Moving toward healing: The role of philanthropy in rewriting historical narratives Artwork by Favianna Rodriguez

This content was created in collaboration by Joanna Carrasco, Thiara Falcon and Santiago Carrillo for Hispanics in Philanthropy's 2021 conference Collective Corazon: The Power is Ours. The session this content was designed for was intended to make the case for philanthropy's role in rewriting false historical narratives about the communities they serve due to their role in maintaining these narratives in their funding, grant strategies and storytelling. To make the case, we offer examples of what interrogating the history of Latinx people has looked like for us at Living Cities as part of our racial equity competency building, to help ourselves and our audience understand what rewriting accurate narratives rooted in anti-racism of our community might look like.

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we offered the history of how the "myth of the monolith" (explained in detail below) has been carefully designed to cement Anti-Blackness into the narrative of who Latinx people are and what their needs are; intentionally erasing Black Latinx people from the narrative of who is part of the Latinx community despite their contributions to the heart of so many Latinx cultures.

Below you'll explore and learn why we ground in history at Living Cities as a way to understand and educate ourselves on the violence inherent in the false narratives and stories that permeate our society, what we've learned about the narrative of Latinx people, how it came to be in America and how that history has impacted the narratives we hear and see about the Latinx community. Finally, we offer a call to action to philanthropy; offering examples of ways philanthropy has upheld the myth of the monolith in their narratives of so-called "Hispanics" and/or Latinx people and how they might be able to address this history of falsehood.

Why ground in history?

Learning from History: History is a tool for effective organizing. Understanding the lessons of history allows us to create a more humane future.

Source: People's Institute for Survival and Beyond

Image Credit: Emmett Wigglesworth, Photographed by Anton Kerklua Photography

Living Cities' has been on a journey to understand what it looks like to operationalize the PISAB anti-racist principle: learning from history.

In our Employee Resource Groups, we've grounded many of our conversations in the the principle of "learning from history."

What have we learned?

The Myth of the Monolith

The ideologies used to justify the enslavement and servitude of Black and indigenous people in service of Colonialism are ever-lasting.

Mestizaje is a narrative built on the colonial assumption and belief of Spanish/white supremacy and Black inferiority based upon a caste system that was designed and upheld by the Spanish in Spain and in all Spanish colonies in present-day Latin America. This narrative has led many to believe that all Latinx people of the world are those who are "mixed blood" particularly Spanish descent. Although the indigenous people of Latin America were enslaved and seen as inferior in the height of colonization, Indigeneity continued to be weaponized to further cement the Anti-Blackness rooted in the narratives that were being carefully crafted and are present in the current day narratives of who "Latinx" people are.

This same narrative purposely excludes Africans from nationhood, and obliterates African and Black contributions to Latin Americans history. The institutional denial of Black legitimacy influences the citizen’s conception of Blackness as undesirable for upward mobility and unworthy of respect, which over time and through generations, has resulted in internalized conceptions of Blackness as inferior, while Whiteness, is seen as superior.

Mestizaje: “racial mixture”; a political ideology that recognizes the racial mixture between indio and blanco in Latin American countries. Built off on the colonial assumption of Spanish/white supremacy and black inferiority, claims of colorblindness and racial equality obscure the presence of racism and racial discrimination.

Source: Afro-Latinx Podcast/ Episode 1

Illustration of Caste System

The invention of Latinidad & "Hispanics"

Before 1970, the US Census Bureau classified Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants as white. Each community of Latin American origin would go by their nationality and by the region where they lived in the United States. In the seventies, activists began lobbying the US Census Bureau to create a broad, national category that included all these communities. The result was the creation of the term “Hispanic”, first introduced in the US Census in 1970.

Source: The Invention of Hispanics

Assimilation in the U.S.

This new ethnic label also increased desire to assimilate into American culture to make life as Americans easier. This further advanced the myth of the monolith or mestizaje because many "Hispanics" or Latinx people quickly learned that aligning themselves with whiteness in America would benefit them. This further advanced the narrative of what Latinx people look like and who they are.

Source: The Making of a People


Latinx people comprise different demographics that vary along the lines of race, class, political histories, region, and more. Latinx identity is also a political construct, because it is only in relation to the historical marginalization of peoples of Latin American backgrounds in the U.S. that ethnic categories and identities such as Hispanic, Latino, and, now, Latinx have had any social and political currency. Grouping together all Spanish-speaking people—is a mischaracterization that ignores differences of race, class, language and other issues that are at the heart of Latinx people's identities and political beliefs.

Latinx is not a race, but is made up of groups who have different racial and ethnic backgrounds and have different experiences with racism.

Source: Latinx People in the US Are Never Going to Fit Into One Demographic

What Afro-Latinos, Black Latinos, Afrodescendiente Latinos Want You To Know

What's Philanthropy's Role to play?

illustrated by Kay Dugan-Murrell of Drawnversation (IG: @drawnversation) for Grantmakers in the Arts

How are you grasping at the roots of the issues you're aiming to solve for?

“Philanthropy is commendable,” said Martin Luther King, “but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice, which make philanthropy necessary.”

A framework rooted in charity alone ignores past realities and narratives that have forced communities into oppressive situations, and risks reinforcing givers’ lack of understanding with rewards that recognize their benevolence.

The field should seek to reclaim charitable giving by supporting practices that liberate—and that change the attitudes, beliefs, and policies of—society as a whole. It should seek to break down longstanding, intentional, institutional practices and narratives that have shaped social divides in the United States and that continue to promote inequality today.

Source: Shifting Philanthropy From Charity to Justice

What can this look like?

Philanthropy has a responsibility to reframe their giving strategies and the stories they tell about the communities they serve.

This might look like:

  • Disrupting Grantee/Grantor Relationships
  • Empower communities to tell their own stories and shape their narrative
  • Commit to shifting the narrative and stories about the communities you're serving and the impact you're making by asking questions like:
  1. In what ways is your organization upholding colonial, extractive, and exploitative practices?
  2. How can you, as a gatekeeper of resources, in the choices you make, minimizing the inherent power imbalance in the grantee/grantor relationship?
  3. Are your strategies and measures of "impact" rooted in culturally congruent approaches?

Resources from Living Cities work:

Reckoning with Race Storytelling Series

Just Say Black

Reimagining Our Realities through Storytelling

Source: Reimagining Philanthropy: Towards Relationships, Trust, Abundance, and Radical Love

Image Credit: Rommy Torrico

At Living Cities, we believe the work of making racial equity a practice starts with all of us. This work starts at the personal level because so many of us uphold and maintain damaging narratives about the communities we are surround by and sometimes, our own. These values, narratives and stories show up in our roles because we as people are making decisions constantly; decisions like who will write the story on the grant that was given and who it was given to or which of these organizations deserves these grant dollars, that may seem small but with intention can be yielded to affect change and impact the narratives of who is most deserving of aid and why. We hope this piece called you to think differently about the narratives you may or may not uphold, how those narratives may show up in your lives and in the choices you make within your role and how you may be able to shift these narratives through your decision-making.


Please consider all the sources linked throughout this piece as additional resources.

For Narrative Change:

Additional Resources: