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Black Face in Latin American Entertainment

(By Línda Vanesa Perla)

By what the title supposes this blog post is about Black Face in Latin America. Now, I must begin by stating that I am not an expert on Black Face or Racial Relations in Latin America. I am by birth a Latina-American and have no actual first person experience that spans over more than a few months of living in Latin America.  However, I have accumulated an array of articles that touch and explain the subject matter that has helped me in contextualizing what is means to be Afro-Latino in Latin America. This exploration for information began when the #BlackLivesMatter Movement called for action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.against police brutality in 2012.

During this time I became hyper aware of how I stand in America’s racial politics. I began marching, I began creating hyper-specific pieces that voiced the concerns and point of view of Latinx people–like myself who experience discrimination based on the color of their skin, their language, their legal status, etc– , I began to find solidarity in the opening of dialogue pertaining to race in American society as propelled by the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. I felt empowered that there could be a sense of intersectionality.

HOWEVER, intersectionality can only exist if we first dismantle the racist systems that are of greater impact against our black brothers and sisters. I am not saying that what the Latinx community should do is piggy back on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement to propel our own agenda against the injustices we have felt in this country. I am also not invalidating the racist systems that work against Latinx communities. However, Black people are not our mules, Black people are not our beasts of burden. This movement has helped me feel empowered that one day the Latinx community will be able to rally our own, gather our troops, take to the streets and raise our voices. I look up to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the many sub-movements that have taken to action against racist systems.

So, as a member of a Latinx community what do I do RIGHT NOW that will provide solidarity and also inform my community about how to fight for black lives?

First, I must inform myself–and this is were I became interested in the role of the Afro-Latino in Latin America. (The role of the Afro-Latino in America is a different story that I have yet to be fully informed upon.)

This has not been an easy task.

To begin to learn about Afro-Latinidad means I have to go back and learn about how slavery was an integral part of the creation of Latin American countries. I do not have the time to write a dissertation however here is a: brief overview.

  • During the Atlantic Slave Trade, Latin America was the main destination of millions of Africans transported by the Imperial powers to their colonies when the indigenous population was not enough due to mass murders of conquest and small pox.
  • According to Black in Latin America Mexico and Peru, combined, imported more African slaves than the United States.
  • In the Caribbean, as they were ports of commerce, the Afro-Latinx population is a prominent demographic.
  • In Mexico, Central America, and South America (excluding Brazil) the evidence of the African population is not readily apparent due to the mixing of indigenous population, Africans, and Europeans peoples.
  • FOR MORE INFO SEE: African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean  by Ben Vinson and Herbert S. Klein or Recent Research on Negro Slavery and Abolition in Latin America 
    or Wiki: Slavery in Latin America

After taking a class/researching such matters I began to get very interested in how nations in Latin America were the evidence of African population is not apparent are portrayed or represented through culture/society. Therefore, I decided to look at the entertainment industry of Mexico.

During the 40’s and 50’s comics became a huge hit. They based a lot of their style off of American comics that were too expensive to buy. Yet, one of the most popular comics was called Memín Pinguín. Which was created in 1943. The stories were partially based on recollection of the childhood adventures of Yolanda Vargas Dulché in the Colonia Guerrero near downtown Mexico City. The character of Memín Pinguín was inspired by Cuban children seen by the author Yolanda Vargas Dulché on her travels. Here is an image of a typical cover: memin_pinguin_comic
This comic retains popularity throughout many Latin American countries even predominately Afro-Latinx community such as the Dominican Republic.
Now, at first glance what can one say about the representation of Afro-Latinx’s? Much.

To keep going, as the telenovela industry began to boomAngel.jpg in Mexico one of the greatest novelas was called Angelitos Negros (Black Little Angels), 1948. This telenovela, if taken by the poster’s face value, seems somewhat innocent. However, the story behind is peculiar. This telenovela is based on the story of two white Mexicans who have decided to have a child. During the pregnancy the woman is consistently abusive towards her older black nanny. However, upon her daughter’s birth the white Mexican woman comes to  see her daughter is not white rather she is black. She completely rejects the child but with no affair to be heard of the question arises: how could this have happened? At first she accuses her husband of having African blood but then upon almost killing her nanny she learns that her nanny was her mother all along. The white Mexican woman is half Afro-Latina. From that point on the woman tries to apologize to her mother only to watch her die. She tries to reconnect with her daughter who, as a toddler, has been conditioned to think of herself as ugly by her mother. There is a scene in which the little girl is seen trying to make her face white. Although the story ends on a good note with the family together and accepting the darker side of the narrative comes with the casting. Apparently there were no Afro-Latinas used for the production of the telenovela. The Black Nanny and the Black Daughter were both in complete black face throughout the whole production. The idea of casting a Afro-Latina was not considered.

As I continued to search I stumbled upon an article called: Blackface, Brownface and Black Lives Matter in Latin America. This article cites many current instances were black face and brown face (indigenous) have been used on popular television through Latin America. I suggest you take a look as some of these videos are shocking and informative.

What I have learned most from my research truly scares me. There is still so much discrimination and hate against Afro-Latinx’s. So much that it wasn’t until the 2015 Intercensus Estimate was the first time in which Afro-Mexicans could identify themselves as such and was a preliminary effort to include the identity before the 2020 census. The question asked on the survey was “Based on your culture, history and traditions, do you consider yourself black, meaning Afro-Mexican or Afro-descendant?” and came about following various complaints made by civil rights groups and government officials. There is a concurrent of subdued anti-black attitudes that plagues Latin America as an ethnic group of countries conquered and imperialized by the European powers and forced into a hegemonic state of ongoing identity inconsistency.

It is important for my ongoing dialogue with BlackLivesMatter is learning how all black lives matter, including those in Latin America and the way that they are portrayed. Again, I am no expert in this subject, yet I hope that some of this has found it’s way into sparking a curiosity to further personal research. This is something that I will continuously find more information on and continue to retain dialogue with my identity, my roots, American race politics and mas.

Latino Community Stands In Solidarity With Black Lives Matter At NYC Festival
Latinx for Black Lives Matter on Facebook 
How Anti-Blackness Thrives in Latinx Communities (And What We Can Do About It) 
Latinx Allies to Black Lives Matter
Racism rears its ugly face in Latin American pop culture
(In)Visibilities of Blackfaces in Post-Racial Latino Media

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