia, condiciones de vida y discriminación” by Simon Schwartzman…
When taking in survey results from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, the results were…
“En el conjunto de los países representados, 55% de la población se identifica como mestiza, 34% como blanca y menos del 10% como negra o indígena”
Meaning that 55% of those surveyed said they are mestizo, 34% said White and less than 10% said black or indigenous.
Now, keep in mind that survey only looked at those specific countries…
Though those are some of the biggest countries in the region and might help us understand the racial and ethnic breakdown of the region, it still ignores various other countries that were not surveyed.
However, we can break it down by country also.
According to the Latinobarometro survey in 2016 that you can see here, we can break down the racial identity of the inhabitants of each Latin country by how they chose to identify themselves as.
*Note: The one thing I do find odd about these numbers is the lack of Asians self-identifying as Asian in Brazil despite having such a large Japanese community. The numbers might be off for Brazil.
So, based on this, the results look a little bit similar but a tiny bit off from the previous poll mentioned before.
Of course, there are other ways to try to categorize people into groups down here.
First off, the polls don’t ever seem to use often other terms like castizo, zambo, etc.
There can be other identities that many of these polls are missing that some individuals would rather identify themselves as instead of white or indigenous for example.
On that same note, I also find the category “indigenous” to not really be sufficient since not all indigenous people are the same and there are so many linguistic and cultural differences between all of the vast groups of indigenous people in Latin America.
It is also interesting to note that not every Latino even identifies themselves as Latino or even by their nationality.
For example, as you can read what I wrote here, you do have some white Latinos – such as those in Argentina or Brazil – who don’t always identify as Latino but as European instead.
Such as a woman I know named Tami from Argentina who refuses to identify as Latina.
Similarly, you do have some folks that I have met who don’t identify with their country of origin.
For example, when I was in Chiapas as you can read here, I did meet some individuals living in Zapatista indigenous territories that did not identify as being Mexican.
In large part because of the conflict between their communities and the federal Mexican government.
So these polls don’t capture that and that is a reality for a few individuals down here.
Finally, some polls will try to categorize people not based on how they identify themselves but by cultural patterns.
For example, there is a study that does that titled “Composición Étnica de las Tres Áreas Culturales del Continente Americano al Comienzo del Siglo XXI” by UNAM professor Francisco Lizcano Fernández.
As you can see here.
Now I won’t break it down country by country what he determines to be the racial and ethnic breakdown of Latin America….
But when breaking down Latin America as a whole, his results were…
- 36.1% of Latinos are white.
- 30.3% of Latinos are mestizos.
- 20.3% are mulattos.
- 9.2% are Amerindians.
- 3.2% are black.
- 0.7% are Asian.
- 0.2% are creoles and garifunas.
So, based on any of the numbers from above, this at least gives us a foundation to work with when it comes to understanding the diversity in Latin America as a whole and by country.
Of course, if we really wanted a solid breakdown, we’d also break each country down by region in terms of the demographics.
Similar to how some parts of the US have more white people like Iowa while other parts have more Latinos like Texas.
Or how some parts of Brazil have more white, black or indigenous demographics than other parts.
Anyway, we will touch on that topic of understanding the nuances of region and how it relates to everything here next.
Breaking Down by Region
For the moment, I’m not going to actually break down the demographic statistics of each region of each country for you here.
But want to bring up an important point.
Which is that, as I said before, demographics throughout geography can play out in interesting ways.
First off, in every country down here, you are going to have spaces where certain demographics are better represented in some parts than in others.
In large part because of the history of where groups of people migrated or were forced to relocate to over the history of Latin America…
And those groups forming their own communities in various areas.
Meanwhile, there tends to be lots of conflict and animosity between different groups at different points in time.
The more obvious example being the atrocity of slavery and how black and indigenous people were treated during the period of colonialism.
Though all of that animosity didn’t end when slavery and colonialism were over…
Let’s look at an example I am more familiar with….
We have Chiapas, Mexico.
A little corner of the world I know a little bit better than other parts of Mexico…
If you look at the history of Chiapas, Mexico, you can often find tales of conflict between the indigenous inhabitants of the area and the non-indigenous Creole elite – such as in the Chaste War of 1869.
