Updated: Jul 24, 2019
Origins of Racial Hierarchy in Latinx Society
“La Raza” is often associated with empowerment and solidarity within the Latinx community, consolidating the many ethnicities and racial admixtures found within the community into one monolithic term. Yet, it is extremely centered around mestizaje (mixed between two different races), often times neglecting the many Afro-Latinxs and predominantly Indigenous individuals within the culture.
And this neglect comes with no surprise, as it is rooted within the colonial ideals of “La Casta” system, which created a hierarchy based on race and racial mixtures based on Spanish/Eurocentric ideals.
One sees how emulating and appearing like a Spaniard was the key to establishing social status in colonial Latin America. And although these nations have now emancipated themselves from the colonial rule of the Spanish, their influence and ideals still have a stringent hold on how many in Latin America operate. In fact, those who took power after the many Latin American revolutions within these nations were part of the upper middle class and usually mostly of European descent or Mestizx descent, therefore upholding the many ideals the Spanish held on race. This is where the term "mejorar la raza" (to better the race), comes into play, where many saw dark and black skin as a curse that could be cleansed through intermixing and therefore allow one's offspring to have fairer skin.
Like many revolutions in the 19th century, it was not about freeing people, but rather, wanting to take power from the monarch and grant it to developing middle classes springing up across the world (hence why slavery persisted in many of these new republics).
Although the racial classification system played a huge role in diminishing the prominence and value of blackness within Latin America, one must also acknowledge the role of Latin American nationalism and how this excluded many Afro-Latinx individuals. Echoes of pre-columbian power and states were important to those of Mestizx origin (a powerful force during the Latin American revolutions) as it established a motivation for them to own the land in Latin America as opposed to the Spanish.
Afro-Latinx people however, could not say the same as they found their home in Africa and therefore did not hold the same connection with the land as those who were indigneous and mestizx. Colonial and post-colonial Afro-Latinx therefore found themselves in similar positions due to being seen as “others” within each respective society.
A prime example of such erasure is how the Mexican Government barely started acknowledging the Afro-Latinx population in the census as part of the population in 2015.
Another includes how many Dominicans of darker complexion would rather identify with the word “Indio” than identify with their apparent black genes, but this also has roots in Anti-Haitian rhetoric due to past conflicts and Haiti’s predominantly black population. So like many things in Latin America, the issue is complex.
Afro-Latinx Dilemmas and Mental Health
Exemplified by the video above, Afro-Latinx feel extremely excluded from many parts of society for their features. They often don’t feel like they can identify with their “Latinidad” (Latin-ness) due to their characteristics not matching with the eurocentric ideals of Latin America and also cannot identify with the black community (particularly in the USA), due to their family’s stigma with black skin, sometimes even going as far as to not acknowledge their own blackness when they themselves, are black.
This leads to many unique dilemmas that Afro-Latinx face, as they may struggle with their identity, self-esteem, and self-efficacy, manifesting mental disorders if such struggles are exacerbated.
AYANA and Afro-Latinx
We are committed to providing the Latinx community adequate mental health services, never excluding Afro-Latinx from the discussion. And with regard the Afro-Latinx community, we understand that people who identify as such must be approached in a different manner than many other parts of the Latinx community due to the unique circumstances and situations they find themselves in.
Many times it takes a lot to deconstruct the colonial ideals ingrained in one’s mind that have been ultimately harmful to one’s mental health. That’s why we believe that having a therapist with a similar background, who has gone through and understands these experiences, is the best way to truly begin to address one’s issues, for it allows to intimately dissect the issues present in one’s life.