Latino Racism Against ‘Indios’

In the United States, it is common to hear about discrimination against Latinos, particularly immigrant ones, by other Americans. An AP-Univision poll conducted in 2010 showed that Latinos in the United States experience more discrimination than any other minority. 61% of those polled said that Latinos face considerable discrimination, while statistics for blacks and women were 52% and 50% respectively. Furthermore poll research showed that the inferior treatment of Hispanics stems largely from controversy surrounding undocumented immigration.

But this is not the only type of racism that plagues the Hispanic community. Latinos themselves are not innocent of discrimination against a people they sometimes view as undesirable. In Racism and Discourse in Spain and Latin America, Teun A. van Dijk, a scholar who researches racism, writes that “racism against the indigenous peoples has been a fact of their everyday lives since the conquista [Spanish colonization of Latin America] nearly 500 years ago.” According to his research and interviews, Latin America is a hotbed for racism against native peoples more commonly known as indiosIndios, unlike majority Latin American populations, did not adopt cultural aspects from the Spanish colonizers or reproduce with them. Some examples of indigenous populations include the Maya in Mexico and Central America, the Inca in South America, and the Taino in Caribbean countries.

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In truth, present-day indigenous populations in Latin American countries are still remarkably isolated, often living in their own villages and speaking their native tongues instead of Spanish. Many live in poverty, and those who travel to the cities for work are subject to discrimination due to their indigenous appearance and strange Spanish.

Sylvia, a 19-year-old Mexican-American and Latinita, recalls visiting Mexico City growing up and noticing the inferior treatment of indios by other Mexicans. She said the only jobs the indios could get were selling stuff on the streets, and people were likely to be rude or refuse to acknowledge their presence. Sylvia says that even as a child growing up in a Texas border town she knew that indios were considered of the lowest class.

The Latino hatred towards indigenous populations is apparent even in every-day speech. It is not uncommon to hear a Latino insult another’s appearance by saying that he/she looks indio/a.

Maria, 18, recalls thinking how hypocritical other Latinos sometimes are in their attitude towards indios. Other girls in her Chicago, Illinois high school would complain about discrimination or stereotypes based on their obviously Hispanic features or their slightly accented English, but then they would insult girls they didn’t like as indias. Maria was shocked that people who complained about racism could turn around and be guilty of the same wrong themselves. What’s going on, she wondered?

Truth is, discrimination against those viewed as ‘different’ is an unfortunate tendency of human nature that has probably always existed. Racism is even documented in the Second Book of the Bible when it describes the enslavement of ‘inferior’ races by Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans hundreds of thousands of years ago. But just because this discrimination has always existed and comes naturally to some people does not mean we should disregard its poisonous effects. Instead one should be conscious of the natural human tendency to discriminate against people whose differences make them seem strange or lesser. If one is aware of the driving force behind racism she can better combat it in every day life. Simple actions, like eliminating indio as an insult and treating with attentive respect indigenous peoples in the United States and Latin America, reject the engrained belief that indigenous are somehow lesser than other Hispanics.

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