Dark Enough to Relate, Light Enough to be the Oppressor- Latino Heritage Month

This week’s blog post is about anything we would like to write about.

In light of the slave narratives that we have been discussing in American Women Writers class over the past month(The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts, Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs), and the fact that this month is National Latino Heritage Month, I would like to address a topic that I feel is not spoken about enough: Racism in Latino Culture.

Last week, spur of the moment, I decided to go to a Latino Heritage Month Dinner with some of my fraternity brothers at University. The evening included a Keynote presentation given by spoken word artist/ poet Danny Matos, a 2007 graduate of my university. winner of the 2013 Poetry Idol competition, co-winner of the Inspired Word’s Slam Master Jam 2013, and a 2014 Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe Grand Slam Finalist

For those of you who have not heard this word before:

\ˌnü-yr-ˈrē-kən\
Definition of NUYORICAN
:  a person of Puerto Rican birth or descent who is a current or former resident of New York City
This word is an important one to know in the context of my writing today, because I am one. Born in Brooklyn and raised around the City my entire life, I have always identified with the word Nuyorican. Hearing someone who seemed to also be affiliated with it as well speak immediately grabbed my attention. Throughout his speech, Danny Matos spoke of the different ways in which Latinos are identified- by it by selves or by others. One phrase in particular that he used which resonated with me:
Dark enough to relate, light enough to be the oppressor.
In our society, I often feel that when we think of racism, we tend to think of white and black. But what happens to all the other people that are neither white nor black?
As Latinos, we also experience discrimination. For most of us, our origins can trace back to African roots- so in this sense, many of us sympathize with the race related issues that those of African decent also face, hence being “dark enough to relate”. Some racial stereotypes lead others to believe that both people of African and Latino decent are criminals, dangerous, ignorant and uneducated. Hundreds of years ago, my people would have been enslaved just as much as any African. But on the same token, we are also seen as this fantastical, exotic people whose countries of origin are ideal tourist destinations. There is this double- standard where, at times, we seem not good enough to be considered equal to others in the ways that the African- American community has experienced over hundreds of years, yet at others, we are the ones being praised.
“Light enough to be the oppressor”- Latinos, being generally viewed as neither white nor black(there are some of us who by complexion, can be considered either or thanks to our African and European heritages), understand the pains of racism, but not to the point that we don’t fall prey to being racially prejudice. Some Latinos, particularly those of older generations, see themselves as superior to our African brethren based on the fact that we are not considered “black”. Some of us oppress others based on their appearance, while at the same time, we have a darker skin pigmentation than many.
Not only do we sometimes hold prejudices against others, but as Danny Matos spoke about in his writing, we also hold prejudices against one another as Latinos. As a Puerto Rican, one example that immediately comes to mind is that of Cubans vs. Puerto Ricans. Some “old school” Boriquas(this is a term of endearment for being Puerto Rican), will swear up and down that for the most part, Cubans are sneaky liars that are full of themselves and think that they’re better than everyone else because their roots stem from Europe, which tends to give them a lighter complexion than other Latinos, meaning to say that they find their lighter skin to be a symbol of superiority over others of Hispanic heritage. Which brings me to another topic of racial conflict among Latinos- European vs. African decent of culture. Spaniards, supposedly(and I say supposedly because of what I myself have heard over the course of my exposure to various Latin cultures), consider themselves to be first and foremost European, which bothers Spanish speakers in North, Central and South America and well as the Caribbean, who feel that they should proudly proclaim their Latino roots above all.
Those born in our world’s spanish speaking countries also have reservations about people like me- born in America, who speak or understand the language, but maybe not as fluently as them. Do you speak the right dialect of Spanish, do you truly know and follow the traditions of your family’s motherland? If your answer to these questions is no, are you really Latino? Or are you more like an Oreo, dark on the outside, but white on the inside?
We Latinos spend so much time comparing ourselves to one another, tearing each other down and apart, that amongst ourselves we, in my opinion, are more detrimental to our culture than any lighter skinned “oppressor”. If we do this to each other, we are only making it okay for anybody else to do it to us too. If we cannot stand united in our commonalities and support one another in our own struggle for racial equality, then there is no way we will be able to present ourselves to the world as a people who deserves the same rights as any other human being.
What I appreciated the most about Danny Matos’ presentation is that he talked about a subject matter that many of us sweep under the rug- none of us wants to admit to hating on another person of our culture, nobody wants to say that that they’re just as bad as history’s “bad guys”. But it’s true, it’s 110% true. And until we stop devaluing our differences and embrace them instead, we aren’t going to get much farther in global society. So, if you’re reading this, and maybe you’re somebody who isn’t Latino and judges Latinos, please know- we do enough of it on our own, so do us a favor and help us to reach a common ground. Embrace us, and help us to embrace one another. And if you are Latino, take a moment to do some self- reflecting, and see if you’re doing more to tear us apart than bring us together.
That being said, also take the remainder of this month to learn a little more about Hispanic Heritage than you already know- the more you know about about your world, the more capable you will be of making it better.
If you want to know more about Danny Matos, or read his work, please visit dannymatos.com. He was kind enough to correspond with me over e- mail and allow me to write about him and his writing this week. As an English major, and a Puerto Rican, he inspired me. Allow him to inspire you as well.
 With the greatest amount of Latino pride,
– W
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One thought on “Dark Enough to Relate, Light Enough to be the Oppressor- Latino Heritage Month

  1. Pingback: What Does it Mean to be ____________? A Reflection on Posts Pass & Passing | americanwomanwritingforwomenwriters

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