Painting by Nace Mestizo | Words by Manuel Bernal
White privilege does not solely adhere to the confines of the United States. This is not a new concept. White privilege has been spilling and overflowing into other countries since the inception of European colonization. Growing up, I continuously experienced the Mexican community cling to and praise their European Spanish background while rejecting their Aztec heritage. Whether the perpetuation of white supremacy in other cultures is through skin color, language, religion, clothing or media, the Mexican community in the United States is well aware of the color dynamic in its community and the larger political implications. It is important to note that there are several descendants of non-Aztec tribes in Mexico that are presently experiencing the same color dynamic, however I am writing from my Xicanx experience in relation to the European Spanish and Aztec dichotomy.
As Spain conquered and destroyed the Aztec empire, the Spanish were able to establish a concrete sociological structure in Mexico that shaped and created a self-hating narrative that permeated the Aztec community. As this sociological structure became a pillar of Mestizo society, skin color turned into a cultural wedge. Influenced through psychological warfare, many Mestizos began to positively associate the white skin of the Spaniards with education, civilization, and wealth. In contrast, darker brown skin was viewed as primitive, savage, uneducated, uncivilized, poor and negatively associated with the skin color of the Aztecs. This is why, for example, many in the Mexican community view a newborn with white skin as some beautiful miracle and are in complete awe at the complexion, while not necessarily generating the same appreciation for a newborn of darker brown skin. There is an unspoken consciousness about the way the Mexican community sees someone with white skin as more human.
Language is crucial in understanding how the shaping of the self-hating narrative is still being perpetuated with force in the Mexican community. Several times I have heard the term Indio used in a derogatory fashion, which is the only way it is used. The use of this term is designed with the intent to ridicule the individual for an alleged lack of intellect, lack of wealth, and/or lack of class. The term Indio derives from the term Indigenous. Indio is a direct reflection of the attitudes of the Mexican community towards the indigenous people of Mexico. The Mestizos, currently living in Mexico-- who practice traditional indigenous rituals, speak native languages (such as Nahuatl), and wear traditional indigenous clothing-- are viewed as uncivilized Indios and Nacos. Naco is a variant from the word Indio but has no direct link to the degradation of Aztec culture. As a caveat, naco should not be confused with narco, which is defined as a drug dealer and is an abbreviation of Narco traficante meaning drug trafficker. The language we use shapes the narrative through which we view our hermanxs.
Names in the Mexican American community specifically carry significant political and social weight. One may visualize the four following names in a linear path model or rather a racial linguistic hierarchy in which names may essentially assimilate and transform into whiteness. In this example, the first name at the bottom level of the racial linguistic hierarchy is the name Xitlatli. Xitlatli is a traditional Aztec name derived from the Nahuatl language. This name is generally viewed as a Indio name and carries the stigma of a dark complected, uncivilized, and uneducated Mexican. The name Jose is a European Spanish name. In the context of the Mexican community, the name sounds respectable, with religious undertones (as Joseph or Jose was the father of Christ), and is considered the norm. We then delve into names such as Alejandro or Alexander, which can then be assimilated and Americanized in United States culture and are essentially interchangeable in the Spanish and English Language. The last and highest level of the racial linguistic hierarchy, in this example, is full assimilation in which Latinx children are named with traditional white sounding American names like Kyle or John. Names are beautiful, but the social conditioning which makes many want to shamelessly abandon their dark complected roots and assimilate into whiteness is horrendous.
Religion, specifically Catholicism, is a deeply entrenched and emotional concept in the minds of the Mexican community. Spain forcefully and violently converted the Aztec community to Catholicism. A large reason why the majority of Mexicans today feel a deeper connection with Spain is due, of course, to language-- but also to Catholicism. The strong connection to Spain is a logical one. If there is no tie traced back to the Aztec culture, then there is no connection-- and more importantly, there is no acknowledgment. Through forceful imposition of the Spanish language and Catholicism, Spain was successful in severing Mestizo ties with Aztec culture. Clothing such as serapes or huipils are looked down upon as something only an Indio or Naco would wear. Although many people in mainstream Mexican culture do not wear these traditional garments, clothing is nevertheless used as a catalyst to spread dehumanizing terms such as Indio or Naco.
The majority of the Spanish media is a living, breathing, and grotesque display of white privilege. Growing up in a Mexican household, I always noticed how the lead characters in Spanish telenovelas had white complexions, blonde hair, and light colored eyes. Yet, the stereotypical Latinx lead roles-- such as gardeners, maids, and lower income people-- would be people of darker complexions, black hair, and dark eyes, thus further validating the idea that white complected Mexicans had some inherent role and superior belonging with upper-class status and wealth. Today, those Spanish media outlets are a cesspool of racist and sexist thought and behavior that perpetuate long held color and gender dynamics within the Mexican community.
Whether in Mexico, the United States, or in Mexican American households, we have to eradicate the concept of whiteness within our community. Many of my Latinx people are vehemently opposed to the racist sentiments of the United States, yet we are much less vocal about white privilege within our own community, and the ways in which we perpetuate and reinforce harmful stereotypes toward darker complected Mexicans. We cannot remain silent about the cognitive colonization within our own community. We cannot support the same oppression we are exhaustively fighting against.
Xicanx anti-racism advocate from Indiana. BA in political science from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne Indiana and a current graduate student for an Ma in public policy. Will pursue a doctoral degree in race relations.