To ignore that glaring reality is to continue to dehumanize Hispanic immigration and to see Hispanics as a problematic monolith, a group of brown-skinned people who speak only Spanish, don’t care about this country and want nothing more than to send money to their families in Mexico or Cuba.
It would be a mistake to ignore how profoundly racist Hispanics can be. In some places in Latin America there are multiple words to denote skin color. The lighter the color, the easier life gets. In his terrific book Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race (Free Press, 1999), the journalist Eugene Robinson, after working in South America, concluded that in Latin America race does not matter; color does.
That quickly changes with migration. To the racial baggage that foreign-born Hispanics carry from their home countries, we must add the lessons learned in the United States — both good and bad, as many Hispanics begin to internalize acceptable codes of conduct and speech regarding race.
Almost 15 years ago, I spent months chronicling the lives of two Cuban rafters who were best friends on the island and had grown apart in Miami, in no small part, because one is black and the other is white. The color of their skin determined where they lived, where they worked, what restaurants they went to, and even what sports they played — the white one played soccer with other Latinos; the black one played basketball.
It is true that, as many have said before me, this country needs to have a conversation about race. All I’m asking is that Hispanics don’t get left out of that conversation as they have so far. Brown is a color, not a race, but it would be good to remember that there are many shades of white and many shades of black. Somewhere in that spectrum of the human race, we must include Hispanics.