In October, popular Latina actress Gina Rodriguez filmed herself getting her hair and makeup done while singing along to a Fugees song and she posted the video on her Instagram story. In the video, Rodriguez clearly says the n-word and promptly giggles right after as if it’s all a joke.
Given Rodriguez’s continuous erasure of Afro-Latinx people and anti-black rhetoric, this shouldn’t be surprising. However, Rodriguez stars on one of the most popular Latinx-led shows: “Jane the Virgin.” Therefore, she’s setting an example for millions.
Rodriguez has been outspoken about the need for more Latinx diversity in media, but she rarely advocates for representation of Afro-Latinx people or praises Afro-Latinx actors like Lupita Nyong’o, who recently starred in “Us” and “Black Panther.” In Rodriguez’s mind, like in many, the concept of “Latinidad” (the identification with various Latin American attributes) is one focused on white or mestizo (mixed) Latinx people at the expense of black and indigenous people.
She cannot fathom an expression of Latinx culture that’s not tied to the white or mestizo Latinx experience. Latinidad is rooted in exclusivity and the glorification of cisgender, straight and mestizo men and women; these are the models for Latinidad.
Although Latinidad is positioned as an all-inclusive cultural identity, whiteness is at its center. You cannot have an identity that claims to unite millions of people under one term and identity yet fails to recognize persecution and discrimination of black and indigenous people. Not only is Latinidad complicit in maintaining the privilege white and mestizo Latinxs have over black and indigenous people, but it erases and flattens other identities in favor of a monolithic singular one.
Latinidad originates from colonization, from the enslavement and degradation of black and indigenous people in the colonial caste system. Advancements and civil rights in this system were determined based on racial appearance. Black people were at the bottom of the system, with indigenous people slightly above them and white Spaniards at the top of the racial hierarchy.
The Latinidad we see today is shaped by this system; it’s defined by the dominion of white Spanish culture over black and indigenous ones. The forced mixture of these cultures should not be praised but recognized for the violence it is. It’s resulted in the destruction and erosion of various African and indigenous cultures — this is nothing to be celebrated.
It’s quite ironic that African and indigenous cultures have made tremendous contributions to what’s considered to be Latinx culture yet they aren’t centered in Latinidad; our culture constantly encourages the attainment of whiteness. The concept of “adelantando la raza” (advancing the race) is based on upholding whiteness as superior, better and purer.
If Latinidad is meant for all, why the degradation of black and brown skin? Our telenovelas are filled with light-skinned faces, while black and indigenous people are relegated to subservient roles or not represented at all. There are so many Latinx people who are ashamed to identify as black or indigenous. They would rather say they’re mestizo or mixed in order to fit into a narrow and racist definition of Latinidad.
As Alán Pelaez Lopez, an Afro-Indigenous writer, said, “Latinidad is a calculated weapon to the logic of white supremacy. White Latinxs have made sure that they control the narrative of ‘latinidad’ to ensure that non-white Latinxs remain in positions of subjugation as to not interrupt the ongoing structures of settler-colonialism in the Americas and the Caribbean. If you believe in ‘latinidad’ as unifying, what is your destination?”
The structure of Latinidad needs to be dismantled, and if it’s rebuilt, it needs to be led by black and indigenous Latinx people. As Latinx people, we must acknowledge the prevalent racism and exclusion of Afro-Latinx and indigenous people within our culture.
I benefit from the structure of Latinidad. I and other mestizos, and white Latinx people, need to act in solidarity to dismantle the structure of Latinidad.
Anais Rivero PZ ’22 is a second generation Cuban from Miami, Florida. She’s interested in politics and Latin American studies. She hopes her grandmother’s beloved telenovelas will someday feature people who actually look like her.