Debate has ensued after the Mexican celebrity Wendy Gonzalez posted an altered picture of Guatemalan activist Rigoberta Menchu. Critics see the image as an example of further discrimination against indigenous people.
The 30-year-old actress Wendy Gonzalez has achieved stardom in Mexico though her roles in several telenovelas. Her profile on Instagram, where more than 130,000 people follow her, features a pouty, seductive image of her and a little blurb claiming that she likes animals and is a vegetarian. Over on Facebook, she has almost 900,000 "likes."
But, ever since she posted a "before and after" image of Guatemalan Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu on Instagram, Gonzalez has received a fair bit of online dislike, as well. The "before" picture of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner is juxtaposed with the "after" portrait, which was processed in a glamor app that whitens, smooths and adds makeup to faces. Beneath it, Gonzalez wrote: "When you use the 'beauty' app in your pictures ... but we all know the truth." In another sentence next to the image, Gonzalez begged her followers to "please understand that this is a joke about the App!!! Not about Ms. Rigoberta" - but it was already too late.
Four days later, the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation made its own Facebook post, demanding a public apology from Gonzalez. "It's simply a lack of respect," foundation director Carlos Chocooj told DW. "She has no right to do that. Why didn't she use a picture of herself? It not only offended Rigoberta Menchu, but also all indigenous peoples."
Chocooj guessed that the supposedly undoctored "before" image had also been manipulated, and sure enough, it turned out that the contrast had been enhanced to distort Menchu's features with bad lighting. "It shows us that the intention was not benevolent from the beginning," Chocooj said. The issue has received attention beyond Guatemala and Mexico, which share a border. Media have covered it across Latin America and in Spain, as well. Many human rights and women's organizations have shown their solidarity with Menchu.
For decades - right through Guatemala's 36-year civil war - Menchu has fought for the rights of indigenous people and women, and not just domestically. She was just 35 years old when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. She ran to unseat the president in 2007 and 2011. Whatever Gonzalez's motive, it was certainly a poor choice on the part of the young actress to use the image of someone so internationally respected and beloved. "We did not even know Wendy Gonzalez before," Chocooj said, "but we now demand a public apology."
Gonzalez has since posted a tepid defense of her "humor" on Instagram and even accused Menchu of indifference to the plight of the 43 families searching for loved ones abducted in 2014 in the Mexican state of Guerrero.
Permissible, pervasive racism
Imposing colonial standards of beauty on indigenous women is an ugly tradition, and no matter what Gonzalez had intended with her ill-advised Instagram post, the altered image brings up a painful issue for many indigenous people in Latin America and throughout the world. "Tribal peoples are the groups that are discriminated against most blatantly without it being seen as racism," Linda Poppe, of the indigenous rights organization Survival International, told DW.
From Botswana to Bolivia, indigenous people are regularly confronted with discrimination. "Don't be such an 'indio'" turns the Spanish word for "Indian" into a common insult in Guatemala, for one example. Poppe said such derogatory comments made their way into political discourse and media reports. More blatant, she said, is the use of such terms as "pigs, dirty, ignorant and medieval."
Gonzalez's post has added further insult by propagating European features as the standard of beauty. "It has gone so far that many tribal peoples dress and act like the majority in society," Poppe said. "They have basically internalized the abasement and believe that they are worth less as humans if they act the way it would be normal in their culture."