03/29/2012 08:04 am ET Updated May 29, 2012

New Mexico: Dark-Skinned Latinos Need Not Apply

Back in the 90's while living in a Latin country, I read a classified ad in a local newspaper. The ad was placed by an American bank looking for a receptionist. In addition to asking for someone under the age of 30, the advertisement mentioned that the female had to be "of good appearance," and light-skinned. Stunned, I immediately translated the Spanish language newspaper ad to my visiting American friend. We both agreed that you would never see anything like that in an American newspaper. The recent New Mexico campaign to promote tourism asking for Caucasians and light-skinned Latinos to star in their promotional commercial, more than two decades later, proves that we were probably making too much assumption.

For some time now, many Latinos with indigenous or African roots, have spoken against the portrayal of Latinos, mainly by Latino media outlets, as White. Univision is famous for its pale looking models where even the very few people with clear Afro roots, are made to look like zombies out of Michael Jackson's Thriller video. Indeed many indigenous and Afro-Latinos for years have denounced Univision for its underrepresentation of dark-skinned Latinos in their programing.

This underrepresentation of people of color in media outlets is responsible to a large degree for society's stereo types. Puerto Rican actress Rosie Perez knows this well. Upset that she was told by White producers that she couldn't get the part because she did not look Latina enough, got her so aggravated, that she decided to make a documentary to explain to people about her roots.

For too long our culture has been told that pretty is White and that White is what sells. Combine this with the portrayal of colored people in their limited roles, mostly negative roles, and you have your societal norm. The eventual conclusion is that people of color somehow come from an inferior race. Never mind that the long standing oppression of people of color, particularly those of Africans descent, throughout the New World, has led to their less favorable standing in society.

What is interesting, but not surprising, is that in spite of being around since the discovery of the New World, people of color in Latin countries, where they have also been the majority for an equally long time, today make headlines for having the first Afro or indigenous President, the first Afro or indigenous beauty queen, and so on, much like what you see in the US, where the color population has been a minority for a long time. People in Latin countries have been so well trained at accepting the definition of White as the standard for beauty, that they have learned to negate themselves, without recognizing it. So long as they can claim that drop of Whiteness, they are not people of color, they are Mestizos, or Mulattos.

Due to the cultural and social differences brought from the many countries Latinos represent, Latinos in the US find themselves already segmented enough, so for the average Latino there is barely space for further classification. This might explain why most Latinos in the US have managed to avoid the direct subject of race. But as the Latino in the US continues to become a major part of mainstream American culture, it will be exposed to the same societal pressures of mainstream culture, and that undoubtedly includes the issue of race.