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Racism within the Latino community harms teens

By Analisa Sofia Perez and Christina Velez

Staff Editors

As one grows up in the Latino community, the racist things said or supported by family members become increasingly apparent. Whether or not it’s unintentionally ignorant or fueled by hatred of a certain race, it’s offensive to others and shouldn’t be normalized by Latinos.

There is a Spanish schoolyard saying, “Chino, Chino, Japonés, come caca y no me des.” The dictionary definition of Chino of someone who is Chinese, but it has become a way for Latinos to generalize all Asian people. Which is why the next word besides “Chino” is “Japonés,” meaning Japanese, indicating that they do not care to know the ethnicity of the person they’re saying this to. The rest of the phrase tells an Asian person  “eat poop and don’t give it to me.” 

One of the several things Rainier prides itself on is its diversity. According to the demographic distribution at Rainier, 69.05% of the school’s student population is Latino. The Asian population is 14.97%, and 1.7% of the population is African American. With Latinos being the majority of students, it is imperative that they become more aware of what they grew up hearing and the damage it could cause to others.

Rainier senior Joe Pinkney, who identifies as African American and Mexican, explained the discomfort one can feel when his Latino peers use the N-word around him.

Pinkney said, “I feel like they really don’t know, like, what the baggage that word carries behind it, so what I did was I just, like, told them about, like, the different ways that somebody else could take it.”

Rainier sophomore Sebastian Jaquez provided further explanation on how Latinos who experience racism can in turn project that racism onto other minorities.

Jaquez said, “I think racism kind of affects Latinos because they kind of feel like they need to put another group down in order to feel, like, more powerful.” 

It is especially important to be socially conscious in high school because it is a time in a person’s life when they are most impressionable and easily affected by racism. Being on the receiving end of racism not only affects one’s state of mind, but it affects one’s physical state as well.

An article from Harvard Medical School, by Claire McCarthy MD, stated how racism can lead to physical ailments in children: “Racism and its effects can lead to chronic stress for children. And chronic stress leads to actual changes in hormones that cause inflammation in the body, a marker of chronic disease.” This demonstrates that racism not only affects our society but people individually.

Not only that, but children and teenagers are extremely influenceable, making it easy to groom them into a prejudiced adult. An article by Stanford Children’s Health explained that “the rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.”

This shows that, unlike adults, the minds of children are likely to be easily influenced by any prejudice they experience growing up. Whether or not a racist comment was addressed to them or to a different race, they can begin to believe it.

Racism isn’t the only thing taught to children in the Latino community. Something present in most Latino families is colorism.

While racism is discrimination towards someone’s different ethnicity, colorism is specifically against people with a darker complexion. This means that you can be prejudiced towards people belonging to your own ethnicity or race. Internalized racism differs from colorism because internalized racism would be someone holding a grudge against their race despite the color of their skin.

Colorism in Latinos originated from the caste system set by colonizers coming from Spain into Latin America. This caste system was set by placing the white Spanish criollos and peninsulares at the top, the half-Native, half-Spanish mestizos in the middle, and indigenous and black people at the bottom. Although the mestizos were half-Spanish, they were still considered too dark to receive the same treatment as the Spanish.

The Spanish Caste system was designed to elevate Spanish people and put down indigenous and black people. GRAPHIC CREDIT: Christina Velez

Although that caste system has since been abolished, the effects of it still exist today.

Ethnic Studies and Human Rights teacher Angel Barragan, who identifies as Latino, mentioned that the prejudice he’s dealt with came directly as a result from the caste system in Mexico: “It made it so that people who were more Spaniard or more white-looking tend to do better in society versus people that were not. So people that were Indian or black or a mix of both will be, like, at the bottom of them. So people were really, people were really mean to people who are darker skinned.”

Mr. Barragan also talked about the lack of black people surrounding him growing up in Mexico: “For example, so, for black people, like, we would often say things that were racist but we didn’t know any better. We actually didn’t know any people that were black in our community.” So, in addition to colorism originating from the Spanish caste system, he wasn’t exposed to many other cultures, so racism wasn’t seen as a pressing issue.

As a result of this, Latinos who are more moreno, or dark-skinned, can be subject to harsher treatment from their families. They are told to stay out of the sun, in fear of their skin becoming darker.

In an article from IMDiversity, by Giselle Castro, they quote Darleny Suriel who self identifies as Afro-Latina; she discussed how her cousin around the same age as her, who was light-skinned, was treated differently when her family spoke about appearances.

Suriel said, “When speaking about her beauty, relatives would always praise the whiteness of her skin, her noticeably rosy cheeks & her natural blond hair; meanwhile I was constantly warned in a fearful tone to stay out of the sun so I do not get darker, as if receiving melanin from the sun was a tragic form of disfigurement.”

In the same IMDiversity article, many of the Latinos quoted can relate to this, recalling similar experiences in their lives.

This form of racism is seen in the everyday treatment of dark-skinned Latinos. The ramifications of the caste system used by Spanish colonists centuries ago to dehumanize native Mexicans are still being seen today.

Although the way colorism started was at the fault of colonization, it is important for Latinos to include others and realize what they’re saying is harmful. If Latinos don’t take the time to educate themselves, part of the blame can fall on them.

When it comes to how Latinos think our community can be better allies and call out the prejudices we uphold, Mr. Barragan put it best: “I think that’s a two-part. I think one, relentlessly calling each other out to ensure that we are treating each other as equals, and creating this idea of unity of, like, we’re all in this together.”

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