Similar conflicts still occur in Chiapas today with attacks on indigenous communities by paramilitary groups such as what you can read here.
Much of the conflict, though not all, is tied to the Zapatista movement in the area as a group of people banded together to start an uprising in 1994.
The uprising was arguably unsuccessful and ultimately the movement had to focus on concentrating on defending the bit of land they claim ownership of and building their own self-described “autonomous” communities.
Meanwhile, from my understanding, there are consistent attacks on those communities from paramilitary groups and efforts by the federal Mexican government to chip away at their grassroots support through offering funds to local inhabitants under the condition that they abandon the movement.
Of course, that is all a very broad summary of what has happened in that time part of Latin America but it gets the point across…
That, first and foremost, even across tinier corners of Latin America like a single Mexican state, you don’t have any racial or ethnic homogeneity.
Now imagine then not just the racial and ethnic diversity in one specific Mexican state but across the entire country of Mexico.
Or the entire country of Colombia, Peru, Brazil or even smaller countries like Cuba for example.
So, in that sense, a Mexican who is white might fit in better in a state like Jalisco versus Chiapas…
Or a black Mexican might fit in better in Veracruz versus some other state that doesn’t have as many black Mexicans.
So on and so on…..
Though given the amount of racial diversity we have across Latin America and across individual countries and their respective states or provinces….
However, it is interesting to note how there is also a racial divide between the demographics of this region and also how Latinos are presented in the mainstream and national politics.
Representation on a National Level
Let’s first look at politics.
Here’s some screenshots I took of the most recent presidents in some of the bigger countries in Latin America – Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Chile.
They all look fairly white despite their countries having a relatively diverse population.
Beyond politics, you also have representation in TV and popular culture.
Now, to be honest, I rarely watch Latin TV (or even TV up in the states).
I do like the music though as I wrote here.
Thinking about some of the music I like at first…..
I didn’t think there was an overrepresentation of white folks in Latin music because a lot of the bands I listen to are not always white.
But then I looked at the music videos listed in that article cited above and well….
Yeah, alright, they do look fairly white relative to the population as a whole down here.
Outside of Don Omar, Arcangel, Tego Calderon and a few others…
Anyway, I then looked at the Latin Grammy Awards – something I have never watched before but I knew about…
So I looked at the past winners on Wikipedia here and they do seem fairly white looking overall.
Then I looked at the news on Youtube.
I simply typed in “noticias x country” in the search results and skimmed the videos to see who were the broadcasters.
For “noticas Mexico,” I tried to find this one Mexican anchor to serve as an example of someone I see popping up on my video suggestion results all the time.
I can’t remember her name but she basically looks like the Mexican version of Rachel Maddow.
But more constipated looking.
Anyway, if you know who I am talking about, drop her name in the comments so I can include a video of her because I think she represents well what I saw skimming the news videos for Mexico in Youtube.
Couldn’t find a non-white news anchor but I’m sure there is one somewhere.
Anyway, I did the same for “noticias Peru” and did see one white looking anchor who could maybe pass as slightly mixed race.
Did the same for “noticias Colombia” and found the results were fairly white.
Now, here’s some example videos below here that show you some of what I saw in any of the countries I looked at.
Specifically Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua and Paraguay in that order.
Also, since we are watching videos together of news in Latin America, wouldn’t the weather be nice to know?
They do look fairly white also but I prefer these type of female news anchors instead....
Is there a larger representation of white latinos in mainstream politics, news and culture in LATAM?
Looks like it based on my non-scientific and brief “armchair analysis.”
But now that we have a brief understanding of the demographics and diversity of the entire region itself and how that varies by each country and by regions in each country…
And also a brief look at the representation of the demographics in the media…
What’s it like then being someone of a particular skin color in different communities?
In terms to “on the ground” experiences living down here.
Is there, for example, a correlation between your skin color and what someone assumes to be your nationality?
Does that impact how they treat you as well?
Experiences with Race & Nationality in LATAM
As I was getting at in the beginning of my article, there are certain assumptions about what certain nationalities look like.
The association between nationality and race.
