All Tangled Up: Intersecting Stigmas of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Mariana Rondón’s Bad Hair

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Communications/Media Studies on 2022-02-11 02:56Z by Steven

All Tangled Up: Intersecting Stigmas of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Mariana Rondón’s Bad Hair

Black Camera: An International Film Journal
Volume 9, Number 1, Fall 2017
pages 47-61

Reighan Gillam, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
University of Southern California

The film Pelo Malo / Bad Hair (dir. Mariana Rondón, 2013) depicts the story of Junior, a mixed-race young boy in Venezuela who wishes to straighten his curly hair. This essay shows that the stigmatization of black hair is part of Venezuela’s racial aesthetic regime and thus contextualizes the actions and desires of the main character. Moreover, while much of the literature on race and beauty in Latin America focuses on women’s experiences, this essay examines men’s and boys’ experiences of aesthetic regimes that value whiteness. Junior’s continual fussing with his hair, as well as his other actions, informs his mother’s fears that he is gay. I argue that the main character, Junior, is subject to shifting forms of stigma that inform his attempts to straighten his curly hair and in turn inform Junior’s mother’s perception that he is gay.

Read or purchase the article here.

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A Hidden Caribbean Revolution? Race and Revolution in Venezuela, 1789-1817

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2018-05-16 23:05Z by Steven

A Hidden Caribbean Revolution? Race and Revolution in Venezuela, 1789-1817

Age of Revolutions

Frédéric Spillemaeker, Researcher (Casa de Velázquez (École des Hautes Études Hispaniques et ibériques, EHEHI)) and Ph.D. Candidate
École des Hautes des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS)

Manuel Carlos Piar. Obra de Pablo W. Hernández.

The wave of revolutionary sentiment from the 1790s to Independence questioned the social and racial inequalities that divided colonial Venezuela. The majority of the Venezuelan population was Pardo, a mixed-race people of African and European descent who were considered legally inferior to Europeans and Creoles. While pardos could bear arms and organize in militias, they only ascended to the grade of captain. Hence, most pardo militias remained under command of Mantuanos – white colonels and members of the landed ruling class. When colonial order was challenged by Amerindians seeking to recover their lands and slaves pursuing freedom, a large mass of armed pardos mobilized in demand of equality. The 1790s revolutions in the Greater Caribbean, and later, the Latin American Independence Wars beginning in 1810, scrambled the existing socio-racial structure of domination in Venezuela, at least in the domain of the army, with pardo leaders like Jean-Baptiste Bideau and Manuel Piar

In August 1793, the Revolution led by Toussaint Louverture, enabled the abolition of slavery in Saint Domingue.[1] A few months later, on 16 Pluviôse An II (February 4, 1794), the French Convention extended the abolition decree to all French colonies. By June 1794, when Victor Hugues took over Guadeloupe, former slaves had become soldiers in defense of revolutionary values. This was the beginning of a cycle of victories for the alliance between France, free people of color, and emancipated slaves.[2] In the island of Trinidad, formerly part of Venezuela, a battle confronted the alliance of French and Afro-Antilleans against the English on May 8-9, 1796. Among the French officers was Jean-Baptiste Bideau, a “mulâtre” from Sainte-Lucie.[3] In spite of the defeat and the English seizure of the island in February 1797, slave uprisings erupted throughout Venezuela. Armed slaves mobilized in Carupano and in Rio Caribe in 1798,[4] and a suspected pardo plot was unveiled in Barcelona in 1801.[5] Back in Saint Domingue, now named Haiti, the revolution resisted Napoleon’s slavery restoration attempt and ultimately declared its Independence in 1804…

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‘Pigmentocracy’ a Major Factor in Brazil, Venezuela Turmoil

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2016-09-29 01:25Z by Steven

‘Pigmentocracy’ a Major Factor in Brazil, Venezuela Turmoil

Fordham Law News: From New York City To You

Ray Legendre

A global audience watched Brazil unveil the 2016 Olympics earlier this month with a flashy, jubilant opening ceremony that celebrated its racial diversity and belied its ongoing political and economic strife. But acting President Michel Temer’s maneuvering in the months before the Games revealed a racial reality in South America’s most populous country that is anything but golden, Fordham Law School Professor Tanya Hernández said.

