Welcome To The Latin Quarter?

No, not really… Many Latin-American women are desperately trying to look European. The answer to this behaviour is purely historical and sociological: nobody wants to be part of the excluded, says Adriana Chávez García-Rendón… 

Photo courtesy of Alex Green | https://www.pexels.com/@alex-green

“I can’t believe what I see: he’s married to this monkey, negra cambuja!”

I once heard this comment walking on the beach, in Acapulco, in my homeland of Mexico. I was only 17 years old, but I was perfectly aware of the significance: the man was probably white (or less dark, more accurately) and his ex-girlfriend was hitting the roof because of the social position of the new bride. 

Thus, being dark in Mexico is usually related with being from a lower social class. My native country is very classist. Yes, like everywhere in the world. The only difference is the target of their despisal and rejection. While Europe focuses criticism on people coming from the old colonies they once established, in Mexico we despise our own people. 

Actually, as dark women, we despise ourselves. We would never accept those traces of Indian or black blood in the mirror. We would simply say that ugliness can always be fixed by good surgery, reducing the wideness of our noses, changing the shape of our cheekbones and our lips. Yes, Indian or black features are considered ugly. It is that simple. At school, I was taught to discover my face by combing my hair back in a ponytail, because “my Mexican features” couldn’t stand the hippy long loose hair falling on my face. “You don’t want to be mistaken for an Indian, do you? You don’t want to be mistaken as a negra cambuja 

Besides going to university and becoming an independent woman, I was meant to marry a white, handsome man with a foreign family name, in order to improve my family’s social class. Those were the social expectations sent subliminally through the mass media, especially “telenovelas”, soap operas made in Mexico. 

Looking back in time, I thank my family for avoiding those topics, for prohibiting soap operas on our family TV and all kinds of photo-novels where young provincial women were rescued from poverty by handsome white men. 

Nevertheless, even married with foreign family names, those ladies that were elevated to high society by marriage are still not accepted. Shame on me, I feel deeply affected by these behaviours. Las Niñas Bien, a Mexican film by Alejandra Márquez (2018), is the best example in cinema about social rejection against non-white women in a high-class group in contemporary Mexico City, where a town-born young woman gets into this group by relocating into the city, after marrying a rich man. 

Brown skin and hair, the physical attributes of the lady that allow her into the community are accepted as sufficient to be part of the wider clan, but she will never be invited to join the secrets of their hearts, as a metaphor of the barrier that tears apart Mexico from the USA and Canada, to which these ladies are constantly referring their experiences, as students, shoppers or holiday travellers. This lady is not pure white – she looks like an india, one of the many castes referred at the beginning of this prejudice. 

Back in the colonial times, people of castes could never access places and roles restricted to white people (well, as white as Spaniards could be after 800 years of Arab invasion in the Iberian Peninsula). 

And the hierarchy was strongly controlled by the system of castes of New Spain, with at least 20 different types of blood mixture, including: mestizo, castizo, español, mulato, morisco, chino, saltapatrás, lobo, gíbaro (or jíbaro), albarazado, cambujo, sambaigo (or zambaigo), calpamulato, tente en el aire, no te entiendo, torna atrás. 

These are only a few of the many names used to discriminate against people in New Spain (Central and Latin America) during colonial times. Although they were formally banned in 1810, and apparently forgotten, some of them are still used as pejorative, racist even, terms of abuse.

Negra Cambuja is just an example. And of course, nobody wants to be called names that exclude them from the upward mobility.”

You have a far greater chance of being hired by any company, for instance, if you are ‘whiter’ than your rival candidates, no matter what the role is. First oppressed by the Spaniards and their caste system, now Mexicans themselves reproduce this system of control: Mexicans want to be white and rich. The ‘mirreynato’ phenomenon is widespread in Mexico. Rosalina Romo Molinares of the University of Guanajuato, Division of Social Sciences and Humanities, describes a mirrey as being of the highly privileged social class. 

Says Romo Molinares, mirreyes have the following characteristics: they are wealthy, come from a prestigious family, have good looks, dress in brand-name clothing, they are popular and well travelled, powerful, and are constantly surrounded by VIP society. “The popularity of this group is such that individuals aspire to being ‘mirreyes’”, says Romo Molinares, “yet, scarcely anyone becomes part of the selected group.

Photo courtesy of myblackmatters.com

“Those who do not meet the demanding characteristics of a real ‘mirrey’ are labelled as ‘mirreyes de outlet’.” she adds. This label depicts individuals who on the outside may appear and behave as a ‘mirrey’ but their roots are from the working or lower-middle class.  

Luis Miguel, the handsome, ‘white’ singer who in the 1990s was adored in Mexico as their best representative figure abroad, was once called  Luismirey (a pun composed by the word rey and his name, LuisMI-REY, or Luis My King). 

The mirreyes are superficial wannabes, with suntanned skin, access to yachts and Hilfiger outfits and other expensive benefits that Daddy can afford to pay. Of course, they’re not only unashamed, they are proud to flaunt Daddy’s money; that’s the best passport to a free life in a world of corruption, where looking expensive is the uniform that the jungle of predators respect. The more expensive the look is, the more likely it is that you belong to the corrupt and corrupted elite that will kill for their sons. Don’t dare touch a mirrey unless you know that his dad is dead. Their well-documented links with all kinds of mafia and gangs make them powerful and often cruel people. 

Me Quedo Contigo, by Antonio Narro (2014) is a movie that flattens the viewer to their seat, watching the cruelty of a group of young white women in Mexico, against a random mestizo man picked on a whim in a local low-class bar. They not only rape the man to death, but also humiliate all mestizo people who live just to be their servants or objects of their cruelty.

Next time you see a Latin woman with dyed blond hair, please try to remember all the names of the castes mentioned above. These women are doing their best to avoid looking Indian or African. They just want to fit in. However, their methods fail so much that the rich white classes just laugh at them behind their backs.

It’s poisonous, it’s shameful, it’s heart-breaking. Above all, it is simply cruel and inhuman. Shame on those who perpetuate this vile racism that dare not speak its name.  

Adriana Chávez García-Rendón is a Mexican-Spanish former university professor, documentary filmmaker and multimedia artist. The images belong to the exhibition SALTAPATRÁS, (2019 ) and THE CASTES OF THE NEW SPAIN, with British artist Carmen Lamberti as the  SALTAPATRÁS artistic duet. 


“Zamba” daughter of Indian mother and Black father.


“Castiza” daughter of Spanish father and Mestiza mother.


“Mestiza” daughter of Spanish  father and Indian mother


“Jibara” daughter of Indian father and Chinese mother

Story by freelance journalist and writer, Eugene Costello, formerly based in east London and now living in Valencia, Spain. https://eugenecostello.co.uk/

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