Colorism in the Latinx Community

I remember in middle school everyone started forming their cliques. There were the rockers, the nerds, the chunti girls and the cholas, to name a few. During history class, the cholas wrote their name in chalk on the board when the teacher wasn’t looking or bumped their music on their MetroPCS phones. I remember watching fights happening in the girls locker rooms or Templeton Alley. I also remember the hairspray being sprayed after P.E. to hold their bangs and them doing each other’s eyebrows or giving each other piercings with a safety pin. These were Gage Middle School cholas, cholas from South East LA.

      Just a few weeks ago week, social media users called out Bella Dona LA, a LA based clothing line, that had a white model: Breanna Mae Thomas. Her modeling website was spread all over tumblr with her ethnicity being stated as Eastern European and skin color white. This began online conversations about white girls who appropriate chola culture and eventually deeper critical thoughts centered around the idea of Latinas appropriating chola culture as well. This was more than “drama” as many bloggers tried to make it seem, but a call out for representation of darker and Afro-Latinxs in fashion and for a stop of appropriation of a subculture within our communities. Latina models were also asked about their light skin privilege taking up too much space in a clothing line that needs to have equal representation.

     Colorism is a very big deal in the Latinx community; it seeps into our culture, the media, music, and clothing brands. Light skinned babies are always praised for their beauty and how lucky they are to be born light. Comments like “I don’t want to get black” are said when people don’t want to go out in the sun because they might tan, even those who already have brown skin. Darker skinned Latinxs get profiled faster than light skinned Latinxs and even the representation of light skinned people in the media further marginalizes darker skinned people, indigenous people and Afro-Latinxs. Representation in fashion always follows european standards of beauty, so when a clothing line for and by women of color hire white women and light skinned or white passing women, it further marginalized members of  the Latinx community continue to be marginalized instead of uplifted.

    Latinxs also do not share one similar experience. Cholas are part of a subculture within Latinxs and Chicanxs that was formed in the Southwest, as forms of resisting assimilation. During the Mexican Repatriation starting in 1929, during the time of the Zoot Suits and up until now with many communities still infested with criminalization and gentrification, cholas have been a part of rebelling against assimilation.

    Subcultures like cholas and punks have formed out of resistance and DIY (do-it-yourself) to overcome struggles of class issues and capitalism. Chola aesthetic is not a fashion statement but rather an identity that needs to be respected for its bold and clear resistance against a society that pressure people into assimilating. This becomes more of a problem when people appropriate the culture, just because they are middle and upper class and can afford clothing lines that use that style. Cultural exploitation and criminalization for being part of the chola subculture has been happening since its beginning so to turn the subculture into a commodity and sell it in inaccessible prices, targeting higher income Latinxs and white people who “appreciate” Latinx culture turns the chola aesthetic into something that can be worn without dealing with the struggles of low income living.

    The harm in perpetuating that culture is what has pushed low income communities of color out. Photo shoots in Echo Park glamorize the neighborhood and the clothing so that its something cool and hip while the raising living prices push people out and bring in those who can afford it. We are in a time and place where these conversations about colorism have to be addressed, because they are deeply rooted in anti-blackness and self hate. Without supporting one another and our struggles solidarity is compromised. Know your history and know when to use your privileges and challenge systems like white supremacy, because they are present in our day to day from television to fashion clothing lines. Bella Dona is only one example but not a unique case.

Read more on the folk feminist struggle here.

Scapegoated, Again: Immigrant Communities & The Need For Community Trust Policies

The only sanctuary that an undocumented member of our society can find from a life of uncertainty is a community that positions every one of its members to live their potential. Policies that reflect the trust essential to this vision’s realization, in turn, reflect the value of these communities when they are not being intimidated. The constant threat of mass-deportation, combined with the prevalence of anti-immigrant rhetoric are testaments to how far that road runs. It continues to be difficult to reconcile where the undocumented communities are and where they deserve to be. This is not incidental. You would be hard-pressed to find a single prominent political figure that unwaveringly stood in solidarity with immigrant communities. At best, they have placed “DREAMers” on a pedestal, and in doing so, have criminalized other community members.  At worst, they have shamelessly maligned the undocumented immigrant as the proverbial boogeyman.

