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Race, Racism and Institutional Racism: Their Definitions and Impact on the Latinx Community

We’ve been exposed to the traditional definition of the word “race” ever since we were in preschool. Race, in simplest terms, is the physical differences that set apart a group from another group. The concept of race has various interpretations. For myself, I consider “Race” as the physical characteristics (mostly skin color) that makes group A different from group B.

Race begins to blur when opposite groups start to intertwine and create combined features. This is excessively prevalent in the Latino community. You can have someone who has a broad nose, pale skin, brown eyes, blonde hair living in Argentina. You can also have someone who has brown skin, a circular nose, green eyes living in Puerto Rico. In the United States, I grew up with the notion that my ethnicity – where I am from, is correlated with my skin color. They categorize you as your ethnicity if you do not fit in the white or black standard. It is either or, never in-between.

As Latina, I have not experienced upfront racism but I have experienced prejudice towards my ethnicity and heard first-hand accounts of discriminatory acts. My father was not served at an airport restaurant in New York City because he was brown and did not speak English. The waitress shouted she was not going to serve Latinos because Latinos are foul. This occurred in the beginning of 2017. In the spring of 2014, my family and I traveled from Miami to Orlando since we were going to visit Disney’s theme park Epcot for the first time. Every night the theme park displays fireworks as the world globe spins on its axis. That night, I was speaking with my father in Spanish how beautiful the fireworks were. I wanted to get a better view since I am too short so I stepped forward towards my right. A white woman standing next to me glared at me in annoyance and rudely proclaimed that she was reserving the spot I was standing on for a friend. I was taken aback on how she spoke to me but I respected her wishes. I went back to my spot and viewed the fireworks with my family. When it was over, I peered at the spot the lady stood throughout the night and nobody was with her. No “friend” came. It was a blatant lie. Of course, in 2014 I was around 14 years old. I did not understand why she would make up a scenario to avoid me. I was too young to know what she implied.

Racism by default is the act of believing your race X is superior to race Y. This runs much deeper than having a belief system in which you see group X superior to group Y. It is carrying that thought and putting it into effect. Refusing to serve someone because of their physical features, refusing to hire someone for a job, not allowing someone to buy a home; are all examples of Institutional Racism.

Going back to 1882 with the Exclusion Act which forbade the entrance of Chinese people into the US; it is evident that Institutional Racism has been imprinted in this nation’s early history. It is the implementation of unfair treatment in political and social institutions. Institutional Racism can be reinforced by income, employment, housing and education. According to the U.S Census Bureau 2015 American Community Survey, a Latino male makes only $29,949 in Median Annual Earnings compared a White male’s annual earnings of $55,166.

Due to the Great Recession of 2007-2009, in 2010 more than 6 million Latino children are living in poverty. Two-thirds are children of immigrant parents. I experienced this throughout my childhood. My parents were immigrants when they had me and began to take care of me. I lived with a single mom who often had to work two jobs to provide food on the table. It was not enough because my mom was dependent on food stamps since her jobs did not provide enough income. Additionally, Latinos undergraduates are more likely to enroll at a 2-year college institution rather than 4 years by 53%. White undergraduates are more likely to enroll at a 4-year college institution rather than 2-years by 58%. Reflecting back to the 2015 U.S Census, white people have the highest income compared to Latinos. White people have more accessibility to higher education than Latinos because they can pay tuition off. A 2-year college institution costs way less than a 4-year institution. I am currently enrolled in a 2-year institution since I could not pay a 4-year college when they accepted my application.

Institutional Racism is still evident in the United States. Stating it does not exist simply because it is not directed towards you is dismissively ignorant. This is only one part of various factors that come into play in the Latino community. We must speak openly about the complexities of Latino identity in the United States and its limitations.

Feature Image Credit: Paul J. Richards/Getty Images

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Paola Fernandez
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Aspiring Cuban-American writer who lives under palm trees and loves coffee. You can contact Paola at

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