Tackling colorism within Latino community: leaders trying to change narrative

Latino community covers entire skin-color spectrum

ByMark Rivera and Blanca Rios WLS logo
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
What is colorism? How it affects Latino community
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Colorism is a form of racism that happens globally, but can be more complex among Latinos because they cover the entire skin-color spectrum.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Colorism is a form of racism that happens globally.

"It basically means people that are lighter skinned are preferred and have more privilege than people that are darker skinned," said Dr. Nayeli Chavez-Dueñas a Professor with the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Colorism within the Latinx community can be so complex because it covers the entire skin color spectrum.

"I don't remember ever feeling like I wasn't beautiful but what I do remember is feeling that people with light skin were more beautiful than me," said State Senator Karina Villa (D) West Chicago.

Villa is a Mexican-American who was born in suburban West Chicago. Being darker skinned is a challenge she says she's faced in her career and even within her family.

"Those of us who were cousins who were a little bit darker skinned would be like grandpa, why didn't get your color skin. Why didn't we get the blue eyes from your side of the family. It would be something that we would get really upset about," said Villa.

Chicagoan Mateo Zapata identifies as an Afro-Latino of indigenous descent. He was born in Colombia and is half Chilean.

"You don't have too many Afro-Latinos in Chicago. So when I walk into a room, when I am navigating predominantly white spaces, obviously people tend to put you within the other box," said Zapata.

According to Chavez-Dueñas, the impact of skin tone goes far beyond the standards of beauty and stereotypes. Lighter skinned or white Latinos tend to have more socio-economic privilege.

"When we look at Latin America, the people that are Afro-Latinos, or that are indigenous - they are at the bottom of every indicator, so they are more poor, they also have less education, they also higher mortality for children and adults so it impacts everything," said Chavez-Dueñas.

Within the Latino community, nicknames are often given to describe the color of your skin. And while harmless to some, their roots can be actually very offensive.

"It's associated with all the negative stereotypes and prejudices that came form the colonizers who when they saw indigenous people they treated them as less than human," said Chavez-Dueñas.

After exploring her family history Villa says she discovered she has more indigenous roots, and that's how she identified herself on the latest U.S. Census.

"I mark Native American-Mestizo and now that term to me has sense of pride, said Villa. "One of the things that I love doing especially in the Senate, a way to show that pride I wear rebosos, because this is a way for me to show who I am and I'm unapologetic about it."

Community activists and legislators alike are working together to change the narrative.

"I think the media has a lot of power but I think the responsibility falls on all of us - the changes we can make within our own families// of looking at how do we talk about race, how do we talk about skin color," said Chavez-Dueñas.

"I think it's incumbent on us as legislators to make sure we are supporting culturally diverse education in our schools and teaching history factually," said Villa.

" Acknowledgement and education. I think it's just a dialogue that has to happen," said Zapata.