On the national stage, the issue of immigration reform has condensed to a shouting match about border security and repealing the 14th Amendment. After all, with an incipient election cycle, media outlets abound with figures looking to score points by pandering to xenophobes, hoping to disguise their ignorance behind the latest sensationalist headline. The pernicious effect of this vitriolic cycle is increasingly palpable. The use of the toxic term “illegal immigrant” has increased by over 50% in major newspapers over the past few months, while usage of the proper term “undocumented immigrant” has decreased by nearly 50% in the same span of time.

In late August, Jeb Bush came out in defense of the term “anchor baby” when provoked by a reporter to comment on its prominence in conservative rhetoric. The amorphous, incoherent rhetoric found its proverbial lighthouse in Donald Trump. Best illustrating Trump’s reach is the reported attack on a homeless Latino male by two white men who credit Trump for inspiring the attack. While not one bigot can claim responsibility for this malignant sentiment, what is clear is that demagogues like Trump are successfully galvanizing the latent xenophobia in this country.

The latest attack comes in the form of the Stop Sanctuary Cities Bill (Vitter-Flake Bill), which aims to withhold federal funding from state and local authorities that do not comply with ICE detainers. This bill only promotes unlawful detention of immigrants. The ACLU noted that prolonged detention, like that mandated in this bill, is constitutionally unsound if unaccompanied by a judicial warrant. Ultimately, this bill is reproachable because it scapegoats the undocumented community while breeding a greater culture of mistrust between all immigrants and police authorities—which promises to offer numerous concomitant problems of its own.

Leading California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed interest in promoting the goal of the Vitter-Flake Bill. By wrongly condemning Community Trust Policies, Feinstein signaled her intent to insert language into the bill that would make its passage more palatable to Democrats in Congress. Moving under the guise of public safety and crime prevention, it is Feinstein’s support that will prove to be the most pernicious. Seeing past this façade, the California community shows strong opposition and recently held a civil disobedience in front of her San Francisco and Los Angeles offices.

This opposition reflects the overwhelming body of evidence that shows the criminal justice system cannot serve as a means of rehabilitation and mass incarceration at the same time. As the nation grows to understand this in the realm of drug policy, that message is yet to be articulated in the realm of immigration policy. Any proposal leaving Senator Feinstein’s office will only continue to fill immigrant detention centers with non-citizen community members, thereby feeding the prison-industrial complex.

The role of both state and local officials in working with the undocumented communities in their constituency is important since federal reform shows no sign of materializing. California, in particular, is touted as a progressive state because its policymakers at least understand the detriment of scapegoating its undocumented communities. This does not, however, mean that it is a model for the rest of the country to follow as it is in its current state.  While the direction Senator Feinstein took is disturbing enough, seeing Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors choosing a similar path is more disturbing. Despite the large and vibrant undocumented communities within LA County, the supervisors gave their blessing to the Los Angeles Sheriff Department to further entangle themselves with ICE, most notably through the implementation of the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). Despite its promotion as a new and improved version promoting public safety, PEP continues to promote the same model of criminalization as S-Comm (PEP’s predecessor, responsible for over 2 million deportations since 2008). Time after time, we have seen detention and deportation spell out the destruction of what little peace of mind these communities built. The rose-tinted lens with which the Sheriff’s Department and the county supervisors view this issue through paints a stark contrast to the reality (in form of both data and personal narratives) that lay in the wake of mass detention and deportation.

Contrary to popular belief, political persuasion holds no bearing on this issue. While social conservatives are the most voracious in their attacks, self-professed liberals have largely remained silent. In choosing to remain neutral, they have, as Desmond Tutu famously stated, “Chosen the side of the oppressor.” Overcoming this political persecution means overcoming year after year of systematic human rights abuses. This means rejecting the idea of the “bad immigrant” and the notion of incarceration as a necessary evil.  This, in turn, means building a strong community through transparency and trust, not a badge and a gun.