For example, as I wrote about here…
You have Latinos who say that gringo only means “American” and that there is no racial connotation to it...
Despite just about every gringo telling you otherwise.
Now why would they tell you otherwise?
Because it’s very common for white folks from other countries being called gringo when they are not gringos!
Such as this German guy I wrote about here who was pissed off about constantly being called gringo…
Or, as I wrote here, how this rural Guatemalan dude getting confused by where this Australian couple was from…
This Australian couple was hiking with me the guide was leading us up some mountain and asked us where we are from…
I said Chicago as most Latinos I meet down here don’t know about Iowa and look confused when I say Iowa.
For them, they said Australia and the Guatemalan guy asked them “uhhhh….what part of the US is that?”
To keep it short, he had difficulty believing that they were not from the US.
Perhaps because they are white?
I mean, isn’t that where all white people come from?
To a degree, you do have Latinos down here who believe the following 2 things:
- All white people seem to come from the US
- All Americans are white.
Now, to be fair, it’s only the most ignorant and rural types who are like this.
Generally, the more exposed the Latino is to foreigners, the less ignorant he or she will be.
Anyway, while I could go all day with my experiences with how the word gringo is used…
Suffice to say, yes, there is a racial affiliation with the word gringo.
If you look overly white, you will likely be assumed to be a gringo.
In the same way that if you look very Asian, well it is possible that you will be assumed to be Chinese
That’s actually funny too – in Guatemala when I showed up to Guatemala City for the first time ever many years ago…
The daughter of the host stay family who was in her 20s was showing me pictures of Guatemala and introducing me to her country…
I was only with their family for my first night in Guatemala and then I had to go to Xela…
Well, she showed me this picture of a plane with some Asian people walking out of it…
And she said we have so much “inversion china” in our country!
Or something along those lines – saying that these folks were Chinese basically.
What did the plane say though?
It had some words on it like “Air Japan” or something written on it.
So…..not very Chinese.
Anyway, same thing.
In the US, if you were brown with a big ass beard, you’d be assumed to be Muslim by some folks if we are being honest.
This tendency to associate certain physical appearances with race, ethnicity or religion is common anymore.
Not like I’m trying to pick on Latin America since it happens elsewhere also.
Regardless, it’s a thing that can affect the locals as well.
Is the local “Latino enough?”
Are You “Latino Enough?: White”
As I said in the beginning of this article…
In some specific parts of Latin America, even I can be “Latino enough!”
Meaning I can fit in with the crowd unless I open my mouth and they hear my accent.
Parts like Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, some parts of Brazil, etc…
I’d say Bogota would work well enough for me for the most part.
In Mexico City? Maybe if I die my hair black because I only rarely get assumed to be Mexican.
Of course, if you hair is blonde and with blue eyes like that Mexican guy I talked about before, then you will probably not be “Latino enough” except in specific parts of Latin America like described above.
Consequently, you will experience the “gringo tax” and other annoying experiences with being assumed to be gringo.
For example, a reader named Dazza – who has Peruvian citizenship and is from the UK – wrote in the comment section here…
“I look like a Peruvian ‘castizo’ (that’s the traditional term haha) but I am tall and big – I am well over six feet and 200 pounds – I have brown eyes and curly hair – apart from my size you wouldn’t think I am anything other than a white-ish Peruvian but like I said. I open my mouth and all bets are off, funnily enough, my mum now speaks Spanish with British English inflections and my relatives always tell her to keep quiet during financial transactions outside – she looks local so I actually think if they peg you by the way you speak then they’re going to charge you like a bull.”
So, in his words, he fits in physically but gets treated like a gringo in a way when they hear the accent.
In ways such as this below here…
“Saying that, as a Peruvian citizen, my DNI isn’t enough when my gringo ass shows up, I need a letter from the President for me to get out of paying local prices at tourist sites – they don’t believe I am anything but a gringo having to pay 10 times the price even with official documentation.”
Though, to be fair, in his words, he gets treated better in Colombia and when it comes to the gringo tax but that is because “because there they had price lists in most places which makes it hard to rip you off.”
I would actually disagree slightly that being a foreigner means you won’t get ripped off in Colombia but he is talking about the Coffee Triangle.
