Mestizos on Cinco De Mayo

By | May 5, 2021 | 0 Comments

Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16, not May 5. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a minor holiday, unlike Mexican Independence Day. Yet here we are on Cinco do Mayo. What have we to show for it?

• Two days ago, a woman was stopped by an LA deputy sheriff for using her phone while driving. She launched into a racist rant against the deputy, who retained his professionalism while recording the encounter on a body camera. The woman claimed to be a teacher, but what is she teaching – Racism 1A and 1B? Whether the woman remains a teacher remains to be seen. Whether racism in the form of “anti-racism” remains on the curriculum is regrettably likely. From this we learn that if you are going to spout anti-Mexican hatred at a deputy, it is best not to do it on camera in a county where the sheriff is named Villanueva.

• On May 5, the LATimes carried a letter from a man who proudly claims to he part of la raza – not the organization but the “Mexican race.” A century ago, people talked about the “British race,” meaning the British people. But today, after Nazism and the Holocaust, we use the word to refer not to ethnicity but to genetic factors. But some Latinos still use the word in the older sense. So when they shout “¡Viva la raza!” we should not automatically assume they are racists. They still may be, but we should not assume they are.

The letter writer goes on to state that the majority of Latinos in the US are mestizos, of mixed European and American Indian heritage. So what? Why is he obsessed with race? Most of us no longer are. In fact, the man’s use of the word mestizo reveals that he is stuck in the old Spanish racist cast system:

  1. Peninsulares, those born in Spain.
  2. Criollos, Europeans born in New Spain, which became Mexico.
  3. Mestizos, those of mixed European and Indian heritage.
  4. Indios, Native Americans.
  5. Negros, Blacks.

Of course, people’s position in this cast system dictated how they were treated. Traces of this cast system persist to this day in Latin America. I used to have my hair cut by a Mexican American barber. When I complained about my job, he advised me to become a barber to Mexican Americans. “We’re part Indian, we never get bald.”

I objected that presidents of Mexico were often balding. He explained, “They mostly come from the upper class, they’re Europeans, they get bald. One of the few mestizo presidents of Mexico was Benito Juarez, and he had a fine head of hair.”

This tonsorial treatise serves to illustrate that the remnants of racism and the cast system still persist. But we don’t have to foster and nourish them by continuing to use racist terminology, which fosters racist thinking. We no longer believe in “purity of blood.” In the era of DNA, we should never use the word “blood” to refer to anything except the red liquid in our circulatory system.

Lincoln remarked, “I don’t know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.” We would do well to emulate this man, rather than rooting around in “anti-racism” and “raza.” Racism is like alcoholism. We can’t just have a little drink. Total abstinence is necessary. The only way to eliminate racism is to eliminate racism.

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