Racial Stereotyping in Mexico

The US certainly isn’t the only country in the continent combating ongoing racism. In Mexico, the sight of a blonde girl begging for money in the street revealed one of the ways racial prejudice operates there:

The flurry of internet attention to the photo, and the quick way officials reacted, has renewed a debate about racism in Mexico, a nation that is proud of its mestizo heritage but where millions of indigenous people live in poverty and passers-by often barely notice the dark-skinned children begging in the street.

It started last week when a Facebook user posted a photo of the girl standing next to a rearview mirror on a Guadalajara street. He apparently suspected she might have been stolen because “her parents are brown,” and said he had already contacted a welfare agency and state prosecutors.

The girl ended up being put in an orphanage, with her mother detained in prison for two days, before the girl’s grandmother (apparently also with green eyes, like the girl) provided a birth certificate, leading to the release of the mother (though authorities are awaiting a DNA exam, apparently, before completely absolving the mother). The presumption that she cannot possibly be the mother’s daughter because “her parents are brown” is problematic enough,” implying that her parents are suspects because they are “brown” (does anybody suspect a “white” family with a “brown” kid of having done anything less than adopt?). However, as in the US, the “blonde-girl outrage” also reveals the problems with race and class in Mexico:

“We need to see a white girl to worry about kidnapping, trafficking of children and child exploitation. I’ve never seen photos of Indian children or simply dark-skinned kids circulating on the Internet with people asking others to help them,” wrote human rights activist Yali Noriega in her blog.

Some think the mother could sue the government. Xochitl Galvez, a former federal Cabinet minister who is an advocate for Indian rights, said authorities tend to rely too much on public opinion when chasing delicate cases.

“It is not right that just because of the color of her skin, they can say it’s not her daughter,” she said. “There is no such thing as a pure race. We are a mix … that tells you a lot about the authorities’ lack of knowledge.”

Galvez said authorities should instead work to reduce the high rate of child labor in Mexico and create more programs to support poor single mothers.

“The solution is not to arrest the mother or take the girl from her,” she said. “We should be asking what do we do to help these children?”

This is absolutely right, and not a problem limited to Mexico. Certainly, this may be a case where the mother may or may not be the best of parents and can be evaluated independently, but that has little impact on the broader racism that fueled the outrage to begin with. Racial stereotypes of poverty and street children exist throughout North and South America, and too often, the plights of children in the street are ignored, thanks in no small part to these stereotypes. A blonde child goes missing or is begging for food, and it’s a national crisis, even while, on a daily basis, many more children suffer from poverty, homelessness, and neglect. Though this particular event took place in Mexico, this is a hemispheric problem, and it would serve governments and societies a lot better if they considered the structural and long-term problems caused by economic systems and social welfare nets that too often disregard classism and racism even while letting tens of thousands fall through the cracks.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
This entry was posted in Children's Rights, Inequalities in the Americas, Latin America, Mexico, Poverty, Race in the Americas, Racism. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Racial Stereotyping in Mexico

  1. Julie Sauvageot says:

    Dear Yali,

    Your comment about “having to see a white girl” reveals your ignorance and racist worldview. Plenty of white children simply disappear each year. Maybe you could have been more thoughtful in your comments. You slay the victim to make a racist point. In your world,only some deserve human rights, while others don’t? Mexico is corrupt and completely takes advantage of being situated on our border. Please, don’t try to “help” anyone else. Fix yourself first.

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