In my experience, the Coffee Triangle isn’t so bad actually but the Caribbean Coast with cities like Quilla can be pretty annoying in my experience when it comes to this topic.
Though that again also highlights a previous point made much earlier in this article about how any true analysis of your experience of being a certain race down here will vary greatly by what specific part of Latin America you are in.
It doesn’t do it justice to talk about just “how you are treated in x country” but instead, how you are treated in specific parts of said country.
Another comment anyway by him on how being overly white can get you a not so pleasant experience down here….
“A cousin of mine who is basically white says that being white is a drawback when it comes to the cops because there are no white cops and they’re always going to shake you down based on your skin colour alone – he says they’re ‘racist assholes’ so in Peru – there is actually a phenomenon of ‘driving whilst white’ saying that”
Of course, cops are not just mean in Peru either!
There’s this story here of someone I know who got robbed by the cops in Mexico and also my story here if you want to read that.
Here’s also another story down below here of a few foreigners recently getting fucked over by the cops down here in Mexico City.
Going on about being white in Mexico City...
There's also this article here I wrote where some homeless dude seemingly targeted me for being white at a cafe.
Or this time here this random homeless person harassed me out of spotting a random white foreigner.
Perhaps they saw dollar signs...
Finally, there are other ways in which being white can be a negative experience down here – especially if you are Latino.
Outside of the negative mental exhaustion that can perhaps arise out of being a certain skin color and how that makes people believe you are not from the country you are from…
Making you feel like an outsider effectively (as the white Mexican El Gordo was telling me about briefly)…
You know, we gringos can complain about feeling like an outsider but we know we are – imagine not being an outsider but feeling like one based on your race…
Regardless, you also have what are called “whitmexicans”
Basically, as the name implies, “white Mexicans.”
The reason why I bring them up is because I live in Mexico so it’s more obvious to me about this topic…
And also because there’s a certain debate in Mexico, as there is in the US, about “reverse racism” and if it exists.
You can read this article here on that – I don’t agree or disagree with the article – I just noticed it as one of the few articles on the internet that is describing the debate that I am talking about here.
Anyway, this is a thing I have heard white Mexicans argue in that they feel discriminated against based on the color of their skin.
Now is that true?
From what I have seen and from what I know, I’d say there is racism and discrimination against white Latinos (or better said, white people in general) in areas that are majority not white.
For many of the reasons above – gringo taxed, people assuming you as an outsider and not actually Latino or speaking shit about you in Spanish thinking you don’t understand them, etc.
To also perhaps being a target of cops in some cases or thieves as well.
Also, I’d assume that white Latinos (Mexicans, Colombians, Peruvians, etc) are more likely to be assumed to be racist just because.
Because in my experience as a white gringo, I’ve had the rare street hustler beg me for money and then get angry when I say no and yell “why?!? Is it because I’m black, motherfucker?!”
In Spanish, of course.
Anyway, to be fair, as Dazza put it nicely in his comment above….
“it seems being white with light eyes and skin and brown/blond hair has its benefits but on the other hand”
“It might be good for opportunities and climbing the social ladder but then everyone else thinks you have money based on that premise.”
And that’s all true!
There are negatives, from my outsider perception, to being a white Latino in Latin America in terms of how you are treated but that will again depend on the specific context and region of Latin America you are in.
Though there are positives as well – such as nicer representation in the media to better ability to climb the career ladder…
To also, in my belief, more women preferring you because of the greater amount of women who prefer a white guy – at least in my experience.
So it’s more nuanced than just saying “being white means you won’t be assumed to be Latino and treated badly.”
It’s much more nuanced than that and I would go into greater detail but I feel this article needs to move onto other racial groups as well.
Are You “Latino Enough?: Black”
To get started on this one…
I remember when I was working in Cochabamba, Bolivia for an NGO that you can read about here…
Anyway, we were in charge of some online advertising campaign to raise funds for them.
And started a GoFundMe page and were looking for advertising pictures to put up.
One of the free stock photos that was recommended to us for use was this picture of hungry black children.
Well, our project was definitely going to help children!
Though the purpose wasn’t to help children specifically but instead to improve contamination issues in the neighborhood.
