First of the Voices of the Global South series. These articles are written by students and academics linked to the Centre for Global South Studies.
Laura Toncel Parrado is a third year Social Anthropology student and this is an excerpt from her final autoethnography for SC 277-Ethnographic Research Methods class.
Colombia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Latin America due to its history of colonialism, slavery, and race miscegenation. This is my place of birth and the one of all my nuclear family. Having a white mother and a Zambo father (mixed black and indigenous), my racial mixture is one that is not seen often and that is rarely recognized or acknowledged. I find this topic so intriguing and polarizing that I decided to write a short ethnography on my experience as a mixed child in Colombia’s pigmentocracy.
I divided my work into 5 subsections to address as many aspects of the topic at hand as possible. The five subsections are
While all these sections could have been longer, my piece was quite brief due to the word limit placed, but I hope at some point to expand on it to contribute to the field of Latin American studies, understanding of race, and legacies of colonialism.
The main emphasis on what drove this entire ethnography was my lived experience, which at times was hard since I spend all my time with my mother’s family: my white side of the family. Since I was a little girl, I have encountered numerous instances of microaggressions from part of my family members, which at the time didn’t really mean much, but as I’ve grown up has caused me to reflect and realize that those innocent comments have underlying racism that should be addressed. To name a few examples so that you can see where I’m coming from, there were instances when family friends would ask my blond, green-eyed grandmother where they had adopted me since I had very dark skin pigmentation and didn’t resemble her physically; my nicknames included: Pocahontas, Middle Eastern princess, chocolatine, n*gga, negrita, Negra, India Wayuu, to name a few. And when expressing interest in dating people of colour I was told by my white mother and uncle that I couldn’t and instead had to “improve the race”. While they saw it as a joke, that comment hit me hard because in that instance they failed to realize that I am a person of color, I have black and indigenous blood running through my veins and by them saying such things, without realizing it, they were implying that I was inferior and damaged and so to not drag my offspring with me, I should marry a white person to lighten their skin tone and mend the mistake my mother made when having offspring with a black-indigenous man. In brief, this is the vignette that I wrote about in the autoethnography but believe me when I say I had a hard time picking an anecdote since there are so many instances of receiving questionable comments and behaviour from my family members.
Although I love my family and am very appreciative of everything they have done for me, I don’t believe in excusing bad behaviour especially if it entails any form of xenophobia. I realized that most of the comments my family made were intentionally meant to be a joke and innocent, which reflects how entrenched race division, white supremacy, and modern colonialism are in our current society. Now that I am an adult and have educated myself on this, I try to hold conversations with my family explaining to them why those comments are inappropriate and reflect intolerance, trying to educate them into fighting divisions based on race and skin colour one step at a time.
While these conversations cause friction and are always uncomfortable to have, I chose to become an anthropologist precisely to fight for causes like this one. What gave me the most hope and inspired me the most when conducting the interviews was my father’s view on this topic; out of all the interviewees, my father was the only person of colour being mixed of black and indigenous. Whenever I asked if he had ever felt inferior or been discriminated against, or most importantly if he was unhappy with his skin colour he answered in the negative. He said he was proud of his roots and that the times he had been picked on as a child weren’t because he was black, but rather because of being from the Coast instead of the capital. He told me stories of how the kids in Bogotá would bother him and gang up against the only costeño, but this is precisely what helped him build a strong character from a young age. It ended up paying off because he managed to go to university, become a lawyer, become a judge, and be successful based on merit, proving to everyone in the capital that even people from poor backgrounds and different races have immense potential.
In this sense, I strive to be like my father and embrace every part of me, but it has been extremely challenging because I don’t feel I fit anywhere: I’m not white enough to be white, black enough to be black, or indigenous enough to be indigenous, I am just standing in a never-ending limbo wondering if I will ever find my place? Of course, with such a mixture, my skin colour is always changing, which doesn’t precisely help in terms of integration, but I hope that my ethnography and the thesis I am planning on writing will not only help me in this identity crisis but also help all other mixed Latinos who also feel like they do not belong.