“I see a lot of little, short, dark people. I was like ‘I don’t know where these people are from.’ I don’t know what village they came from…how they got here? Tan feos (they’re ugly).”
That was former Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez disparaging the immigrants from Oaxaca, the descendants from the Olmec peoples who were the first civilization to inhabit the Americans.
The now infamous city council meeting went on to attack Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon: “He’s with the Blacks,” or more loosely termed, a “nig*er lover.”
Fallacy of ‘more in common with Whites’
Latino immigrants — particularly those from recent immigrant families — often hold negative views of African-Americans, which they most likely brought with them from their more-segregated Latin American countries. A Duke University study looked at the delicate issue and found that sharing neighborhoods with African-Americans (i.e. South Los Angeles) has only reinforced Latino’s negative views and augments their feelings that they have “more in common with Whites” — although the study found that Whites do not feel the same connection with Latinos.
The aforementioned dislike of “ugly dark people” may stem from the circumstance when Latinos enter the U.S., their racial baggage often comes with them. Hence the Olmec. The oldest civilization known in the Americas was of Black Africoid origin and flourished in Southern Mexico from around 1600 BCE to roughly 400 BCE. This civilization existed long before the arrival of the so-called “red” Indians (e.g. Inca, Maya, Aztec).
Nearly 60 million Latinos reside in the United States, most of whom can trace their heritages back to Latin America and the Caribbean. A 2016 Pew Research center survey reported that nearly one-fourth of all U.S. Latinos identify as Afro-Latino or Afro-Caribbean or of African descent with roots in Latin America.
At the time of the Europeans arrival in Central and South America in the 15th Century, descendants of the Black Olmecs abounded throughout the region…especially in Mexico.
The Mexican Negro god ‘Ixlitan’
“The almost extinction of the original Negroes during the time of the Spanish Conquest and the memories of them in the most ancient traditions induce us to believe that the Negroes were the first inhabitants of Mexico,” stated the famous historian and ethnologist Niccolas Leon in “Historica General De Mexico” from 1919.
In his day he helped to organize the Oaxaca Museum to better record the history of the indigenous people. Leon’s research would reveal that the Maya (southeast Mexico) are descendants of the Olmec.
Vicente Riva-Palacio, the mid-19th Century Mexican scholar and former governor of the State of Mexico, would previously introduce the finding: “It is indisputable that in very ancient times the Mexicans recall a Negro god ‘Ixlitan’ (“black face”),” he wrote in the regional newspaper “El Pito Real” in 1865.
Further, terracotta figures of the Olmec adorned with dreadlocks, afros, cornrows and braids have been found in much of Central America, specifically in Costa Rica. During the Spanish Conquest, the conquistadores referred to the Olmec as “slaves of our Lord” for the fact that many had previously been taken captive and sent back to Spain and Portugal.
Historians continue to debate whether Estavancio, the Portugese slave largely recognized in history as the first Black person to arrive in the New World during the Spanish exploration, in reality may have been descended from the Olmec.
Mexico once traded Black slaves
The Black Olmec Africoids were ethnologically connected to Africa’s Nile Valley Civilization. Descendants of the Olmec who were living in what is now modern United States were the Black Wasschitaw of Mississippi, the Black Mojave of California and the Jamassee of Georgia.
Contrary to what many people realize, Mexico was a slave-trading country in the 16th Century, having a population of around 200,000 principally West African slaves. These persons outnumbered the Spanish colonists for decades and was, for some time, the largest population of Black persons in the Americas. It was only until 2015 that Afro-Mexicans achieved official self identification with a census which listed “Negro” as one of the ethnicity options.
The Latino “racial baggage” on display by the now disgraced politicians is often passed along to younger generations as part of the Latino culture.
Raul Perez, a professor of sociology at the University of La Verne, said he wasn’t particularly surprised at the comments the council members made because it’s the kind of thing he’s heard his whole life.
“If you’re Latino, you know this happens because we’ve witnessed it. We notice it at family gatherings. We notice it in everyday life with family and friends and communities,” Perez said.
Intersection of Blackness and Latino identity
Because Afro-Latinos (i.e. southern Mexico) sit at the intersection of Blackness and Latino ethnic identity, they not only experience Latino racial hostility, but are also knowledgeable about its logics in a way not always noticeable to non-Latinos and non-Black Latinos. Some sociologists contend that Latino cultural self-image as “racially innocent” can often interfere with addressing the instances in which Latinos are agents of racial harm.
So-called “racial innocence” can hinder self-recognition of historical animus toward Black people. The latter theory may explain the general omission in school courses of Mexico’s second president (and only Black head of state) Vicente Guerrero who held office for less than a year from April to December 1829.
Conclusions from a Duke University study were both illuminating and disappointing, said Paula D. McClain, a political science professor who helped to implement the study, “Racial Distancing in a Southern City: Latino Immigrants’ Views of Black Americans,” which was based on a 2003 survey of 500 Latino, Black and White residents of Durham, NC, a city with one of the nation’s fastest-growing Latino populations.
“We were actually quite depressed at what we found,” McClain said. “No section of the country has been more defined along a Black-White racial divide [than the South]. How these new Latino immigrants situated themselves vis-a-vis Black Americans has profound implications for the social and political fabric of the South.”
Blacks do not reciprocate disdain with Latinos
The study reiterated a similar conclusion reached a decade earlier out of Houston,Texas. This survey found that U.S.-born and foreign-born Latinos expressed a more negative view of African-Americans than Blacks expressed of Latinos. In both studies, McClain noted, Blacks did not reciprocate the negative feelings toward Latinos.
Well-worn stereotypes of Black persons are concealed within the Latino “cross-border” racial baggage. Former Mexico President Vicente Fox in 2005 was discussing low wages for immigrants: “There is no doubt that Mexican men and women, full of dignity, drive and capacity for work, are doing jobs that not even Blacks want to do there, in the United States.”
Fox was alluding to the fact that African-Americans remain among the lowest-paid workers and even “they” would not accept certain jobs at poverty-level wages.
The controversial remarks would unexpectedly bring attention to a popular Mexican Black comic book character, “Memin Pinguin,” who bears a striking resemblance to a chimpanzee donning a baseball cap. The “monkey” trope–also part of Martinez’s City Hall comments–has been condemned by African-Americans for more than 300 years.
Among the results of the Duke University study, almost 59% of Latino immigrants reported feeling that “few or almost no Blacks are hard working.” One third said that Blacks are “hard to get along with,” and about 57% found that “few or no Blacks could be trusted.”
Maintaining prejudicial attitudes across borders
The study concluded that most likely Latinos bring those negative views from their home countries. Previous research on race and Latin America found that Blacks “represent the bottom rungs of society” and Duke researchers surmise that Latino immigrants “might bring prejudicial attitudes with them.”
Kevin Johnson, a professor at the UC Davis School of Law, points the finger at Hollywood for movies portraying Blacks as gang members, “welfare queens” and, in general, criminals. This sends out a global message that influences foreigners’ perceptions of African-Americans when they arrive in the United States.
“These stereotypes are propagated on television and in film, and are broadcast all over the world,” Johnson said. “We have some foreign judges and lawyers come through UC Davis School of law and I’m surprised about their stereotypical views and their [coupling] of crime and African-Americans.”
The racist statements from high-ranking Los Angeles politicians, random comments from persons participating in a sociology study, and those from a former world head of state may help to crystallize that the paradigm of beauty, virtue and character in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean — white skin and blue eyes.
This article is a part of a series of articles for Our Weekly’s #StopTheHate campaign and is supported in whole or part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library. #NoPlaceForHateCA,