But I’m sure that benefited children somehow!
So we went along with the picture (myself and another two gringos I was working with)…
When our boss, Julio, a light brown Bolivian guy who was in his 30s or so…
Very good humor and he laughed about the image “what black children are there in Bolivia?”
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are black people in Bolivia….
As the polls showed way above, roughly 1% of Bolivia is black…
Wow, a full 1%!
Suffice to say, we obviously chose a better image since…
Well, no offense to the black Bolivians out there…
But yes, it wasn’t the most representative photo of poor Bolivian children.
Anyway, that situation was similar to my time in Argentina…
As I wrote about here…
I was walking down the street with an Argentine woman named Tami.
She spoke perfect English without an accent.
So we always spoke English.
Anyway, we had left a restaurant and were going back to her place…
When we saw a random black guy pass us.
He had headphones on and was just going about his day.
But, being honest, even I noticed him because he was one of the very few black people I ever saw in my months in Argentina.
If I had to count on my hand, I think I saw a total of 3 black people there overall.
One of them was an American woman who told me that she hated being in Argentina and regrets going there because of how racist people were to her.
And, truthfully, the racism thing is perhaps kinda believable…
When we passed that random black dude in Buenos Aires…
Tami looked at me and said in a loud voice “why is it that all black people in America act like this?”
Then proceeded to do some impression of a hip hop artist swaggering down the street while yelling the n-word in full.
Among doing some other stereotypes of black folks as well….
Supposedly, Argentina had a much bigger black population but they all were systematically killed off or relocated elsewhere!
As you can read in this study here titled “An African Tree Produces White Flowers: The Disappearence of the Black Community in Buenos Aires, Argentina 1850-1890” by Erika Denise Edwards.
Or you can read this article or this article here.
At any rate, there are black people in Argentina to be fair!
Like there are in Bolivia…
Check out these two videos below here – one about black Argentines and one about a woman talking about being black in Argentina.
And check out this article on being a black Argentine if you want.
I think the best way to describe it is to quote a sentence from the first video showed above…
“No one imagines that there are Argentines who are black.”
In this case, it’s another example of how being black in Argentina (and some other Latin countries) can get you a bad treatment…
But also, at least in the case of Argentina, to be assumed to not even be part of the country.
That, if you are black, you don’t fit the “national image” of what an Argentine is supposed to look like.
In the same way that if you are a blonde Mexican with blue eyes like El Gordo, then some people will also doubt if you are really Mexican.
It’s the same theme of not fitting in with the “national image” of what people are “supposed to look like” from a certain country.
And keep in mind – it’s not just an issue in Argentina.
Supposedly the issue can be complicated as well in Chile according to this article here.
According to this quote here by a Chilean named Marta Salgado…
“Muchas veces en mi propio país he pasado por extranjera tan solo por mi color, mi pelo rizado, y tengo que decir con orgullo que soy chilena, teniendo que soportar la incredulidad de muchos y muchas."
Basically saying that she has often been mistaken for being a foreigner due to her skin color, curly hair but yet she proudly claims to be from Chile.
One quote I really liked from the article was this one here….
“Expertos coinciden en que durante décadas, los historiadores tanto en Chile como en Argentina, empeñados en construir una identidad nacional basada principalmente en la herencia europea….”
Essentially that there was an effort for decades to build a “national identity based on European heritage.”
We will get back to that quote later in this article when we get closer to wrapping this up….
Anyway, it’s not just Chile and Argentina that have this issue apparently….
Mexico as well supposedly!
Here’s a great article here titled “Los Negros no Son Mexicanos” by El Universal.
The basics of the article is that there is this story of this black Mexican woman named Paula Cruz Guzmán.
At any rate, Paula has to go to some government office in regards to passport issues but the government employee told her that she doubted that she was Mexican due to her being black.
In her words, “it was exhausting to fight to get my passport…..I believe that I’m not the only one that has been discriminated against in their own country and state. I understand to be black is to not exist and to not be Mexican….”
Among other things she said that you can read here…
Anyway, I’m sure there are many more examples of black Latinos being assumed as not being Latino due to being black.
