Mexicans and the Color of their Skin

My folks have a neighbor who is Cambodian. Ever since they have lived in that house they have referred to this neighbor (not directly) as El Chino (The Chinese Man), though they know full well that he is not from China.

This is a phenomenon common to Mexicans, namely referring to any person from the Far East as Chinese. Admittedly some do so out of ignorance but most do it out of habit, and well old habits are truly hard to break.

Of course, if someone mistakenly assumes that a Mexican is from El Salvador (pick any Central American country) then it’s on, for that poor chap has just committed a capital offense. For some reason or another, many Mexicans have this strange (and wrong) idea that somehow we are superior to Central Americans.

In his weekly column plainly called ¡Ask a Mexican!®, Gustavo Arellano tackles on questions posed by readers regarding confusing aspects of Mexican culture.

One of last week’s questions (see above link) exemplified what I addressed above,

I recently learned the meaning of güero, which until that point I only knew as a Beck album. I started calling some of my whitish Mexican friends güero/a, and they seemed displeased. Is the term offensive?
The Korean, Employer of Mexicans, Therefore Partners in Crime

Dear Chinito: Not really. Güero technically means “blond” in Mexican Spanish, but it also refers to a light-skinned person and, by association, gabachos. All Mexicans want to be güero; anyone who claims otherwise does it in the face of the country’s topsy-turvy racial history, where white made might and prietos (dark-skinned folks) were little better than Guatemalans.

Though I doubt Arellano is a racist, he answers a question from a Korean by calling him Chinito (little Chinese, the diminutive suffix denotes endearment.)

Another kernel of truth in his answer is here,

All Mexicans want to be güero; anyone who claims otherwise does it in the face of the country’s topsy-turvy racial history, where white made might and prietos (dark-skinned folks) were little better than Guatemalans.

México’s history of racism is well-documented and while the situation might be improving, my people still have a long way to go.   My own grandmother is openly melanist (is it racist when we’re talking about the same ethnicity?) for she favors her grandchildren/great-grandchildren who are güeros to those that are prietos.

Can anyone else relate to what Arellano is talking about?

Melanin-based Racism within the Black Community

As I understand it, back in the Ancient world, racism was not based on skin color (a good example of this can be found here). It’s good that as a species, humans are beyond such attitudes. Now we tend to discriminate on more concrete characteristics like skin color.

It remains inexplicable (at least to me) how people can dehumanize others based on things beyond their control, including the amount of melanin their bodies express.

Even within a mixed-color nationality dark-skinned (or darker) folks will be looked down upon by society, and treated differently than their lighter-skinned countrymen. I know this to be fact in my native México, and based on conversations with Indian friends, also true of India. A glimpse at celebrities in each country will reveal that what is considered beautiful is what looks most European (light-skinned) and less indigenous (generally darker-skinned).

A little known secret to those of us here in the United States which are not of African descent (others will argue we are all of African descent, this is another argument for another post) is that even within the black community there exists a bias favoring lighter-skinned individuals over darker-skinned individuals, as the following story seems to suggest,

“Color Divide on Display in Party Invite”

This phenomenon more than likely has its roots in the fact that Western European culture as dominated most of our perceptions of what the standard of beauty is. Yet the fact that it occurs within a community which isn’t hesitant to cry “racism” whether the facts have bore it out or not, is surprising.