“It looked like a racial utopia during the opening ceremonies, but if you look at the cabinet this president has put into place there’s nary a dark-skinned person in the crowd,” said Hernández, associate director and head of global and comparative law programs and initiatives for the Center on Race, Law & Justice at Fordham Law. “You would think you were looking at Sweden, as opposed to Brazil, when you look at the cabinet.”

Temer’s rapid assembly of lighter-skinned cabinet members in the wake of President Dilma Rousseff’s suspension of powers in May highlights the implicit racial bias that exists in Brazil and other Latin American countries with large mixed-race populations. The so-called “pigmentocracy” considers “lighter as brighter” and more capable of excelling in government and other high paying jobs, said Hernández, author of Racial Subordination in Latin America. Lighter-skinned people, of European heritage, are also less likely to suffer the rampant violence and housing displacement as poor black citizens of African descent…

Read the entire article here.

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Café con leche: Race, Class, and National Image in Venezuela

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Monographs on 2016-06-18 22:36Z by Steven

Café con leche: Race, Class, and National Image in Venezuela

University of Texas Press
184 pages
4 illustrations
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-292-79080-3

Winthrop R. Wright, Professor Emeritus of History
University of Maryland

For over a hundred years, Venezuelans have referred to themselves as a café con leche (coffee with milk) people. This colorful expression well describes the racial composition of Venezuelan society, in which European, African, and Indian peoples have intermingled to produce a population in which almost everyone is of mixed blood. It also expresses a popular belief that within their blended society Venezuelans have achieved a racial democracy in which people of all races live free from prejudice and discrimination. Whether or not historical facts actually support this popular perception is the question Winthrop Wright explores in this study.

Wright’s research suggests that, contrary to popular belief, blacks in Venezuela have not enjoyed the full benefits of racial democracy. He finds that their status, even after the abolition of slavery in 1854, remained low in the minds of Venezuelan elites, who idealized the European somatic type and viewed blacks as inferior. Indeed, in an effort to whiten the population, Venezuelan elites promoted European immigration and blocked the entry of blacks and Asians during the early twentieth century.

These attitudes remained in place until the 1940s, when the populist Acción Democrática party (AD) challenged the elites’ whitening policies. Since that time, blacks have made significant strides and have gained considerable political power. But, as Wright reveals, other evidence suggests that most remain social outcasts and have not accumulated significant wealth. The popular perception of racial harmony in Venezuela hides the fact of ongoing discrimination.


  • Preface
  • 1. The Myth of Racial Democracy
  • 2. The Colonial Legacy: Racial Tensions in a Hierarchical Society
  • 3. Whitening the Population, 1850–1900
  • 4. Positivism and National Image, 1890–1935
  • 5. Race and National Image in the Era of Popular Politics, 1935–1958
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Moving to Venezuela, a Land in Turmoil

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive on 2016-01-22 03:16Z by Steven

Moving to Venezuela, a Land in Turmoil

The New York Times

Nicholas Casey, a New York Times correspondent, is sharing moments from his first 30 days living in Caracas, a city in the midst of great tumult and change. Follow Nick on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Q&A: Race and Racism in Venezuela

Q. I’d like to hear your impressions on race and racism, since everyone seems to be mixed race in Venezuela.

—Silvia Rodriguez, Illinois

A. Race is something that has preoccupied me in my past reporting assignments, in which I’ve had a chance to watch not only how people treat each other, but how I’m received.

With a Afro-Cuban father and a white mother, I was never confused for a local during my five years reporting from Mexico. More often, I was confused for a pop singer named Kalimba. He seemed to be the only man in that country who had hair like mine and wore similar glasses…

…Of all the places I’ve lived, there’s only one where I felt uncomfortable being black. It was where I am from: the United States.

Read the entire article here.

