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Cruz-Jansen - Ethnic Identity and Racial Formations

Cruz-Jansen - Ethnic Identity and Racial Formations - ten...

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Unformatted text preview: ten they use coded lan— )ur background?” Then from?” which is really a followed by “Where are eel they can approach me ion? Would they ask total ~ital status? What do they ? Are they census takers? episode, a casino dealer I hand of poker to ask me, vait a second longer. After he shook his finger in my winced, that I didn’t look an. ing been subjected to this espond. I can’t remember resulted in a pleasant en- Inversation. Yet I’ve never to meet such inquiries Isiness” or, better yet, si— tis that people often feel what I’ve told them is an 'ee with. Comedian Mar— )ut a TV producer who re Chinese,” to which she W hatever,“ the producer rience with a man in a from behind a shelf of I was from. Before I had he guessed: “Japan?” I here Iny father is from, for that, so I said, “In— Ie.” It’s not close. Not re— ider London close to ;imilar. lat Ethnicity,” I am the 1 mistaken for almost llSO as Hispanic, Native rse, African American. a chameleon. It’s hu— 'ing bonds. When peo— nnething in common ething so personal as you and they imagine READING 24; ETHNIC IDENTITY AND RACIAL FORMATIONS 201 that you have an innate understanding of them, too. They will speak to you in a certain unguarded way. The idea that any person can be truly “colon blind”is a fallacy. As long as the human eye can de— tect differences in skin tone, eye shape, hair texture, these differences will play a role in how we interact with one another. Because of my ambiguous ap— pearance, I have experienced from people the kind of familiarity they would normally reserve for one of their “own.” The unfortunate consequence of this ambiguity is the misunderstanding I frequently encounter from those who haven’t gotten the full story. The Mexican immigration official who looks disgusted when I can’t understand Spanish, as I surely should. The kindly Vietnamese waiter who helps me “re— member” how to pronounce the names of dishes. This puts me in the slightly ridiculous position of being apologetic for not being what people expect me to be, however unreasonable. When I think back to the man in the elevator, I feel disappointed, too. The way he said “I thought you were one of us” made me feel as if we might have bonded but now couldn’t, as if I’d been refused entry into a club because I didn’t have the right password. My immediate reaction was that I was missing out on something. But I see the artificiality of this classification mentality. If the opportunity for bonding existed before he knew my ethnic makeup, wasn’t it still there after he found out? Af— ter all, I was still the same person. When my parents were married, my grandfather was against the union. His objection was that the children of mixed marriages had no foothold in any one community but instead were doomed to a life— time of identity crises and disorientation. Ifmy grandfather were still alive, I’d tell him that the crisis comes not from within, but from without. I know who I am. It’s everyone else that’s having trouble. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. Does an ambiguous appearance lead to stereo— typic assumptions? 2. If you don’t identify with the questioner, what are the likely consequences? READING 24 Ethnic Identity and Racial Formations RACE AND RACISM AMERICAN-STYLE AND a lo Latino Marta Cruz-Janzen I am a Latinegra. Racism has been with me all my life. Born and raised a U.S. citizen in the U.S. Com— monwealth of Puerto Rico, I completed most of my schooling on the island. In high school I moved back and forth between the island and the main— land. On the island, I became aware of Latina/o racism at an early age. On the mainland, U.S. racism was added to my consciousness and understanding. Today my life is affected not only by U.S. racism but also by Latina/o racism and the intersection of the two. Latina/o and U.S. racial ideologies seem to rep— resent fundamentally divergent systems of social or— der. U.S. racism enforces the black—versus—white dichotomy; Latina/o racism appeases it. U.S. racism is sharp and clear; Latina/o racism is stratified and nebulous. The intersection of these doctrines un— leashes a dilemma for Latinas/OS in the United States: What to do with a racial heritage shrouded in secrecy? What to do with a long history of blurred racial lines and deeply hidden family secrets in a world controlled by a rigid color line? I am rev jected by both U.S. and Latina/o forms of racism. Latinas/05 in Latin America accept me marginally; Latinas/0s in the United States openly spurn me. The repudiation by Latinas/0s has intensified over the years, and I know why. Through me Latinas/os see the blackness in themselves; I am a living re— Marta Cruzelanzen is a professor of multicultural education at Florida Atlantic University. 