On Oct. 11, we will celebrate the discovery of America -- by Christopher Columbus, that is, the indians knew where it was all along. And while Anglos celebrate the European and call the holiday "Columbus Day" we Hispanics celebrate El Dia de la Raza -- the Day of Our Race.
But that's just a socio-cultural fig leaf, because the rest of the year, the white race is the only one the Hispanic community celebrates. In Latin America, discrimination against indians and blacks is out in the open in many countries. Help-wanted ads require "apariencia agradable" or a "pleasant appearance," meaning white skin and European features are necessary.
And even in this country, with its African-American president, rarely do you see black faces in Hispanic ads. A couple of years ago, I saw a young communications student bring to a screeching halt a panel during a hispanic media conference when she happened to ask why there weren't more Afro-Latins like her on Spanish-language TV. No one dared venture a reason, but if one formed an opinion based on what's seen on telenovelas, you'd think all Latinos are as white as Carlos Ponce.
The Census Bureau is in the middle of its once-in-a-decade effort to define a Latino race. Maybe it's time we spoke about race. Or maybe we need to talk about all the races that commingle into a Hispanic identity and which so many would like to ignore.
Nuyorican author Piri Thomas told of how his own Cuban-Puerto Rican family denied its Afro-Caribbean blood. In his autobiography, Down These Mean Streets, he wrote about how his desire to reclaim his racial identity led him to fight with his brother, who told him "We're Puerto Ricans and that makes us different from black people." Puerto Ricans are white, he said.
That book was published in 1967, but even today, that same attitude persists. Forty years later, sociologist Ginetta Candelario in her study Black Behind The Ears found many Dominicans repudiate their Afro-Caribbean heritage. According to Candelario, they've created a narrative of a legendary indian heritage to distance themselves from their Haitian neighbors.
"To Dominicans, Dominicanness and Hispanicity are by definition not black, both in the United States and on the island," she writes.
But if Puerto Ricans are white and Dominicans are indian: Where did all those Africans enslaved by the Spanish go?
It's a bit hypocritical to fight against discrimination in this country and demand acknowledgement of our cultural diversity when Hispanics will deny it within their own selves. And in these times when stirring racial hatred has become a political tool, it is even more important that we should accept and honor the many races that form our own. If we don´t start within ourselves, we cannot form ties with other communities to put an end to the demagoguery that has pitted the country´s minority groups against each other.
We have to face up to those prejudices that have led to acts of violence between Hispanics and African-Americans. And the best place to start is our own community.
There's a famous merengue by Wilfrido Vargas that asks: "Mami, what does that black man want?" Maybe that his brothers stop hiding him.
Published: 6/10/10 a las 9:33AM