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Memo From Mexico | Is Miss Bolivia Racist?
A Latin American variant of the National Question erupted recently in—can you believe it?—the Miss Universe competition in Quito, Ecuador.
But the assembled misses were in Quito for a spell before the final competition. They were preparing for the pageant and doing interviews. And that's when the controversy occurred.
Gabriela Oviedo, this year's Miss Bolivia, got herself into some unexpected hot water, when she responded to a seemingly innocuous question:
"What is one of the biggest misconceptions about your country?"
Apparently, Miss Bolivia had not previously been equipped with a politically-correct response. She just blurted this out:
"Um... unfortunately, people that don't know Bolivia very much think that we are all just Indian people from the west side of the country, it's La Paz all the image that we reflect, is that poor people and very short people and Indian people ... I'm from the other side of the country, the east side and it's not cold, it's very hot and we are tall and we are white people and we know English so all that misconception that Bolivia is only an "Andean" country, it's wrong, Bolivia has a lot to offer and that's my job as an ambassador of my country to let people know much diversity we have." [Transcript Video]
Well, that was enough to ignite a firestorm. Miss Bolivia's comments were on the front pages of papers in Bolivia. She was called a "racist" and her resignation as Miss Bolivia was even called for (though never by the pageant itself).
Even Maria Alvarez Plata, Bolivian Vice-Minister of Culture, weighed in on the question. She called Senorita Oviedo's statements "lamentable" and declared that "No person who represents us has the right to have such a racist outlook…"
The Vice-Minister of Culture practiced a bit of psychoanalysis, stating that Miss Bolivia has difficulty recognizing "the cultural diversity that we have in our country." [Indignación por declaraciones racistas de Miss Bolivia en Ecuador LA PAZ, May 27 (AFP)]
Wait a second! It seems to me that Miss Bolivia does recognize the "cultural diversity" in Bolivia. In fact, she got into trouble for recognizing and publicly pointing out—to foreigners! — Bolivia's diversity.
You know the deal. Diversity is a Great Thing. It should be celebrated. But if you really talk about it, you're branded a racist.
Let's take an objective look at Bolivia and see what the fuss is about.
Bolivia's population is 55% Indian, 30% mestizo and 15% white.
Western Bolivia, the Andean region including La Paz, is principally inhabited by the indigenous Quechua and Aymara, descendents of the Inca. They are generally shorter in stature than those of European ancestry. And yes, they tend to be poorer as well.
The lowlands of Eastern Bolivia, including Santa Cruz, from which Senorita Oviedo hails, is generally inhabited more by mestizos and whites. And they do tend to be taller. Gabriela Oviedo herself is six feet tall. [Vdare.com note: see The Last Days of Bolivia? By Mark Falcoff, for a full rundown on Bolivia's problems.]
In other words, what Miss Bolivia said about her country's regions and ethnicities is true.
Why was it offensive?
Was it the way she said it? Or the tone of her voice?
Was it the fact that by beginning with "unfortunately" she cast her discourse in a negative light?
Was she really putting down the western residents of her nation who differ from her racially?
Since the interview was in English, Miss Bolivia claimed she had been misinterpreted. But she didn't drop out of the pageant.
Whatever Miss Bolivia's motives, I would venture to say that her comments stirred up such a fuss because they touch a raw nerve in Latin America, a taboo topic, a reality you're not supposed to notice—the Great Latin American Racial Divide.
What racial divide? Latin Americans aren't like those racist Anglo-Saxons up north, are they? Aren't Latin Americans people who don't notice skin color? Isn't Latin America a happy melting pot of the races, where race doesn't matter?
Certainly, Latin America contains an astonishing mosaic of racial and ethnic groups, including racial mixtures of various kinds.
But generally speaking, wherever you go, white Latin Americans are at the top of the totem pole!
You need look no further than the Latin American contestants in the Miss Universe competition.
Does she resemble the average 19-year old woman from her country?
Colombia is 58% mestizo and 20% white. But look at Miss Colombia!
Ecuador, the host of the pageant, is 65% mestizo. Look at Miss Ecuador.
Panama is 70% mestizo and 10% white. But look at Miss Panama.
(And her mother's maiden name was Clark!)
Paraguay is 95% mestizo. But look at Miss Paraguay.
The Dominican Republic is 73% mulatto and 16% white, and look at Miss Dominican Republic.
Nicaragua is 69% mestizo. But look at Miss Nicaragua.
Peru is 45% Indian, 37% mestizo and 15% white, but look at Miss Peru.
Do you see the pattern here? None of these countries has a white majority. But all their Miss Universe contestants (with one exception) are white—or at least from the white end of the mestizo spectrum.
The only exception: Miss Guatemala, a mulatto with an English surname, who hails from the country's small Caribbean coast.
Don't get me wrong.
Far be it from me to tell Latin American countries who they should pick for their Miss Universe representatives.
But please, Latin Americans, don't tell us how racist we are—and how color blind you are!
We may be foolish. But we're not blind.
American citizen Allan Wall lives and works legally in Mexico, where he holds an FM-2 residency and work permit, but serves six weeks a year with the Texas Army National Guard, in a unit composed almost entirely of Americans of Mexican ancestry. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his FRONTPAGEMAG.COM articles are archived here; his website is here. Readers can contact Allan Wall at firstname.lastname@example.org.