Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Racial Perspectives in Telenovelas

The racist rhetoric by which Hollywood has failed to provide accurate and abundant representation of original people, when translated to the Latin American reality, one finds an abundance of opportunities in the Television industry available to the yellow seeds.  As explained before, this territory does not have a distinct white elite.  Although, there have always been white ethnics who have settled in the territory and have ease navigating a society that wants to use them as a way to move closer to whiteness.  On a deeper level, as my teacher Sunez has taught me, when we think of Black we usually associate it with a person of African descent. However, Black is much deeper than that.  Black phenotypically manifests itself in three major colors: Black, Brown, and Yellow, and even within these there are varying shades that can be called something else. This is why truly there are 16 shades of Black.  What we have labeled as different ethnicities (African, Indian, Asian) are truly all Black and it includes the yellow seed, which in the spectrum seems closer to white, but are truly as Black as the blue-black skinned brother or sister. Additionally, research has proven that what has always been considered as “straight” hair and narrow facial features are Black features as well.  Anthropologically, Blackness expresses itself in two phenotypes: One with wide features/wool hair and the other as narrow features/loose hair, both extremely thick. When you study white people closer, you will see that their “straight” hair and narrow traits are much different than our original yellow seeds in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. I would love to do a scientific study on what these differing factors are, ranging from the properties of hair growth and scalp strengthening in their relation to melanin, the living chemical within original people.

In the Telenovelas one sees this reality play out, what one truly sees are the yellow seeds further altering their looks to resemble true white people.  A novela that vividly reminds me of the phenotypic modifications is CaƱaveral de Pasiones, where the four women who appeared to have blond hair, were truly dark haired women. All these women had bleached their hair.  By copying the American model, Telenovelas experience an over representation of the yellow seeds who by modifying their phenotype and their mental (as it is done in the U.S. with Blacks and Latinos in entertainment with nose jobs, bleaching hair, body modification, lighting skin), with a small number of Indian characters (played by light Mestizos, truly Brown seeds), and virtually no Black seed representation. Making the novela one that promotes the culture passed down by the Spanish colonials or criollos as well as the countries that now have economic power and close ties to the respective governments of Latin American countries.

(Corazon Salvaje, Juan del Diablo and Monica, Start at 2:27)

Corazon Salvaje is just an example of how novelas directly and indirectly portray issues of culture and race.  Juan Del Diablo, is obviously of indigenous background and most of his friends are too. Most of the poor in colonial Mexico were of the Indian tribes, as well as mixes that included Africans. Seeing that the story takes place on the coast, most of Juan’s friends were from this background. In the soap, we see him surrounded by mostly Indians, which means soap more subtly touches upon issues of race. In a scene Juan tells his wife Monica, “A pesar del apellido que ahora llevo, soy gente de pueblo, he crecido entre el pueblo, mis amigos son gente sencillas y cuando me visitan comen en mi meza.” The word “pueblo” in this case, when analyzed more closely is talking about the poor of the region, and from proper research, these people were Natives and Africans, as well as mixes between them. Juan doesn’t specifically mention them and this has to do with an idea that extensively explored by Professor Cope’s research, where he provides vast historical evidence to prove the limitations of a racial domination in colonial Mexico City. In his conclusion Cope writes,

The sistema was not ritually woven into the fabric of daily life…the greatly elaborated versions of the sistema developed during the eighteenth century circulated among the elite and may have given them some psychological comfort, but they had little or no effect on the castas themselves” (162).

 In addition, he wrote of the masses, “An inequitable society that rewarded the few and impoverished the many was fertile soil for the growth of a subculture based on the shared experience of the urban poor. I have attempted, by using a variety of sources and by paying careful attention to how the plebeians themselves understood “race,” to demonstrate that the castas did respond creatively to the elite’s racial ideology. They rejected or modified the sistema de castas and even appropriated its racial categories for their own use” (163).

