Two voices from the "The Personal & the Political: Colorism in our Everyday Lives" Panel
As a part of a panel discussing colorism, two Afro-Latinas spoke about their experiences with race in their careers and how they challenged it.
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Last week, Taller Puertorriqueño hosted the 27th Arturo A. Schomburg Symposium - Colorism: Shades of Oppression, Inclusivity, and Power; a two day event to discuss colorism and the many ways it can occur.
One panel, “The Personal & the Political: Colorism in our Everyday Lives,” featured multiple Latinas who discussed their personal struggles and how they sought to overcome them.
During the panel discussion, one of the panelists — Katelina "La Gata" Eccleston — spoke about how Reggaeton (or Regueton) has been a source of inspiration and strife for her.
As a college student, she studied graphic design. Eccleston described how she survived a violent experience during her time in college, one that left her voice silenced by police and filled her with simmering anger unable to be acted upon.
As a part of the management process of this, she returned to music, seeking to convert her pain into her voice after her graduation, where she would go on to study communications.
Eccleston is the founder of Reggaeton Con La Gata, a femme brand and platform dedicated to reggaeton and its intersectional history where she can spotlight Black Latinas in reggaeton.
In her pursuit to better understand the racism present in the music industry, Eccleston compared the experiences of musicians within the Latin music industry: two White Latino musicians and two Black Latino musicians.
Her results showed that Black Latinos often are pushed out of center stage in the industry; their achievements generalized into that of the genre rather than of specific musicians.
Another artist Eccleston has spoken with was La Sista, an artist Eccleston has had close dealings with during her spotlighting of her career.
La Sista is one of the first Black women in Reggaeton, a group that composes only 5% of the music style. Born in Loiza, Puerto Rico, the artist has been singing since the mid 2000s.
Through her music, she has had a personal and profound impact on Eccleston, moving her with her music and showing her someone who looked like her.
Despite the impact her music has, Eccleston described how she and La Sista spent hours crying together over the fact that the musician received little to no money for her music, a common story Eccleston has seen in Reggaeton.
As Eccleston continues her work in spotlighting Reggaeton artists, she has considered how looking into the industry can affect her, and how revealing unpopular truths about popular figures can impact her livelihood and her career.
But despite these barriers, she is dedicated to speaking out about the prejudices in the industry so that Black Latino artists can receive their well earned rewards for their art.
Another speaker at the panel, Jennifer Mota, began with connecting colorism to positionality, how differences between social positions and power can shape one's identity and their access in society.
Mota took a moment to reflect on her own position in society. Through something as simple as straightening out her hair — normally Afro textured — could change how people view and treat her.
As a child, she and her sister wanted to be Disney Channel actors. When looking at an application for a back to school commercial, she found that it explicitly required a Caucasian child, cutting her out of the running before she began.
When she turned to her father for answers as to why they would exclude girls like her, he explained to her that “media is programming,” giving her words to define her struggle, ones that she would take with her into adulthood.
A few years later, Mota encountered another incident of racism, this time from other Latinas. While Mota is Dominican, her friends were White Latinas who told her that they had never seen a pretty Dominican woman, criticizing their dark skin.
At the age of 12, Mota didn't have the language she does now, leaving her at a loss for how to properly address their words. When Mota brought up that she was Dominica, her friends claimed that she was different because of her lighter skin.
Later as a college student studying television broadcasting, her appearance would impact her life again when a teacher said that her Afro textured hair made her look like she was electrocuted and she needed to change it — words that would be echoed by a Latino just weeks later at an event she attended.
From each of these incidents, Mota wanted to emphasize her determination in embracing her natural hairstyle and appearance in her career as she entered into the broadcasting industry.
As someone who is working in a primarily White industry, she has often been overlooked and ignored despite being a producer. Oftentimes, someone would presume her intern was the producer over her.
After a year of this treatment, she chose to return to freelance work where she could have more freedom with what she did. With a broader perspective, she realized that the people in power didn't care about their artists until it became a problem for their money and their artist's visibility.
Despite this lack of care for artists, Mota is seeking to bring light to Dominican artists, one example being through an article she wrote for Rolling Stone about the Dominican Republic’s indie music scene.
The full recording of the 27th Arturo A. Schomburg Symposium - Colorism: Shades of Oppression, Inclusivity, and Power can be found on the Taller Puertorriqueño YouTube channel here.