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Finally arriving home from a tiring day, Melissa Saavedra puts her belongings on her living room table and plops down on the couch to watch her favorite television show “La Rosa de Guadalupe”, a show that depicts how people overcome everyday life problems through faith and commonly watched in her household.
As the episode fades into a series of commercials, Melissa heaves a fatigued sigh of frustration. Furrowing her brow, she curls her lip in disgust; her mood gradually begins to change and along with these agitating emotions the face wrinkles and creases. Her mind roams as she remains uncomfortable in her realization that in every 60 second commercial, the individuals representing Latin America have dark brown or blonde silky hair and fair, lighter skin tones. Melissa laid her hand down on the bronze, ebony skin of her arm, proud of this complexion but tired of the invisibility of Afro-Latinos in the media. “La Rosa de Guadalupe” returns to the screen and she analyzes these characters with the same Eurocentric beauty complex. Melissa becomes cognizant of an issue that plagues her mind. These standards are everywhere; they are inescapable.
Lighter skinned Latinos receive the privilege of landing these acting roles in the media, and it has been observed that even news anchors and commentators are lighter.
“Latin cultures value white beauty standards much- much like the culture of America, although, I feel that even in America Latino roles are the same. It is like our dark skinned is being hushed and if no one will talk about it…I will,” expresses Melissa Saavedra from San Miguelito, Panama.
Colorism can be described as the horrible feeling of being criticised by your lighter family members for not being as handsome or “pretty”. The absence of representation in the Latin community affects society mentally. The haunting concept of colorism becomes entirely too familiar, forcing people to compare skin tones and deem one more attractive than the other.
According to NBC news, Univision talk show anchor and commentator Rodner Figueroa made an obvious racist remark about the United States first lady, Michelle Obama last year. “You know, Michelle Obama looks like she’s part of the cast of ‘The Planet of the Apes’ the film,” Figueroa comments. Let’s not forget that there are Afro-Latinos that watch this television network who have much of the same characteristics as black people.
“It is the heart dropping feeling of when your grandmother favors your cousin’s straight, dark brown tresses and calls it good hair,” Melissa expresses.
We took the time to reach out to her grandmother who, although from Panama, was born in San Miguelito. She has more fair skin due to her father being Caucasian.
“I wanted for my daughter marry a man with lighter skin. Just to have a daughter that society would accept…so she would not have to live such a hard life,” Bianca, Melissa’s grandmother shared.
This is the reality for a lot of Afro-Latinos with family members with lighter complexions. Society did not feel as if blackish features were as beautiful, although, there are many colors in the Panama community as well as many other Latino communities. Society has received backlash for its prejudices against people of color. According to All Digitocracy, in 2014 there was a petition from the “Proyecto Mas Color” campaign from Honduran individuals to Telemundo and Univision networks to have more brown and black representation; these networks have not yet responded.
Afro- Latinos are constantly fighting for visibility and recognition in the media today. In the future there may be progression in Afro-Latinos having a place in society. According to the 2010 Census Bureau, 2.5 percent of the 54 million Hispanics in the U.S. also identified as black – a figure that many say is an undercount. It is an inaccurate representation of Afro-Latinos due to them being forced to choose black, white, or “some other race”. The Afro- Latinos in New York are currently fighting for the 2020 Census to show the option to choose Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin instead of constantly misrepresenting these individuals.
Afro-Latinos have an identity, and visibility of these individuals in the media is pivotal creating a positive perception on equality.