The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


January 26, 2022/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

The Banality of Racism, on the Border’s Both Sides

Back in the day, I longed for the homecoming queen’s blonde curls and blue eyes. The Chinese face in my mirror looked nothing like hers. I hated my small single-lidded eyes — nothing I could do about that — but at least I could get a perm. And at the same time I was curling my hair, the African-American girls were straightening theirs for the same reason: to get closer to accepted beauty norms.

In México, race hasn’t been a “thing,” a suffocating obsession, in large part since so many people had become mixed-race by the time of the nation’s founding. Mexican law didn’t embed racial distinctions. People of color never found bathrooms or bus seats reserved for whites only. But all the while their nation’s norms privileged Spanish and white.


In the US, meanwhile, we colored girls knew we could never achieve our society’s beauty norms. Intermarriage? My aunt had to travel across the country in the 1940s to find a state where she could marry my Anglo uncle. In México, a different story. Whiteness, society encouraged people to believe, could come your way through mestizaje. Just add blood and stir. Black and Indigenous peoples accepted this “pigmentocracy” in the banality of daily interactions, just as I internalized racist norms in my early years.


Proclaiming to be race-blind and normalizing white superiority, México tried to take the indio out of the Indigenous and ignored the existence of its Black population entirely. Monica Moreno Figueroa, our interview spotlight this week, reminds us that the first step toward solving a problem will always be recognizing we have a problem. We can heal ourselves — and our countries — once we accept the image in the mirror as who we are.


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Race-Blind, or Just Blind to Racism?

Mónica Moreno Figueroa, a Black-mestiza sociologist at the UK’s University of Cambridge and a social sciences fellow at the University’s Downing College, has been helping to lead the Collective for the Elimination of Racism in Mexico, COPERA, since 2010. Her latest book, Against Racism: Organizing for Social Change in Latin America (University of Pittsburgh Press), will appear this March. We complete this week our interview with her on race and mestizaje — racial mixing — in México.

Last week, you talked about how Mexicans of color accepted the project of mestizaje, or racial mixing, as the way to create a national identity. Are they still accepting?

Monica Moreno Figueroa: In México, people did not and do not identify first and foremost by race. But skin color matters! Color matters less as a question of belonging to a particular race” a social construct based on false ideas of difference and value and much more about whether you look darker or lighter than others in a relational and contextually specific way. You can be “lighter” in one setting, “darker” in another.


México’s official message holds that “mixing is good” and “everyone is included,” but you can clearly see who enjoys favor economically and socially. Darker people mix to “improve” their families through whitening. This whitening includes their culture as well as their skin. So indigenous peoples do not teach their children their own languages. They want them to become more mestizo and less Indigenous to succeed. This reflects the ancient Spanish caste system. This caste system ended, but white superiority survived, with mestizaje and assimilation its essential racist practices.


Sparked by the Zapatista uprising in 1994, Black Méxicans began organizing and re-claiming their identities. Have they had an impact on national policies?


Yes! For example, in 2020, for the first time since 1810, the census included a question on Black, Afro-descendant, or Afro-Mexican self-identification. Being counted as Black recognizes a particular history of oppression. Afro-Mexican has become the official term, added into the constitution in 2019  another victory. Afro-Mexican aligns internationally with how nation-states name African-heritage populations. The term “Afro-descendant” gives space for more recent migrants and their offspring, and the United Nations and other international bodies use it.


The census questions represented a huge victory because Blacks, never mentioned as a group, had been rendered invisible. The questions first appeared in a 2015 intercensal survey trial question. Only 1.2 percent of the population chose one of these new categories. But over the next five years more people self-identified as Black. Now about 2 percent of the population, or 2,576,213 people, so self-identify.


Did the Black Lives Matters movement in the US, and George Floyd’s murder, motivate Afro-Mexican activists?


News about the protests fell on fertile ground. The protests allowed us to bring public attention to how racism was happening within our country and enabled us to raise up important questions. We started analyzing the violent treatment of Black and Indigenous people by the police, to point out that prisoners in jail have a color, that the women killed in thousands of femicides had a color.


How does your anti-racism group, COPERA, see racism manifested?