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Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora

Posted in Anthologies, Autobiography, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Poetry, Women on 2016-01-17 01:22Z by Steven

Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora

Arte Público Press
248 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-55885-746-9

Edited by: Marta Moreno Vega, Alba Marinieves and Yvette Modestin

Afro-Latina women relate their personal stories and advocacy for racial equality

“My housewife mother turned into a raging warrior woman when the principal of my elementary school questioned whether her daughter and the children of my public school had the intelligence to pass a citywide test,” Marta Moreno Vega writes in her essay. She knew then she was loved and valued, and she learned that to be an Afro-Puerto Rican woman meant activism was her birth right.

Hers is one of eleven essays and four poems included in this volume in which Latina women of African descent share their stories. The authors included are from all over Latin America—Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela—and they write about the African diaspora and issues such as colonialism, oppression and disenfranchisement. Diva Moreira, a black Brazilian, writes that she experienced racism and humiliation at a very young age. The worst experience, she remembers, was when her mother’s bosses told her she didn’t need to go to school after the fourth grade, “because blacks don’t need to study more than that.”

The contributors span a range of professions, from artists to grass-roots activists, scholars and elected officials. Each is deeply engaged in her community, and they all use their positions to advocate for justice, racial equality and cultural equity. In their introduction, the editors write that these stories provide insight into the conditions that have led Afro-Latinas to challenge systems of inequality, including the machismo that is still prominent in Spanish-speaking cultures.

A fascinating look at the legacy of more than 400 years of African enslavement in the Americas, this collection of personal stories is a must-read for anyone interested in the African diaspora and issues of inequality and racism.

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‘Mejorar la Raza’: An Example of Racism in Latino Culture

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Latino Studies, Media Archive on 2015-11-18 02:57Z by Steven

‘Mejorar la Raza’: An Example of Racism in Latino Culture

Latino Voices
Huffington Post

Maria Alejandra Casale-Hardin
University of California, Hastings, Law Class of 2018

Samuel Lange Zambrano portraying a 9-year-old Venezuelan boy obsessed with straightening his hair in the 2013 film Pelo Malo.

‘Mejorar la raza’ is a common phrase used in Latin American countries, which means ‘improve the race.’ It implies that you should marry or have children with a whiter person so you’ll have better-looking kids. The phrase is used by people of any race without much thought. A year ago, a Facebook post by a Latina living in Europe started a heated argument about the history of whitewashing in Latin America. She said ‘mejorar la raza’ to justify the massive rape of Indigenous women by European colonizers. A few hours later, the girl erased the post and dismissed it as a joke. I like to hope she felt embarrassed after being called a racist on social media.

As a child, I heard my aunt asking my cousin to break up with the girl he was dating because he should ‘mejorar la raza’. Her biggest concern seemed to be the girl’s Afro-Latino heritage, “You don’t want to bring ugly kids into the world. What if you have a girl and she comes out with pelo malo?” My aunt thought she was talking some sense into her son. After all, “pelo malo” literally translates to ‘bad hair’ but it really means ‘afro-textured hair.’ She didn’t think she was being racist or mean-spirited, she thought it was her duty to point out how hard her imaginary granddaughter’s life will be if she inherited her mom’s curls…

Read the entire article here.

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‘Pelo Malo’ Is A Rare Look Into Latin American Race Relations

Posted in Articles, Audio, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive on 2014-12-13 20:57Z by Steven

‘Pelo Malo’ Is A Rare Look Into Latin American Race Relations

Morning Edition
National Public Radio

Jasmine Garsd, Reporter and Host
NPR Music’s Alt.Latino

Actor Samuel Lange Zambrano plays Junior, a boy who becomes obsessed with relaxing his hair. Courtesy of the artist

“Pelo Malo” means “bad hair” in Spanish. It’s a term that is commonly used in Latin America, and it’s also the title of a new Venezuelan film that tackles racism and homophobia.

Junior is a 9-year-old living in a poor neighborhood in Caracas. School is about to start, and he has to have his picture taken. Junior, like many Venezuelans, has European, indigenous and African ancestry, which gives him thick, tightly curled hair. He becomes obsessed with straightening it, trying everything from blow-drying to applying gobs of mayonnaise. That last attempt drives his mother, a struggling widow, insane; she threatens to “cortarle el pelo,” just cut all his hair off.

