MEXICO CITY -- Flip through the print publications exalting the activities of Mexico’s high society and there’s one thing you rarely find: dark-skinned people.
No matter that nearly two-thirds of Mexicans consider themselves moreno, the Spanish word for dark.
Mexico has strong laws barring discrimination based on skin color or ethnicity, but the practices of public relations firms and news media lag behind, promoting the perception that light skin is desirable and dark skin unappealing.
The issue came to the fore this month when a casting call for a television spot for Mexico’s largest airline stated flatly that it wanted “no one dark,” sparking outrage on social media and, ultimately, embarrassed apologies.
“I’d never seen anything that aggressive and that clear, all in capital letters: ‘NO ONE DARK,’” said Tamara de Anda, a magazine editor. “I decided to go with it.”
Her tweets elicited apologies both from Aeromexico and from the Catatonia public relations firm, which blamed a modeling agency that issued the casting call.
“We offer a heartfelt apology and reiterate our respect for all people without regard to gender, language, religion or skin color,” Aeromexico said on its official Twitter account.
De Anda wrote up her feelings on her popular blog, Crisis of the 30s, saying the incident was part of a far larger phenomenon of marginalization of a majority of the population.
“I’ve been swallowing Mexican advertising for 30 years of my life, 11,000 days,” she wrote. Apart from government pronouncements and “folkloric” tourism campaigns, she said, it’s as if “dark-skinned people don’t exist.”
It might seem like a harsh judgment. After all, Mexican tourism campaigns promote the nation’s multicultural heritage and its heritage as a home of the Aztec and Mayan empires. The nation of 118 million people includes 15.7 million who consider themselves indigenous. Moreover, an estimated 450,000 Afro-Mexicans live mostly along the coasts.
Legislators amended Mexico’s constitution in 2001 to bar all forms of discrimination and set up the National Council to Prevent Discrimination. Twenty-two of Mexico’s 32 states (including the federal district) now have anti-discrimination laws on the books. The nation has signed more than two dozen international treaties and conventions banning unfair treatment.
But the distance between legalities and practice is substantial, said Mario Arriagada Cuadriello, a doctoral candidate in comparative politics at the London School of Economics. He is an editor at Nexos, a leading cultural and political magazine.
When Arriagada published an article in this month’s issue about widespread discrimination in Mexico, he received a flurry of responses.
“People wrote to say that if you are light-skinned, you get better treatment in restaurants,” he said. One person told him that in an exclusive area of the capital, residents ask that their dark-skinned domestic servants not walk in the common gardens “because it is anti-aesthetic and makes the areas ugly.”
One of Mexico’s most prominent intellectuals from the early 20th century, Jose Vasconcelos, held up the mestizo, or person of mixed Indian and European blood, as part of a superior “cosmic race” with greater spiritual values.