Though, in my belief, it’s probably less likely in certain areas of LATAM like vast parts of Brazil, the coasts of Colombia, the DR, Cuba, etc.
In areas where there’s plenty of black locals, obviously this would be less of an issue…
Though racism itself would likely still exist obviously.
Anyway, if you want to know more about this topic of some Mexicans assume that there are “no black Mexico…”
Then read this academic paper here titled “Somos Mexicanos, no Somos Negros: Educar para Visibilizar el Racismo "Anti-Negro” by Rodrigo Zárate of Universidad Veracruzana.
Anyway, those are just some of the examples brought up above…
Let’s move on.
Are You “Latino Enough?: Asian”
Fun fact – did you know that Brazil has the largest ethnic Japanese community outside of Japan with 1.5 million Japanese descended people with the majority of them living in São Paulo?
Anyway, on to this section of the article…
In Mexico, we do have a handful of Asians living here.
In Mexico City, we have barrio chino for example and also we had a lot more Asians around Barrio Rosa with different Asian restaurants set up over there also.
However, since the covid pandemic, I haven’t seen those Asian restaurants be open for a long time now.
It seems like maybe they got hit harder than other nearby restaurants that are still open in that area.
Anyway, it wasn’t uncommon to see Asians around there in Barrio Rosa but not anymore as of recently.
My only impressions as to how Mexicans perceive the Asian community were basically from two people.
One, in college, when a Mexican-American professor I had was having a lecture to the class about how they have Asians in Mexico.
He took the issue personally since he claimed to be part Asian and wanted to tell us about it.
On the other hand, funny enough, I remember being in an OXXO in Mexico City over a year ago or so and there was this female customer in front of me….
An older Mexican woman who was talking with the lady behind the counter and somehow they got talking about Asians in Mexico.
And one of them went off about how “oh, they’re not really Mexican. Just Chino.”
Regardless, right, that’s just two random people to mention as I try to think of stories relevant to this topic.
Which, to be fair, I don’t have many since I don’t interact with Asians ever down here since, truthfully, there are not that many in this part of the world from my experience.
Moving on from my own personal experiences then….
You know, we have had important Asian Latino figures in Latin America.
The first one that comes to mind is a former Peruvian president named Alberto Fujimori.
And going off this Wikipedia article here…
We have Arlen Siu, who was born in Nicaragua and was an important Sandinista revolutionary.
There is also Helen Mack Chang, who is an important businesswomen and human rights activist in Guatemala.
You also have Luiz Gushiken, who was an important union leader and politician that worked with the Lula administration in Brazil…
So on and so on…
Anyway, when it comes to finding news articles or academic papers on being Asian-Latino in Latin America, it has been fairly difficult finding anything in English or Spanish.
When looking this up in Spanish, there were some articles though on discrimination against Asians in Latin America.
Which, I assume, would affect the Asian-Latinos living here also.
For example, as you can read here, there have been reports by Chinese and Taiwan folks claiming that they have been victims of racism and attacks due to the belief by locals that they have the coronavirus.
There were some other articles I could find that basically said the same thing and that is the only problem I could find when it comes to racism or problems that Asians or Asian-Latinos would have down here.
Granted, there also other obvious forms of racism that you would expect down here that you get anywhere else.
For example, when I was eating in a Casa de Toño one time in Mexico City, I remember seeing an Asian guy walk into the restaurant who didn’t speak Spanish, English or Portuguese.
They tried speaking with him in all 3 languages but he wasn’t able to order what he wanted.
So he left.
As he walked out, one of the waiters stretched his eyes out behind his back and yelled “sushi?! Quieres sushi?!?”
That’s the only example I can think of in regards to racism against Asians down here.
Anyway, that’s all I have on this section unfortunately.
I would love to bring up some better examples of what it is like being Asian Latino in LATAM but I simply couldn’t find any news articles or academic papers on the topic.
Got any yourself or any personal experiences? Drop them below and I might include it in this article so that we have something here.
Either way, I will drop some Youtube videos below here about what it is like being Asian Latino since that is the best we got for this section as of now.
Are You “Latino Enough?: Indigenous”
Out of all of the groups in LATAM, without any question the indigenous groups have it much worse than anything I have read about.
