NAHJ session addresses overcoming racism in the Latinx community

LOS ANGELES — Amid an ongoing conversation about racism within the Latino community, a plenary at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference focused on anti-Black and anti-Indigenous prejudice and explored the issue as it persists across the United States and Latin America.

Attitudes towards race and colorism are deeply entrenched in the region, panelists said, making it a challenge that journalists must tackle head on.

According to a 2017 survey by the National Autonomous University in Mexico, 51% of the respondents said people would go further in life if they are lighter-skinned. In the same survey, 47% said people of Indigenous backgrounds don’t have the same employment opportunities as other Mexicans.

Indhira Suero Acosta, an editor for Connectas in the Caribbean who identifies as Afro-Latina, spoke about the differences in how racism manifests itself across North and South America. 

“Each country in Latin America has their own experience regarding racism,” Suero said. “Once, I went to Peru, and because there is no Afro-Latino representation, people were speaking to me in English because of my looks.” 

For CNN anchor Juan Carlos Lopez, even small comments carry larger consequences.

From clockwise: Juan Carlos Lopez, Ecleen Luzmilla Caraballo and Indhira Suero Acosta.

“We try to put small sounding words like negrito-bonito, and we think is another way of endearment,” Lopez said. “That is just another way of distinguishing other people.”

Questions arose during the panel about how racism can be addressed from within. Writer and editor Ecleen Luzmila Caraballo discussed how the complexities of the Latinx community make that more difficult.

“First, we need to remember how different our communities are. I think as communities because we always want to be inclusive, saying we are all the same community, but that’s not the reality,” Caraballo said. “It would be very difficult to be inclusive with more than 30 countries, but in doing that, we also need to remember that a lot of the countries we are trying to reach are Black and Indigenous.” 

Suero advised journalists to see their work as a way to dispel racism and generalizations about the Latino community. 

“Educate and prepare yourself,” she said. “Once you are in that position, start telling stories about your community.”

But that can come with its own set of challenges, Suero added, alluding to how perceptions on race vary from country to country.

“At least in the Dominican Republic, it is not well perceived to cover stories about Black or African descendant people,” Suero said. “Most of the time, these stories include tragedies, or when something bad happened to them.”

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, ensuing protests and demonstrations across the United States received widespread press coverage that focused on issues of racial injustice. But speakers at the plenary said similar events played out differently in other places, like Central America. 

“A few months after what happened to George Floyd, something similar happened in El Salvador, under the same circumstances,” Suero said. “It did not replicate in the same way as with George Floyd; when you see it does not resonate the same way in media outlets, you see there is a problem.”

As Caraballo pointed out, people were possibly too afraid to speak up in countries where protests are routinely and aggressively oppressed by authorities.

“I think that there is this fear of protesting, as you see how you can get brutalized,” Caraballo said. “But we are seeing that there is power in unity, in Brazil, in Colombia and most recently in Cuba, there is power in numbers, and I hope to see more of that in Latin America.” 

But events that followed Floyd’s murder were also met with aggression from law enforcement, and journalists sometimes ended up in the conflict’s crosshairs.

Lopez recalled when Minnesota State Police arrested his Afro-Latino CNN colleague Omar Jimenez as he delivered a live report from the streets of Minneapolis during a protest.

“That whole scene of him getting arrested was so insulting at so many levels,” Lopez said. “Because I was seeing him not only as a fellow journalist, but also he is [of] Colombian heritage and [someone] who is making a difference and doing his job.”

Despite the obstacles, Caraballo encouraged journalists to continue representing their communities and to take pride in how they identify, no matter where they report from.

“Do not be afraid to insert in spaces that are radically different from you,” Caraballo said. “Add your voice in spaces where your voice is celebrated, not tolerated.”

Jorge Flores is a junior at California State University, Fullerton, where he studies political science and journalism. He is an intern at NBC Telemundo Enterprises and was recently elected president of the NAHJ student chapter at his school. Reach him at jorgeflores.fs [at] gmail [dot] com and on Twitter @jorgefles.

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