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Cosmic Race, Rainbow People, and Other Myths
General Assembly 2007 Event 3010
Speaker: Jorge Zeballos, Diversity Consultant
One of eighteen workshop sponsored by the General Assembly Planning Committee for the 2007 General Assembly (GA), this one was brought to us through the joint efforts of Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), Latino/a UU Network Association (LUUNA), the Unitarian Universalist Ministers' Association (UUMA), and the Hispanic Ministers' Association.
Jorge Zeballos was born in Washington, D.C., raised in Lima, Peru and now lives and works in North Carolina. As a diversity consultant, he has developed a workshop entitled Cosmic Race, Rainbow People and other Myths: An Exploration of Latinas/os Racial Identity, which has been offered at many national and international conferences.
Racial dialogues in the U.S. center around black and white, leaving out a whole range of other minority groups that find themselves observers rather than being engaged in the dialogue. The notion that race is not an issue in Latin America is a myth propagated by those who think that class and education are the more important factors of discrimination in this part of the world.
When those in the audience who identify themselves as Latino/a or Hispanic were asked for their racial identities, the following words were called out: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Mestizo, Spanish, and Mulatto. Zeballos pointed out that except for Mestizo and Mulatto, which are essentially mixed races, the others are nationalities. This exercise demonstrated the difficulties faced by Hispanic and Latino/a regarding their racial identities. When asked about his race, Zeballos would give a long answer naming his ethnic ancestries, including that he is shaped by the white culture of one of his ancestors. One of his first cousins, however, even though he was brought up by an indigenous grandmother, self-identifies as white.
With a slide presentation, Zeballos explored the history of the white supremacies that have existed in our western cultures for hundreds of years. Using historical and religious writings, quotations, and cartoons past and present that depict blacks and indigenous people as non-humans, he demonstrated how racism and "colorism" have influenced and shaped our cultures and thinking. "The most effective tool in the hands of an oppressor," he said, "is the mind of the oppressed."
With regard to the slave trades, a chart produced by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture puts into perspective the number of enslaved Africans in the United States compared with that in the rest of the Americas. During the Atlantic Slave Trade between the years 1450 and 1870, South America accounted for 50 percent of the slave trade, 38.2 percent in Brazil alone, while the United States accounted for only 4.6 percent.
Historical records show that Africans had established their presence in the Americas long before Christopher Columbus. Today, in some Latin American countries, those who identify as Afro-descendants comprise more than 95 percent of the population. They had been living among, and intermingling with, the local Indians without serious racial conflicts until the Spaniards introduced the concept of castes among them as a way to "divide and conquer" their established societies.
In 18th Century New Spain (Mexico) alone, there were officially sixteen legal castes ranging from Mestizo (offspring of a Spaniard and Indian union) all the way to the lowest "ahí te estás," literally meaning, "You are stuck here." In-between castes include names of animals like mulatto (mula means mule in Spanish), lobo (wolf), barcino (pig) and coyote (wild dog). Although permission is needed to marry outside one's caste, it was also possible to buy one's way into a higher caste. With these possibilities of crossing the caste divides comes the desirability of "improving the race" (mejorando la raza), and colorism plays an important role in shaping the standards of beauty, desirability, and superiority.
In closing, Zeballos showed a slide stating Section 25 of the constitution of the Republic of Argentina to demonstrate the desire for this "racial improvement" in Latin American culture. It reads:
"The Federal Government shall foster European immigration; and may not restrict, limit or burden with any tax whatsoever, the entry into the Argentine territory of foreigners who arrive for the purpose of tilling the soil, improving industries, and introducing and teaching arts and sciences."
This workshop was both informative and entertaining, with great insights into the complexity of race, ethnicity, and identities in Latin America. It gives us a better understanding of the spiritual journeys of our Latino/a and Hispanic Unitarian Universalists amongst us.
Reported by Kok Heong McNaughton; edited by Pat Emery.