It’s quite common for countries mass violence against indigenous folks to occur in various countries…
Such as what I wrote about in Chiapas, Mexico far back in this article.
Though it’s not just in Chiapas but in other parts of Mexico as you can read here.
The issue is also common in Brazil as thousands of indigenous people protested in the capital of Brazil for “the right to exist” as you can read here.
As well you can read about the issue of Amazon deforestation affecting the indigenous communities in Brazil here.
Or how Bolsonaro has a plan to “assimilate” the indigenous people into broader Brazilian society.
Thereby effectively trying to eliminate their culture.
There’s this great documentary on the subject here regarding one such indigenous group dealing with something similar in Venezuela as you can see here below.
And none of this is unfamiliar to the trends of history….
Historically, many countries, such as the US, Canada, Australia and many in LATAM as well such as Argentina for example as you can read here or here….
Or this article on indigenous struggle in Peru here….
Have tried to “assimilate” indigenous people into the broader society.
But effectively what that meant was genocide.
So, again, when governments back then and today try to “assimilate “ indigenous people into broader society, effectively destroying their communities…
How could they really view them part of the same country or having the same nationality?
As being Latino?
As I said, none of this is uncommon even today…
Such as similar violence being committed against indigenous people in Colombia as you can read here or Venezuela as you can read here.
More often, the violence, from my perspective, is to gain access to their territories to exploit the raw resources in that land.
But, as well, how could folks see them as being part of the same country if they are trying to kill them and if many others don’t really care about them?
And, as well, you have plenty of examples of open racism against indigenous folks as well in Latin America.
The more recent example I can think of is this Argentine couple you can see here insulting an indigenous person in Mexico City.
The vid went viral some odd months or maybe a year ago or so roughly speaking…
Anyway, I could go on and on about this topic but I think the point has been made here also.
So let’s wrap this article up on the main overall points.
The Overarching Points
Keep in mind that many of the examples brought up in this article time and time again are just that – examples.
I obviously didn’t bring up examples in every single country of Latin America as that isn’t really necessary to make the points needed here and that would be better suited for a book instead of an internet blog post.
And this article is already quite long – and if you read it this far, you deserve a trophy.
Either way, let’s get to it…
First, obviously Latin America is a diverse place and there is no such thing as “looking Latino.” Granted, practically speaking, there is a certain “look” that people associate with Latinos in the US for example…
You know, in Ohio for example, we don’t have that many Latinos and so people more commonly think all of them as being medium brown skin.
Though, in places like Miami, that wouldn’t work as there are tons of white Latinos there.
And I imagine other places in the US with lots of Latinos would not have this idea of what a “Latino looks like.”
So that’s the first point anyway is the diversity of the people in this region like the diversity of people in the US.
Second, there’s also lots of ignorance among some folks in Latin America as well regarding this topic as we saw countless times with folks not thinking that certain white folks or black folks not looking like someone of their respective country.
Which goes to the next point…
Third, there are consequences if you don’t “look” like a Peruvian, Argentine, Mexican, etc.
“Look” in the sense that you don’t appear what lots of people locally would assume that their fellow countrymen should look like.
As a result, you can face consequences for that as shown in the various examples above.
But that goes to a bigger point…
Fourth, and it was referenced when I brought up this quote from before…
“Expertos coinciden en que durante décadas, los historiadores tanto en Chile como en Argentina, empeñados en construir una identidad nacional basada principalmente en la herencia europea….”
Back when talking about the Argentine and Chilean effort to construct a “European identity” in their respective countries.
There’s actually a few good books that have documents on that if I remember right..
One of them is called “The Argentine Reader” and there is also “The Brazilian Reader.”
Much of what I read was that there was this effort to basically eliminate certain groups of people like black or indigenous folks and encourage lots of immigration from European countries to “whiten up” the populations.
You can also read more about that here.
Similar also, in my opinion, to present day efforts to eliminate indigenous groups from their land in places like the Amazon Rainforest to the Zapatista communities in Chiapas…
The same efforts under the banner of “assimilation” of the groups in those regions to broader society….
And what does all of that have to do with each other?