Although the elite had assigned this layering caste system, Cope's research shows the people were not falling victim to it, only when required by law or when you saw groups wanting or needing material goods, did one see that the caste system was adapted for this advantage.  You saw this through the patronage system, where truly because of the mixture itself, patrons could not tell the difference between the people, and even if they did, the word others put in was of great value in terms of their character and family background.  Although there were exceptions, overall, the people did see themselves as one and Juan’s statement solidifies this mentality. You were either rich, disseminating ideas of race to hide the fact that they were half original, or poor of all different ethnicities.  There was no middle class that could allow the propelling into “whiteness” during this time. This idea becomes even more real after independence and the formation of republics, where nationality is the binding terminology used for all people.  This is not new, as the concept of nationality had risen out of Spain with the intention of erasing the undeniable blackness the Moors/Arabs had brought with them and implemented for 800+ years. After the inquisition, in an attempt to mentally graft back the population, as they couldn’t do so genetically, everything that was Black became categorized as Spanish or Spaniard, and it was represented to the world as European-white. An example is string theory and its instruments (i.e. the guitar, the harp, the piano). When people in Latin America divide up the instruments of what make up its “synchronized” music, the guitar is always put as the instrument adapted from the Spaniard. Indeed, it was, but it is referred to as the white instrument. In reality, it is a Black instrument, which means that music like Merengue, which mixes in the drum (African), the guira (Taino), and the guitar (Moorish), is an entirely Black music. None of it comes from the white conquistador Christians. Thus, we see how nationality was originally used to hide the African blackness of a nation.  Whitewashing would be a model adapted by the elite.

The usage of nationality in Latin America coincided with ideas against slavery and the destabilizing of Indian communities.  Whether abolishment happened before, after, or during wars of independence, the mechanisms of the Spanish empire were not agreeable to the people of the colonies. All “races” were involved in the process.  Africans, Indians, and all mixes in between partook in the fighting and many prominent leaders arose, like Antonio Maceo in Cuba and Vicente Guerrero in Mexico.  It was obvious the new republics wanted unification of all people under one name.  However, the troubled minds of the half originals, peninsulares and criollos that arrived and settled continued to look towards Europe and now North America for ideas about race under the new republics.  Again, we see a choice made that coincides with the grafted side of their mentality.  In Peter Wade’s words,

“Latin American elites wanted to emulate the modernity and progress of these nations and accepted in broad terms the tenets of liberalism which saw in science, technology, reason, education, and freedom of the individual the underlying forces of progress” (31). 

As a result, massive “hygiene” campaigns took place to move the people into a higher cultural and economic status. Hygiene entailed a literal cleanup of the communities (better sanitation systems) and modules of what was thought of as correct individual behavior. This influence of what constituted modernity; progress as the model of civilization comes right after independence where we see an automatic shift of the forces keeping Latin America (really Africa’s sister) oppressed, these forces being from Europe and especially North America.

Liberalism in essence was racist and it was the ideology that wrongly intellectualized Blacks and Indians as an entity of “inferior status” and “backwardness” that were to be kept apart from advanced white civilization.  If progress and liberalism as the model of civilization developed in Europe and North America, the poor and none whites in these regions were seen as lesser, in the eyes of the world they had not developed anything. This is the problem the original elite ran into as the entire population was original.  What resulted was the elite’s adaptation of Western theories about human difference and heredity.  The heredity concept is very similar to ideas of race in Colonial times and it was mixed in with this “human difference” concept. What developed, in places like Mexico and Colombia, was mixedness as the marker of Latin American identity. What occurred naturally, mestizaje, and later the colonial elite realized it happened, became what they used to promote the racial perspective of their “advanced society.”  In order to get away with this and be in line with their neighbors in the North, two things occurred: 1) the law of Eugenics of the North (i.e. one drop rule) becomes inverted, and anyone of mixed ancestry was justified because of their “white” side,
2)“limpiamento de la raza” or a whitening of the race was widely promoted through immigration waves of Europeans. Most notably the Jews, who have settled all over Latin America, have their distinct segregated communities, and are truly there just to give the impression that Latin America has indeed become whiter.  None other but Peter Wade clearly sums up this situation, 

“…the process of mixing could be seen as a progressive whitening of the population.  Mixture would supposedly bring about the elimination of Blacks and Indians and the creation of a mixed society that was at the distinctly whiter end of the spectrum.” (32).  
In addition, in places like Mexico, while indigenismo was acknowledged as the prime marker of their national identity it was to the detriment of the Natives themselves who continued to be marginalized and heavily oppressed by the elite and foreign governments. This acknowledgement was none other but romanticism and glorification of the ancient civilizations prior to the conquest and its aim was really to emphasize that indeed Latin America had these “other” people, but because of indigenismo they were a whiter civilization. To the conscious people it was “…yet another non-Indian formulation of the ‘Indian Problem’; it was another white/mestizo construct…” (33).  The elite’s attempt at making it seem like mestizos were at the lighter end of the racial spectrum failed for conscious Indians themselves knew, this was all fake.  Their reality was a Black one.