202 SECTION TWO: EXPERIENCING DIFFERENCE minder of the ancestors they thought they had left behind. Oppressors rely on their victims’ shame and silence. Breaking the shackles of oppression requires telling what is really happening and ad— dressing all the sources of racism. With this chap— ter I break my own psychological shackles of oppression. I explore the forces impacting racism in Latinas/0s today, among them: (I) racism in Latin America, especially Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, (2) Spanish racism before colonization, (3) US. racism, and (4) the intersection of U.S. and Latina/o racial doctrines. Mac/10 quepoco, [01105 (enemas la mrmc/za de pla— tuno (Much or little, we all have the plantain stain). Latina/o cultures are rich in oral traditions. Popular expressions bear witness to a long and complex his— tory. Oral histories tell more and are often closer to the truth than what is written in books or discussed in polite society. This popular adage states what is known but not acknowledged in most Latina/o cul— turesfithat everyone has some noneEuropean blood. A green vegetable resembling a banana, the plantain is white inside but, when touched, quickly produces a stain that darkens to black and sets per~ manently. La mam/m de thiamine—black and Indian heritage may or may not be apparent but is pres ent in all Latinas/0s and cannot be washed away. When I was growing up, my father’s [black] family called me triguefla (wheatecolored), whereas the fa — vorite term of my mother’s [white] family was morena (black), considered a step down. Some- times, they both called me negm, or some variation of the term. When my black grandma called me negrita (little black) it was usually with pride and accompanied by a loving hug. When my white grandma called me negrrz, it signaled anger and im— pending punishment. Outside of the family the la bels varied, but when rzegm was used it was as a derisive reminder of my race and lower status. In the latter instances, negra tended to be followed by 511cm (immoral, but literally “dirty”) or parejera (ar— rogant). Pm‘eiero/a is not used for whites, only for blacks and Indians. It denotes people who do not accept 511 [agar (their place) beneath whites and do not remain quiet like children or humbly obey (Zenon Cruz, I975). An equivalent term, used in Mexico and many other parts of Latin America, is igualan’cl/o. Both terms signify a false sense of equal- ity and belonging among superiors. It has always intrigued me that my father’s birth certificate defines him as mestizo. The explanation for this was that because his parents, both black, were educated and middle—class they were meio- rmido [(1 mm (improving the race). They had moved out of Barrio San Anton, the black quarters of the coastal town of Ponce, and lived in a predom- inantly white neighborhood. They maintained an impeccable home with a beautiful front garden and, aware of their neighbors‘ scrutiny, never ventured out unless well groomed. When I visited, though,l recall always playing alone, never having friends in the neighborhood. A white girl next door andI sometimes played together through the iron fence but never at each other’s home. As I played in the front yard I saw children from across the street watching but knew that we could not get together. My black grandparents had five children. While concerned for all of them, they worried most abou their two daughters; one attended the university, became a teacher, and taught in a remote rura school, while the other was considered fortunate f0 marrying a white man. San Antc’m was known asa armbal, an impoverished slum beyond the city lim- its. Grandma was admired and respected there and often took me with her while distributing food anc clothes. The differences in living conditions be- tween my grandparents’ neighborhood and Sa Anton were staggering: streets were narrow an unpaved, buildings were in disrepair and Iackedin- door plumbing, most houses were makeshifts built of discarded wood and cardboard with zinc roofs. Distinctively, most residents were dark—skinned paras prietos (pure blacks). My two sets of grandparents lived in what ap- peared to be two separate worlds. I do not recalla single time when they or their families visited each other. My siblings and I were shuttled between them on weekends and holidays. On one side we were mejorando la sorrow, shamt (wheat—colon y prietos (bl grandma rem my fingers ea maternal whi ceretas (curly, inhibitedly, m me and my sil for me and my dominated La evated” his far my mother w negro feo (that entire family. con su pareja ( that interracia by the Cathol were all ovejas RACISM IN AND CUBA Aqui, cl que no tiene conga tie, y tu almela a’t Dinga have I Congo have ( know anything Congos, and IV gas and Ingas cIear the prep within the Lat] [05 negros quiei (Nowadays bIa knights) reveal the social adva Mexicans I unions betwee The contributit aspect of Mexi. el Negro eprOI Bamba” comes Idren or humbly obey iuivalent term, used in rts of Latin America, is fy a false sense of equal— periors. 