Uproar Over The Oscars, Antonio Banderas & The Label of “Person of Color”

Dr. Debs Advice

Dr. Deborah Ashton, Chief Psychologist & Learning Officer, Diversity Learning Solutions

There was an uproar over Selma Hyatt and the Academy referring to Antonio Banderas as a Latino or a ‘person of color’. The controversy triggered a memory from my graduate days at Harvard. Maria and her brother Victor were both in graduate programs at Harvard—Maria in education and Victor in the graduate program in government.

They were of Mexican American heritage. Victor, back then, referred to himself as a Chicano. Maria thought her brother to be a radical. Victor would chastise Maria for identifying with the oppressor of their people, the colonials who invaded Mexico, the Spaniards. He would preach that the indigenous people of Mexico were not white. He would bitterly complain about other colonized people, proudly stating that they had ‘no mestizo blood’, denying their heritage and identifying with the colonizer.

Victor would rib Maria with his knowledge of post-colonial Mexico and laud that the second president of Mexico was Vicente Guerrero, whose mother was Native American and whose father was Native American and African. As a general during the Mexican Revolutionary War, Guerrero was referred to as “el Negro Guerrero.” According to Victor, Mexican Americans should embrace their mestizo heritage.

Morrie Turner, nytimes.com
Source: Morrie Turner, nytimes.com

In that era when people talked about color, they depicted ‘five’. Although this cartoon does not depict all five, it gives a feel for the times. Part of the confusion is that many Latinx consider themselves politically to be people of color, but Latino is not a race. It is an ethnicity.

Social Classes in Spanish Colonies
Source: John Osborne et al.. Global Studies, N & N Publishing (adapted)

First and foremost, race is a social construct, designed during colonialism to develop a social class structure. Interesting enough, when given the choice on the 2010 US Census, 91.6% of Hispanics identified their race as white alone, i.e., they had ‘no mestizo blood’. If given a choice on the social class pyramid, people would rather identify with a higher social class. The social class status was always important. In the 1700s, as an incentive to colonize modern day California, Spain granted mestizos and mulattoes who were willing to migrate to modern day California from Mexico the status of Criollos, descendants of Peninsulares (Spanish aristocrats) or gente de razón (people of reason).

The cognitive dissonance is that Latinos are treated differently than whites, but not the same as blacks. Historically, as early as the 1920s, in the US, films depicted white women with a ‘Latin lover’. In the 1950s, the Cisco Kid was a TV hero. But they were seen as exotic, different than. (N.B. Brazilians are Latinos; but not Hispanic.)

And yes, Latinos took exception to the Academy wanting to count Antonio Banderas as a Latino, a person of color, because his ancestry does not have the same legacy of Latinos, Latinx, Hispanics. He is a European. And while Cynthia Erivo is also a European, she is a person of color; she is black. Ultimately, Antonio Banderas is white, and the Academy was not being given a pass. No pun intended.