On Latino culture, skin color and race

“Yes” I answered.

“That makes sense why they are blond” said the stranger.

Blond? Makes sense? Whaaaat?   I was lost. I have been talking to this lady for about an hour, but for the past five minutes I haven’t been paying full attention to the conversation. I am distracted with my fearless toddler who is serious about jumping from the top of the big slide of the playground.

When I finally made sure that my crazy kid stops his attempt to pay a visit to the ER, I apologized to the lady and asked to repeat her question again. She seemed annoyed.

“I was asking if you were Spanish and you said that you were, aaaand that makes sense why your kids are blond. Kids from Latin America are not blond,” she said.


Her answer confused me again. I am not sure it was due to her bad attitude or her ignorance, however, I think I kind of understand where her remarks came from: Latinos have a mixed racial identities. Maybe she didn’t know that and of course she doesn’t understand what it means.

The distinction between race and color can be complex and confusing especially when it is applied to the Latino community. In the 2010 Census, many Latinos chose “other” as their race because the options for race in the census didn’t fit us.

Race for Latinos should be determined more about culture than color. Culture defines the beliefs, attitudes, customs of a group of people and it is transmitted to one generation to another. Color, at other hand, doesn’t define anything because Latinos come in all shades and sizes.

Unfortunately, our Latino culture still have traces of the absurd hierarchical system of race classification created in Latin America during the colonial period, the “sistema de castas” where phenotype dictated privileges and opportunities.

Isn’t absurd how an ignorant system created more than  five hundred years ago still affects us?  A dear friend from Cuba shared with me the concerns about her two dark skinned boys growing up in a society that puts too much emphasis on the skin color. She mentioned how lucky I am that my kids are light skinned because their lives will be easier and they won’t experience racism like her children will. That is heartbreaking.

Regardless of the skin color and where your parents come from is you what matters and what you are doing right now to write your story.


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