1e that my father’s birth Iestiza. The explanation Iis parents, both black, —class they were meja— the race). They had ito'n, the black quarters ,and lived in a predom— d. They maintained an utiful front garden and, :rutiny, never ventured hen I visited, though, I never having friends in - girl next door and I :hrough the iron fence me. As I played in the mm across the street :ould not get together. 1 five children. While 3y worried most about ended the university, ht in a remote rural nsidered fortunate for itén was known as an 1 beyond the city lim— d respected there and distributing food and iving conditions be— ghborhood and San ts were narrow and repair and lacked in— vere makeshifts built )ard with zinc roofs. were darkeskinned ts lived in what ap- ds. 1 do not recall a families visited each ittled between them i one side we were READING 24: ETHNIC IDENTITY AND RACIAL FORMATIONS 203 mejamnda la mm, on the other and perm (disgrace, sorrow, shame). On one side we were trignefias fi nos (wheat—colored and refined), on the other marenas y prietas (black and dark). My paternal black grandma reminded me to pinch my nose between my fingers each day to sharpen its roundness; my maternal white grandma wanted my grefzas and ceretas (curly, wild hair) restrained at all times. Un— inhibitedly, my mother’s family voiced concerns for me and my siblings as black persons, and especially for me and my sisters as Latinegras in a white, male— dominated Latina/o society. Whereas my father “el~ evated” his family and himselfby marrying a white, my mother was openly chastised for marrying ese negrofea (that ugly black), lowering herself and her entire family. Repeatedly, she was told, Coda aveja con su parejci (Each sheep with its pair), a reminder that interracial marriages were frowned upon even by the Catholic Church, which preached that we were all avejas de Dias (God’s sheep). . . . RACISM IN MEXICO, PUERTO RICO, AND CUBA Aqui, el que no tiene dingo time mandinga. El que no tiene conga tiene carabali. Ypa’ las que no saben m2: y tu abuela a’ande esta? (Here, those who don’t have Dinga have Mandinga. Those who don’t have Congo have Carabali. And for those who don’t know anything, where’s your grandma?) Carabalis, Congas, and Mandingas were African nations; Din— gas and Ingas were Indians. This aphorism makes clear the preponderance of interracial bloodlines within the Latino world. At the same time, Hay din los negras quieren ser blames y [as mnlatos caballeros (Nowadays blacks want to be whites and mulattoes knights) reveals the rancor of white Latinas/0s over the social advances of Latinas/0s of color. Mexicans have a long history of interracial unions between Africans, Indians, and Spaniards. The contributions of Africans have influenced every aspect of Mexican culture, history, and life. Esteban el Negro explored northern Mexico; the hit song “La Bamba” comes from the Bamba or Mbamba people of Veracruz, and the national carrida song style is partially African in origin; the muralist and painter Diego Rivera was of African descent. The African presence is apparent, but it is denied in Mexico and by Mexicans in the United States. In spite of their impressive contributions, Afro»Mexicans remain a marginalized group, not yet even recognized as full citizens (Muhammad, 1995). Mexican historians and academicians endorse the claim that the “dis— covery” of Mexico represented an encounter of two worlds, the Indian and the Spanish, with little if any mention of the Africans brought there (Muham— mad, 1995). By the middle of the eighteenth century, Mexico’s second~largest population group was largely of African extraction. In 1810 blacks repre— sented 10.2 percent of the Mexican population (Muhammad, 1995). It is estimated that about two hundred thousand Spaniards and two hundred and fifty thousand Africans had migrated to Mexico up to 1810 (Forbes, 1992), and the African population was largely assimilated by the rapidly emerging in— terracial population. Although Mexico identifies it— self as a nation of mestizos, the term “mestizo” is normally not used for identifiable Afro—Mexicans, who are instead referred to as marenas. The 1921 census was the last in which racial categories were used in Mexico. Today it is estimated that mestizos make up approximately 85—90 percent of the Mexi— can population and indigenous persons only 8—10 percent (Fernandez, 1992). There are no current data, demographic or otherwise, for Afro—lylexicans, but Miriam liménez Ramon of New York‘s Schom~ burg Center for Research in Black Culture estimates that 75 percent of the population of Mexico has some African admixture (Muhammad, 1995). Mexi— cans will boast about their Spanish relatives and may even admit to Indian ones but will rarely admit to a black forebear. Whereas indigenous groups have gained national and international visibility and sup— port, Afro-Mexicans remain suppressed and un— heard. Contemporary social research in Mexico tends to exclude Afro—Mexican communities, and no major study on Mexican race relations has ever been done (Muhammad, 1995). Within the past decade 204 SECTION TWO: EXPERIENCING