Progressive Latinos in the United States often look to their brethren in Mexico, Central and South America as examples of countries and cultures which practice equality and don’t look at the color of an individual’s skin in judging them. They view these lands as magical places where the words of the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” are the reality of those societies.
We know, of course, that this is not the reality. Just as in the United States, the issue of skin color often rears its ugly head—Cuba is not the socialist paradise of equality; Brazil has almost an encyclopedic-size classification system; Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina favor European roots(which caused the Progressive Latinos here in the US to openly debate whether the current Argentinian-born Pontiff is Latin American because his parents were born in Italy. The most glaring example I have come across though comes from the capital of Peru, Lima.
In this Pacific Ocean country capital city, there is still alive today a practice which is shocking—both for its relegation of many Afro-Peruvian males to the specific industry and for the fact that many Peruvians defend the practice with arguments reminiscent more of George Wallace and Bull Connor at the height of the Southern segregationist movement. This practice is the almost routine presence of Afro-Peruvians as pallbearers for funerals. It is basically a fashion statement among well-to-do Peruvians.
It is a practice which dates back to Spanish colonial times and has continued over the centuries since through the wars of liberation and the coups and counter-coups and reforms and democratic elections of governments of various political persuasions. Much like the segregationists of the Old South, those that defend the practice say it is ‘tradition’ or ‘the way things have always been’. Even with the end to slavery in Peru in 1856, there has been little progress in the economic and educational opportunities for Afro-Peruvians, much less certainly than in the United States. The only positive thing that can be said about the official government position on discrimination in Peru is that it is the only Latin American country which openly acknowledges the ongoing discrimination.
One of the biggest remaining problems is that its words aren’t matched by its actions in improving the lot of Afro-Peruvians and ending practices like these ‘fashionable funerals’.
By Being Latino Contributor, Jeffery Cassity Jeffery Cassity is a mostly socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative Anglo male who was deeply involved in his local Hispanic community as the widower of a 1st generation Mexican-American woman and his active membership in the local Council of the League of Latin American Citizens(LULAC) prior to his move in May 2013 from Kenosha, Wisconsin to Sacramento, California. Since moving to Sacramento, Jeff has been busy working at his new job with a local insurance agent and working hard to ramp up a writing career. He is looking forward to becoming involved with the local Sacramento community and LULAC Councils. Jeff writes weekly for the Being Latino! website and has been doing so since earlier this year and has started writing recently for the Sacramento Press website. His articles have also appeared in the El Conquistador newspaper(Milwaukee, Wisconsin).