Pelo Malo is a rare look into identity politics among Latin Americans, where racism is often a taboo topic. Despite the taboo, director Mariana Rondón says, the term “pelo malo” is common currency. “The origin of the term is very offensive. It’s very racist. But it’s also true that in Venezuela, we are so mixed, that in every single family there is someone with … ‘bad hair.’ We joke that the second most profitable industry, after oil, is hair straightening. Because everyone here wants to have straight hair.”…

…The film is very Venezuelan, but many Latin Americans can relate to it. Bianca Laureano is the founder of The LatiNegr@s Project, a virtual space that aims to discuss history and current events in the Afro-Latino community. She says the battles over hair are very much present in her own life: “I have family members who I have never even met. And I meet them, and part of the conversation will be, ‘I don’t like your hair the way that it is.’ ”

Laureano says while she wishes the movie had dealt with its issues in more depth, she thinks it’s representative of a sea change in the way Latinos discuss race. “What I definitely see an increase of is people who identify as Afro-Latino. This is who I am, this is my story. We take part in this as well.”…

Read the entire article here. Listen to the story here. Download the story here.

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‘Pelo Malo’ Director Mariana Rondon: Why Her Movie Hits A Nerve

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, Interviews, Media Archive on 2014-12-01 18:56Z by Steven

‘Pelo Malo’ Director Mariana Rondon: Why Her Movie Hits A Nerve

NBC News

Sandra Guzman

For Latinos born with Afro-textured, curly hair or kinky hair – referred to as pelo malo or “bad hair” in Latin America and the Caribbean – their experiences can be quite intense and in many cases negative, as an Afro-Honduran recently told NBC News Latino contributor Raul A. Reyes.

Precisely because Afro-textured hair holds such a complex, racial history in our home countries, it can be tricky to explore as a topic. But in the skillful hands of Venezuelan director/writer Mariana Rondón, black hair is a window into Latin America’s soul.

The Venezuelan movie Pelo Malo, which opens Wednesday in selected theaters across the country, has generated controversy in Venezuela and grabbed audiences and juries alike. It has already won several awards, including top prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

The plot of the film seems simple enough: a nine-year old boy wants to straighten his afro-like hair to look like his favorite pop singer—a Justin Bieber type – for his school picture. His unemployed single mom, who is light skinned, will have none of it; she also worries he might be gay. As the battle between mother and son unfolds, with the backdrop of chaotic modern day Caracas and the child’s paternal black abuela, this brilliant film exposes every layer of modern day Venezuelan society—its negated racism, its beauty queen culture, its urban violence, poverty, its polarized politics, and its deeply rooted homophobia.

NBC News spoke to the Ms. Rondón who is visiting New York for today’s film’s premiere…

…Why black hair?

Black hair serves as a portal. In the beginning, the boy goes to the mirror; the mirror is a window into the most profound part of our identity. We all have that thing we don’t like about us, a nose, a body part. It’s where we begin to recognize ourselves.

In that sense, we all have pelo malo

Read the entire interview here.

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Celebrating Afro-Venezuelan Heritage

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2014-01-03 22:47Z by Steven

Celebrating Afro-Venezuelan Heritage

Global Exchange
Reality Tour Blog

The following post is written by Reality Tours communications intern William Jones Jr as he explores Afro-Venezuelan identity historically and in its current context. Visit Venezuela on a Reality Tour to learn more about the struggles, contributions, and successes of Afro-Venezuelans.

History and Legacy

Under the leadership of the late President Hugo Chávez, Venezuela has made strides toward combating the historical legacy of racism and recognizing the national importance of African heritage, promoting social inclusion and respect for Afro-Venezuelans. Among them is the official celebration of the Month of Africa in May and Day of Afro-Venezuelans on May 10.

Although Abolition occurred in 1854, freedom did not bring equality. Venezuela, like many other Latin American countries, used the idea of the mestizo born of European, Indigenous, and African blood, to uphold a myth of racial democracy that denied rampant discrimination on the basis of skin color and African identity on paper.  In reality African cultural traditions remained marginalized and European traditions were promoted. Blacks remained at the bottom of the economic and social hierarchy…

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