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Nicaragua: Refusal of Entry to Club and Allegations of Racism

The topic of racism was recently raised again in Nicaragua after a young woman was denied entry at a nightclub in the capital city of Managua. The locale states that she was not allowed to enter because of their right to refuse admission, but she alleges racism.

Majailah Francis, 18, daughter of Bridgete Ivonne Budier Bryan of the FSLN party and an alternate deputy in the Central American Parliament, was denied entry to the club El Chamán. She is an Afro-Nicaraguan whose family hails from the Caribbean coast where the majority of the country's black population resides comprising 9% of the country's ethnicity according to the 2005 Census (.pdf format). Her mother led the charge alleging the club had discriminated against her daughter based on race calling for the closing of the establishment.

After the accusations were made, the debate became public in the media, online forums, and also in blogs. Dozens of opinion articles discussed the topic, while the newspaper El Nuevo Diario criticized the nightclub and denounced inherent racism in Nicaraguan society. The human rights ombudsman called for the closing of the locale [es] and some intellectuals provided their own opinion, even comparing the case [es] to what happened with Rosa Parks.

Wilder Pérez of iEntonces [es] writes that “El Chamán does nothing more than reflect one of the many problems in Nicaragua, we are not racist, we are classist,” and lists various reasons why this scandal has more to do with the inherent classism in the society, instead of racism.

In local interviews conducted in various clubs around the city, La Brujula [es] found that much of the discrimination against club-goers had more to do with the person's dress or personal style. The author Roberto Salinas García found that there was a diversity of people who were enjoying themselves at the club, but did overhear discriminatory comments from some of the club's patrons.

“Creo que es una política de la discoteca. Si yo tuviese una no dejaría entrar ni a bolos ni a majes pintas” afirma Norman Espinoza…

“¿Y qué es para vos un pinta?” le pregunto. “Pues un pinta, un chambrín… un maje todo cholo” explica. Norman no es blanco, pero tampoco muy moreno. Se peina hacia atrás con los dedos el pelo negro. Su camisa es blanca con rayas café…

“A los que yo no dejaría entrar es a los indios” afirma Jackeline Orozco…, “No me refiero a los indios como raza. Un indio para mí es la persona intolerante, que no aceptan las diferencias culturales.”

I think it is the club's policy. If I owned one, I wouldn't let in drunk people or thugs, says Norman Espinoza…

“And what is a thug to you?” I ask him. “Well, he is a street looking guy, like a street gang member, a bum…” he explains. Norman is neither white, nor dark skinned. He combs his black hair back with his fingers. White t-shirt, brown stripes.

“I wouldn't let Indians in” says Jackeline Orozco…, “I don't mean Indian as a race. An Indian to me is an intolerant person, one who doesn't accept cultural differences”

María del Carmen Pérez Cuadra of Animal Inedito [es] has no doubt that there is racism in Nicaraguan society:

Con justa razón están protestando los ciudadanos afrodescendientes porque se sienten afectados y está muy bien que protesten, pero creo que se debe aprovechar este hecho como un momento que propicie la reflexión en torno a la discriminación. La sociedad nicaragüense es racista y discriminatoria. Hay colegios para gente “blanca”, colegios para gente india y pobre y hay colegios que no contratan si parecés pobre, sos gordo o gorda, o si profesás una religión que no sea la del centro de estudios. Yo, personalmente he llenado cuestionarios en los que preguntan si estás casada (o) civil y por la iglesia, si sos o no católica, quién es tu párroco, y que cuánto pesás y cuánto medís de estatura.

The Afro-Nicaraguans are justifiably protesting because they feel affected by the situation and it is fine that they are protesting, but I think they should take this opportunity as a moment of reflection on discrimination. The Nicaraguan society is racist and discriminatory. There are schools for “whites,” schools for the indigenous and for the poor, and schools that won't accept you if you look poor, are fat or if you are of a religion that does not coincide with the school. I personally have filled out questionnaires that ask if you are married by civil law or by the church, if you are or are not Catholic, who is your parish priest, how much you weigh and what is your height.