Efforts, in my opinion, to better construct a national identity of what it means to be “Brazilian,” “Argentine” or “Mexican.”
It’s a process that you can see in other countries as well anyway.
And, in the process, has real world implications for those living in those countries that don’t fit under the eventual new concept of what it means to be “Mexican,” “Brazilian,” or Argentine.”
For example, had Argentina never systematically wiped out its black population, then you could argue that being a black Argentine isn’t as rare to most Argentineans.
And perhaps the black Argentines in that video would not have felt the way they did.
In the end, this really touches upon a much deeper topic about the building of a nation and national identity.
Something that this article only very briefly touches the surface on as it covers quite a few topics actually.
That, in my opinion, all have a relation to each other.
If I was writing a book here, then I could at least do this topic more justice.
But hopefully the point is understood here as to what I am talking about…
In terms of how nations work to construct a national identity of what it means to be a citizen of a certain country…
And that national identity often has a certain racial or ethnic idea behind it…
Of course, there is no country anyway that is entirely homogenous.
And so -- through mainstream media, advertising and culture – there are certain groups that are perceived to be “better….”
For lack of a better word…
Such as how white folks are often portrayed more in mainstream media and culture down here than other racial groups.
But, nonetheless, there still remains that broader concept of what it means to be of a certain nationality such as being a white Argentine or a Mexican mestizo.
And, consequently, those who don’t fall into that image physically speaking can face real world consequences from it as shown in the article.
In the end, while there are consequences for me for being the obvious foreigner…
Such as once in a blue moon being harassed by the police to maybe getting gringo taxed as well from time to time…
I imagine it’s not as bad for me as an actual local who doesn’t fit the physical description but has to live here….
Such as the black Argentine to the blonde blue eyed Mexican to the Asian Nicaraguan perhaps or the indigenous Colombian.
Either way, this has all been something I have noticed down here and tried my best to connect it all together how I could.
If you have any thoughts of your own on this topic or questions…
Drop them below.
Would love to hear them.
As I said before, I’m a foreigner here.
I’m not a Latino.
So I understand that my understanding of racial and ethnic relations in Latin America is not perfect and obviously come from my perspective of things only.
So there could always be details I didn’t give proper appreciation in this article.
So drop any comments below.
And follow my Twitter here.
And here's a nice video to end this article with. I figured it was kinda relevant.
Really good read that was!
When I was in The Coffee Triange – I was in Pereira and it was just like Spain! The people and the actual place reminded me of western Spain – I was around Pinares and it was REALLY NICE! I would go to that big mall at the top if the hill to have my lunch and you wouldn’t think anything other than you were in the developed world – I was really impressed, saying that – I was told if I went to Cali or Cartagena they would take my eyes out but yeah… it was a big surprise and when you go to Peru it’s a big difference but the population was certainly different – there were black people and I suppose the population were most mestizo but they wouldn’t look out of place in Spain – plenty of white people or people who could easily passed as white.
You nailed most of it and I think that is a good write up of how it is – being rich in Latin America means having a great life as long as you don’t mind your house being covered in barbed wire and CCTV and your kids ferried to school by bodyguards – trade offs have to be realised and accepted. Being white is the same deal – and another thing as well which goes a long way is the ‘gringo’ surname – if your surname is Smith, Jones, Muller, Suzki then your CV is not going into the round paper basket as if your name is Quispe – well, in Peru for sure! People are very proud of their family names if they are non-Spanish European or Chinese/Japanese and it can take you a long way – they had a list on the ‘net somewhere with the top richest 17 families and the surnames on there – none of them are Inca surnames but surnames like Lindley, Hoschild, Fishman, Mulder, Verme with the richest family being the Brescia family – which is an Italian surname – so there is a lot of social credit with skin, hair and eye colour but also family names – especially German, English, French etc. I suppose in Argentina where there was a lot more immigration from Europe in the late 19th to the mid 20th century – it isn’t a big deal to have a German or British surname.
In Lima, I was waiting for some hamburger once and as it was made, the fella shouts ‘gringo, your burger is ready’ (in Spanish) and I walked up to him and said ‘I am a Peruvian citizen you know… twat’ I said to him in English so maybe he had a point!