DIFFERENCE anthropologists and others have visited Afro~ Mexican communities and reported their deplorable living conditions and rampant illiteracy, their inade— quate schools and medical facilities, and their lack of electricity, potable water, plumbing, sewerage, drainage, and paved streets. Visiting Mexico in 1988, I searched for and found Afro—Mexicans living in a clearly segregated shanty town outside of Guadala— jara. The squalor oftheir homes and community was appalling. They openly talked about blatant racism and their financial and legal inability to migrate to the United States. These Afro—Mexicans have been ignored and neglected by government agencies; they receive little or no assistance (Muhammad, 1995). Puerto Rico, after four centuries of Spanish colo— nial rule, had developed into a lnultiracial society. French people and multiracial Creoles went to Puerto Rico after the US. Louisiana Purchase from France and migrated from Haiti when the slaves re— volted (US. Commission on Civil Rights, 1976). La— bor shortages throughout the island in the 1840s brought Chinese, Italians, Corsicans, Lebanese, Ger— mans, Scots, Irish, and many others. As the twenti» eth century approached, the racial composition of Puerto Rico covered the spectrum from whites to blacks with a large in—between interracial group known as trignefzos (US. Commission on Civil Rights, 1976). Racially speaking, most Puerto RF cans are of interracial black, Taino, and white orie gin. It is believed that racial mixing has touched at least 70 percent of Puerto Rico’s population. With U.S. invasion of the island and installation of mili~ tary rule in 1898, citizenship in 191 7, and the estab— lishment of the Commonwealth in 1952, US. whites became first—class citizens. F.1ite Puerto Rican whites were quick to ingratiate themselves with the new upper class by impressing them with their whiteness (Toplin, 1976). The advent ofU.S. racism brought the exclusion of social whites who declared themselves white in official US. demographic sur— veys. Whereas the 1846 census reported 51.24 per— cent of the Puerto Rican population as African or Negro, in 1959 the count dropped to only 23 per— cent (Toplin, 1976). Members of Congress were not discreet in expressing their low opinion of Puerto Ricans and wondering how there could be so many whites in a “black man‘s country.” Several were openly angered by the degree of racial mixture, stat- ing that the “horror” of racial mixing had gone too far and prevented them from establishing clear racial categorization. They concluded that it was the “duty” of the United States to impose a strict color code on Puerto Rican society in order to ensure propagation of the white race, that is, the newly es- tablished elite (Toplin, 1976). Racial prejudice increased with US. occupation of the island (Toplin, 1976; Zenon Cruz, 1974) and became prevalent in public places during the 19505 and 1960s. It persists in social clubs, public and pri~ vate universities, businesses, banks, tourist facilities, public and private schools, and housing today. Al- though the local government stopped using racial classifications in 1950, the legal and penal systems, which remain predominantly white, continue to use them against black and dark-skinned poor urban youth (Santiago—Valles, 1995). Little if anything is done to correct the open racism, and many areas re- main “hermetically closed” to the darker—skinned Puerto Rican (Toplin, 1976). The Puerto Rican elite, comprised mostly of the descendants of Spaniards with increasing numbers of US. whites and Euro- pean immigrants, treat darker Puerto Ricans with visible contempt. Few Puerto Ricans of African de— scent explicitly identify as such because of a long history of discrimination and a present fear ofp0~ lice brutality and persecution (Santiago—Valles, 1995). Elite Puerto Ricans still claim that the Span- ish white race prevailed in the island, making it the “whitest of all the Antilles,” and seek closer ties with Spain (Santiago—Valles, 1995). The 1992 Columbus Quincentennial was celebrated with much empha- sis on the Spanish roots of the island. Subsequent annual “Nuestra Hispanidadn (Our Hispanicism) celebrations have focused on Spain and white Puerto Ricans. There is a dearth of information about black and dark—skinned Puerto Ricans buta strong association between black and poor. Black and dark—skinned Puerto Ricans live disproportion- ately in slums under extremely deprived conditions. U.S. citizenship granted all Puerto Ricans, including those of black heritage, an open door to the conti» nental United States. The enormous loss ofjobs be- tween 1940 and 1 Puerto Ricans to t sion on Civil Righ nomic dislocatiot the predominantlj cans on the mainl. The Cuban pt African and Spani Cuban—born Latin refugees from th Mariel boatlift in of Cubans today a are white (McGarr tion refugees wert upper—class white professions, busint became integrated “less congenial” M and poor lower—cl; The longstanding black Cubans is w e...
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