COPERA sees as fundamental, first, the understanding of mestizaje as México’s racial project. We focus on how insidious and violent everyday practices promote “whitening.” Second, we explore the different ways racism manifests itself in our society today: as the anti-Indigenous racism that thrives in reproducing narratives of backwardness, underdevelopment, and racial inferiority, in the anti-blackness racism that promotes both a denial of Black existence and an active disfavoring of Black people, and in the anti-Asian particularly anti-Chinese — racism that emphasizes xenophobia and a fear of certain peoples deemed unfit for mixing. Other forms of racism, such as anti-Semitism, also remain extremely relevant to getting at the subtleties and nuances of mestizaje.


How does COPERA oppose racism?


We’re working to bridge academic and activist thinking. Our perspective considers racism’s emotional effects. Our workshops on “collective racial healing” surface the emotional impact that racism has had on people and help participants recognize that their own emotions can get in the way of a radical vision of what the world could look like without oppression. Racism will never be simply a personal attitude, but racism does have personal effects that can stop us from critical thinking about our personal and collective lives.


We’re also currently developing workshops for psychotherapists and mental health workers that explore the connection between racism and mental health. Racism doesn’t just impact a person’s mental health. We find racist logic reproduced between therapists and clients, a reality that deepens mental health oppression. We hope this work will open up the political and liberation potential of anti-racist mental health work.


Do you think that AMLO is tackling racism?


A commitment to fighting racism appears in AMLO’s 100 agenda points. Is this commitment being realized? Too early to tell. We have yet to see what progress can be made. What we can see: the racist attacks directed on AMLO, attacks that reflect the discontent of Méxicos middle and upper whiter classes with his government’s priorities. AMLO has given financial support to the poor, and poorer people are darker people. His direct statements about the need to improve the lives of Indigenous and rural people make some people uncomfortable and thats good! No one should feel comfortable with racism, and I am pleased we’re having so much more openness to this discussion.


Judy Baca, Danza de la Tierra, at

A Toda Madre* 

Orale ese! Orale esa! Orale gentes! Do we walk softly/too softly through this world?


Our Brown hands/were torn from the soil/and inserted into the concrete/the asphalt/the hot wires… and cold hearts of el urbano.

The lights are everywhere/but we cannot see. The heat envelops us/and yet we are frozen.


The sound never stops/yet we cannot hear.


But you know what?  We are a people of love/

a people motivated by the heart revealed by Che

que nuestra revolucion es un gran abrazo por la gente.


Yes, we walk softly but ever towards the earth/ever upwards/hasta al cielo/and ever flowing toward the sweet waters that cleanse our spirit.


Can you see it?  Can you feel it?  A Toda Madre: un futuro so finely

sculpted by the past/Un Nuevo Mundo shaped by abuel@s/

nurtured by children/un milagro created by endless Resistencia.


A world of infinite song/With a magical lyric that can unite us/that can give us new strength/that can reconnect us to a life/ stolen by empire/tortured by lies/disfigured by the myth of

The Great White/Omnipotent White/All-Knowing White


Pero, the Brown always flows/it moves/dancing arabesques/caresses so gently/so firme. And carries the mythical prayer/that we will endure/we will unleash the sound that echoes Aztlan: Hasta La Vida Siempre. 


*Madre has countless meanings, with a toda madre an exclamation that means the best. Nothing better. If I’m asked how I feel and I’m doing great, I might say a toda madre.


Bill Gallegos, a veteran Chicano
liberation activist, environmental
justice leader
, and revolutionary
socialist, has a lot to
howl about.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Tom Azzopardi, México launches debate over controversial energy reform, Windpower Monthly. Lawmakers to discuss proposals that would limit private companies' involvement in México's power industry.


Nick Corbishley, As Citi Prepares to Leave Mexico, the Hunt Is On for Its Assets, Naked Capitalism. Big global lenders, including Spain’s Santander and Canada’s Scotiabank, are interested, but AMLO would prefer the country’s third largest bank to pass back into the hands of Mexican owners.


Laura Alvarez, México: a view from the ground, Morning Star. A human rights activist returns home.


La Revocación de Mandato será realidad: INE validó el 100% de las firmas requeridas, Infobae. El órgano informó que los registros lograron acumular el porcentaje mínimo del 3% de la lista nominal para que el ejercicio democrático procediera.


Jess Smith, U.S. Energy Secretary to Visit Mexico to Discuss Power Market Concerns, Latin Post. The U.S. has voiced concern over a Lopez Obrador-led effort aimed at strengthening state control of the power sector at the expense of private companies.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati, Courtney Childs, Victoria Hamlin. To give feedback or get involved, drop us an email!


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