Other blogs opted for a more balanced position [es] like Alex Zedch:

…en ningún momento me imagino a los coordinadores del local indicándoles a los bouncer la lista de características de las personas idóneas a batear, es simplemente ilógico. Ponte a pensar, a ella no debe ser la primer mujer del Caribe que batean (niegan la entrada) a su vez que yo mismo sé de muchas mujeres que son de nuestra costa y que entran en cualquier disco sin ningún problema. Esto me parece mucho más a un treta política, extorsión o venganza de parte de la diputada por sentirse bateada, y es normal enojarse, yo alguna vez también estuve en su situación y aunque se siente de lo peor tienes que pensar que fue eso que te faltó para poder pagar por los servicios del local…

… la mayoría de las personas que vamos a las discos al menos una vez hemos sido bateados, y si usted no acostumbra a salir mucho le va a pasar constantemente, por que las discos tratan mucho mejor a los clientes frecuentes. El código de vestimenta existe y es para todos, al igual que usted no iría en calzón a la Asamblea yo no iría desnudo al Chamán y si piensa que usted fue expulsada del lugar por ser de su tierra piense que también está en el pacífico y como me quedaría viendo la gente del la Costa Caribe si les bailo Palo de Mayo a medio día con camisa manga larga y pantalón de vestir, es lo mismo. Y si piensa que la falla de una persona es tan imperdonable como para querer que cierren el local entonces eso de muestra su poca cultura y actualización de lo que sucede en el país, además de su poca madurez y carácter ante la vida.

…at any time do I imagine the club's management giving the bouncer a list of characteristics of people suitable to deny entry, it is simply illogical. If you think about it, she surely was not the first Caribbean woman to be denied entry, and and at the same time I know of many women from our coast and who enter any club without any problem. This appears to me to be a political trick, extortion or revenge on the part of the congresswoman for feeling denied, and it is normal to be angry, I also was in her situation and even though one feels very bad, one must think that it was what was missing to pay for the club's services.

…the majority of people who go to clubs have been denied entry at least once, and if you are not used to going out much then it will constantly happen to you, because the clubs treat their frequent clients much better. The dress code exists and it is applied to everyone, and just as you wouldn't go to the Assembly in your underwear, I wouldn't go to the Chamán naked, and if you think that you were expelled from the club for being from your land, also think that you are from the Pacific (coast) and how would the people from the Caribbean coast would look at me if I would dance the “Palo de Mayo” at noon with a long sleeve shirt and dress pants, it is the same situation. If you think a person's error is unforgivable that it warrants the closing of a locale, then it shows your lack of culture and lack of knowledge of what happens in the country, in addition to your immaturity and character in regards to life's events.

Other comments were severe in regards to the congresswoman's actions and her exagerrated, incorrect, unfocused judgement. Twitter user @isonauta writes [es], “(there is) a racist crisis in the middle-class discos after five centuries of structured racism disguised under an ideology of mixed races.”

Penalba.info [es] comments:

La diputada dijo tener conocimiento previo de otros casos así, pero solo hasta ahora procedio a una denuncia porque la afectada era su hija; aunque se presenta como defensora de la identidad y raza del caribe…

Existen suficientes personas que estoy seguro estarían a describir historias personales con respecto como no los dejaron entrar a ciertos bares o discos… Muchas otras pueden dar fe de haber sufrido racismo, yo mismo he visto esos casos, pero hay que tener inteligencia para poder apreciar cuando es racismo, cuando es machismo, o cuando simplemente es que le el portero no te quiere dejar entrar y/o te odia o desprecia personalmente por quien eres o porque no les parece y no por tu raza o género. Ser Negro o ser Mujer no te da el menor derecho de ser tratado distinto, sino igual que todos. Que alguien o alguna situación te sea contraria no la hace necesariamente racista.

The deputy said that she had knowledge of other previous cases, but only up until now did she make a complaint because it was her daughter who was affected even though she presents herself as a defender of the Caribbean identity and race…

There are many people who surely can tell personal stories about not being allowed into certain bars or clubs… Many others can attest to being subjected to racism, I have seen those cases, but one must be smart about knowing when it is racism, when it is machismo, or when it simply is about the bouncer not wanting to let you in and/or he personally looks down upon you for who you are or because they don't feel like and not for your race or gender. To be black or a woman does not give you the right to be treated differently, rather, the same as others. When someone or some situation does the opposite, it does not necessarily make them racist.

The owners of the El Chamán club published a communiqué stressing their business’ commitment to an inclusive and non-racist environment [es]. Days later they published on their website a photo of the congresswoman's daughter in the club, who had been a regular client.

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