Tag Archives: racism

Stuff Mexicans Like #21: La Colita (The Mexican Ponytail)

10 Dec

The Mexican ponytail is a critical component in every Mexican girl’s life from the breast to the grave. It consists of brushing wet hair back, applying a handful of gel (see: “Stuff Mexicans Like #19: El Gel”), pulling the hair as taut as humanly possible, and twisting an elastic hair band around the tail, leaving the female with a death grip on the back of her scull for 10-12 hours each day. This phenemenon can be observed in each and every Mexican school throughout the republic, viewing from the back of the classroom: a sea of dark colitas.

Why the obsession with the tight pigtail in the rear-center of the head? There are a couple schools of thought. One is that the Spanish Catholic Macho influence has left parents with the desire to make their girls seem more masculine. Another is that of control. La Virgencita (See “Stuff Mexicans Like #2: La Virgen de Guadalupe”) is the center of Mexican culture and values. The idea of control, rigidity, and simplicity all jive with the image of a virgen or “niña bien” (good girl). Hair hanging loose all over the place swinging to and fro with the wind, doing just as it pleases is not an acceptable state for Mexican tresses. Nor is a single barrette, a simple loose braid, or 2 casually ribboned pigtails. It is all-or-nothing when it comes to Mexican hairdressing.

The last theory is my own, based on the deep-seated rascism I have felt and witnessed here in Northern Latin America. A Chicana (Mexican-American or pocha: ruined one, as Mexicans lovingly refer to them) friend of mine posted to her personal internet site: “I am Mexican. If you don’t believe me, I can pull back my bangs.”  She was referring to her very low hairline and almost non-existent forehead. This is a typical look for many, if not most, indigenous Mexican people. That being said, with the combination of the low forehead being equated with Indios (an insult in Mexico. See “Stuff Mexicans Like #10: Las Güeras”) and the desire to look more European, (namely white), it makes sense that many Mexican women may want to pull their hair back as far off the forehead as possibly, thus lengthening the start of the hairline, creating a somehwat more European, less Indio look.

Whatever the reason, I am always acutely aware at Mexican children’s birthday parties & social gatherings that my child’s sloppy side braid or loose curls make a stark contrast to other Mexican children’s tight, super gel’d du’s. I wonder if other parents at the party equate the loose hairstyles of me and my child to be congruent with their ideas of loose, uncontrollable Gringas in general.

Just for today, I am ok with that. Happy Hair scrutinizing!

Exhibit A: Little Mexican girl headed to a birthday party

Exhibit B: Little Gringa girl headed to a birthday party

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Stuff Mexicans Like #10: Las Güeras (WAY-duh: Light skinned/blonde women)

21 May

This is me at my favorite taco joint in Juriquilla. I was cold, so I was permitted to stand at the grill and touch their utinsels. A special guera privilege. 🙂

Most scientists concur that the human race began on the continent of Africa with exclusively dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed people (the dark hair, skin, and eyes allow protection from the sun). After generations of migration and mixed breeding, however, deviations, adaptations, and mutations or defects began to pop up in the world. Many people who migrated to colder climates with little sun exposure began to produce offspring with hazel, green, or even blue eyes (the lighter the eye color, the more light can be absorbed). Others came out with light brown, blonde, or even red hair (the lighter the hair color, the more sunlight can be absorbed). Little by little, the migrants also produced children with light brown, tan, and even white pigmented skin (the lighter the skin, the more benefits one can absorb from rarely exposed sunlight).
 
These “defects” with light skin, light hair, and light eyes were rare, unique, and therefore highly valued and coveted. Although there was no intellectual, emotional, physical, or spiritual superiority to these people (in fact, they were inferior physically due to their vulnerability and inability to adapt in warmer climates), they were treated as though they were better than others. They were given better education, treatment from family and society, and offered more opportunities because of their unique pigmentation alone. Even today, having blonde hair and blue eyes is the epitomy of desirable physical features and is associated with the highest social status one can achieve.
 
White Privilege
We all know that being white has its benefits. One can count on one hand the amount of societies conquered by dark-skinned peoples. One does not have enough fingers on both hands to count the number of brown-skinned societies conquered by light-skinned persons. White is synonymous for Power, Prestige, and Wealth. In her now famous 1988 essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh broke down some of the most common but often overlooked unearned priviledges/birth rights given to anyone happening to be born white. Here is an excerpt: 

 1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area, which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

10. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability.