What our Latin American elite did not understand (or pretended not to) was that white blood is not stronger than Black blood and that mestizaje simply meant that different groups of Black people were mixing with each other and indeed getting Blacker.  The 120 lessons answered by Elijah Muhammad around 1934, provide the most right and exact model of how grafting and whitening can indeed occur. These become the degrees for the Nation of God and Earth, showing the correlations of mathematics to an aspect of our history. The 30th and 31st degree in the set of 1-40, the major section a God and Earth memorizes upon receiving their Universal Flag, talks about the process of gradually making a white man, a procedure that historically took 600 years.  Elijah specifically stated that you must separate the black germ from the brown germ and then destroy the darkest germ, while diluting the lighter germ. You continue to divide the brown from the yellow and so forth.  This controlled manipulating of genes is what brought into existence what is known as the white Caucasian white man, a being entirely unalike to the Blackman who came in Black, Brown, and Yellow shades.  This means that whitening cannot occur by just simply throwing in massive white people and allowing reproduction with the Blacks and Indians.  There has to be an actual changing of the blood through the manipulation of the genes. Reproduction between whites and blacks simply creates more black children. However, this so-called whitening ideology set the precedent.  Now, the mental aspect of Blackness was what took root with the people.  The encouragement of European immigration was illusionary because it was there as a law, but few English whites ventured out unless strict relations with the elite was their reason for going. Those who had investments there would go. Since colonial times, those leaving Europe were either fleeing persecution or were exiled (i.e. Jews, Gypsies/Moors). There were those of course who were intrigued and wanted to explore on their own this exotic territory. Miscegenation continued to occur, but just as in colonial times, genetically the offspring would be Black.

 James O' Brien

(Conversation between James and Sofia, start at 6:39)
This explains the more overt representation in Tevenovelas of gringo characters in this past decade, as well as relationships being shown to North America (as discussed above) or actual telenovelas being filmed in the United States.  As well as the telenovelas themselves having an overwhelming European cast who are "Mexican-born."  There are sprinkled all over the place, from Germany, Russia and the USA. In regards to gringo characters, in Destilando Amor, one of the main characters is James O’Brien, played by Dominican actor Carlos de la Mota, best friend to protagonist Rodrigo Montalvo and boyfriend of Sofia Montalvo. He meets the Montalvo’s while they are studying in London. Here we see that James’s character is introduced by his association to an elite Mexican family. Living with Sofia and being a sommelier extends his relation to the family even stronger when he eventually works alongside Rodrigo on the production of his organic tequila. Upon the death of Rodrigo’s and Sofia’s grandfather, the founder of the Montalvo Agave emporium, James decides to join up with his girlfriend. Resembling the line of adventurous Europeans who had gone into Africa and Latin America, in this manner of intrigue, James decides to go and explore Jalisco, Mexico. It is here that he literally finds himself and his purpose in life. His introduction to the soap is comical; he speaks an accented Spanish, cannot handle the drinking capacities of the campesinos and is in constant party mode. At the same time, he is presented somewhat of a savage, going wild when drinking, something that the Mexicans don’t overtly do unless troubled by a love or living situation. This idea of the European exerting aspects of savagery, as well as a void, in terms of culture, in their lives is represented by James through his introduction to the soap.  Sofia, on the other hand, is bewildered at James and cannot understand his change, perhaps more because she feels that she can no longer control him.  During a conversation in the garden of the hacienda Sofia says, “Te has transformado, no eres el hombre que yo conoci. ¿Que esta pasando?” James responds, “Es este lugar Sofia, me ha hecho descubrir cosas de mi que yo desconocia. Es la luz, el color, las tradiciones!” Truly reflecting the upper class sentiment of disrespect for the land and sustainable living, she does not accept marrying James on the basis that she is a person of city living and cannot be regulated to living in a small town. Later in a conversation with her younger sister Daniela, she voices her concern for her boyfriend and his sudden love for her country. Daniela responds, “¿Y si ese fuera el verdadero James, y si esa es su esencia?” To me, Daniela’s words call to the idea that is presented in another one of our lessons, which talks about the process of civilizing the Caucasian.  If the Caucasian white man is not a naturally occurring being, then his/her essence will always be juxtaposed to that of the original man and woman. In the soap we see this civilization process taking place by the character building and living by learning from the framework the original man and woman made. To survive, they simply must learn the characteristics of civilization by being amongst us even if causing chaos.  In James’s case we see him dealing with a shock that naturally brings out his unlikeness, but that eventually provides him with the structure and purpose he needs for himself from the original culture he is submerged in.  In true Muslim son fashion, eventually James learns the customs, ideas, and ways of the people. He adapts to them and truly decides Mexico is where he wants to live for the rest of his life. James is a representation of a character whose visit to a foreign “exotic” country occurs because of his alliance with the Montalvos. His good standing has to do with his work that he does in the Hacienda as a Master Tequilero.


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