11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

12. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

20. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.

22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.

23. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the place I have chosen.

24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me.

25. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
http://nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf

Baby Dolls in Mexico
Almost all little girls, by natural instinct to nurture and create, are attracted to baby dolls and Barbies in childhood (and beyond) and playing the role of the Mother. Most Mothers want to provide dolls for their little girls, to develop these innate abilities and satisfy these natural urges toward caretaking. However, what effect does it have on a young girls mind, emotions, and beliefs if none of her dolls look like she does? Is there a difference if the little girl comes from a conquistador group (white!) and plays with dolls representing los conquistados (dark-skinned) vs. little girls from a conquered society (brown-skinned) playing only with dolls from the conquistadores (white)?
 
A dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed child has little-to-no chance of producing a light-skinned, light-eyed, light-haired baby in the future. Knowing this, why would a Mother give her daughter dolls to play with with these unattainable features? What psychological effect does this have on that little girl? What does it tell her about her own color and her own babies who do not posess these features? How is her self-esteem affected? Her World-View?    
 
http://danielhernandez.typepad.com/daniel_hernandez/2011/12/mexico-racism-1.html “Mexicans Confront Racism with White Doll/Black Doll Video” (December 2011)
 
In an informal survey of dolls and race in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, our town located in central MEXICO, where the overwhelming majority of citizens have dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes, I counted the number of dolls (large babies as well as Barbie dolls) with dark colored eyes, hair, and/or skin in the two largest, most popular chain stores in town: Mega (Comercial Mexicana, owned by the owners of Costco) & Bodega Aurrera (Walmart, owned by the owners of Sam’s Club). The results were startling, but much better than two years ago, when I could not find even ONE doll with dark eyes in either store to purchase for my dark-eyed Mexican daughter.
 
                                  MEGA                    BODEGA AURRERA
Total Dolls:                 128                        104
Brown Skinned:          15 (11.7%)             5 (4.8%)
Dark Haired:               18 (14%)               18 (17%)
Dark Eyed:                  20 (15.6%)            17 (16%)
 
The remaining 85% + of the dolls in both stores had blonde or red hair, white skin, and blue, green, or purple eyes, a vast discrepancy with the real-life Mexican society physical representation. You may be saying, “But Michelle, we are in San Miguel, “Mexico Light,” where there are more than 5,000 light-skinned foreigners here in town on any given day, thus the high number of light-skinned baby dolls.” NO! San Miguel actually has more dark-skinned, dark-haired dolls than the rest of the republic! We foreigners with dark-haired, dark-eyed children purchase more of these dolls than Mexicans, thus the higher availability here in town.
 
Supply & Demand
My friend, Adriana, owns a Papelería here in town that also offers a nice variety of toys. She tells me that the two dark-skinned official Barbies she has in the store have been there collecting dust for more than two years while the blonde dolls, even the poorly made generic ones, fly off the shelves. She’s stopped buying dark-complected dolls for resale. I asked Adriana’s sister why she thinks people don’t want buy the “dark” dolls at the store and she said it’s because everyone just wants “pretty dolls.”
 
Little Mommy Doll
My three-year-old, María, has always wanted a Little Mommy interactive doll by Fisher Price. They are widely available here in town, but generally sell for more than $850 pesos. A month ago, I found one at la Placita (the Tuesday/Sunday market) that was a better model with more features than any offered here in San Miguel. She sits down, stands up, speaks, responds when you touch her, sucks on her bottle, and commands you to do things. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! “Cuánto es?”  I asked, getting mentally prepared to talk her down to 500p (about $40 USD) for the little treasure. “Esteeee….. 200 pesos,” said the booth keeper. I stared at her in disbelief, wondering if I understood correctly. “Bueno… 150.” (approximately $12 USD)  She lowered the price on her own, figuring I was having second thoughts. I snatched her up and María is still quite happy playing with Paola regularly.
 
Paola is brown.  
 
Being called güera/güero by anyone is considered a compliment, while being called morena/moreno (dark-skinned), or worse, negra/negro or prieta/prieto, (black skinned) is a depreciation. Racism is alive and well in Mexico, although rarely recognized or challenged. Perhaps 2012 will bring the much promised, much hoped for Mayan prophesy of a Drastic Change of Universal Consciousness. Until then, enjoy the steals on expensive American dolls in Mexico. Brown dolls only.