Thursday, December 01, 2022

Natives in Los Angeles feel betrayed by racism

LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) – Bricia Lopez has entertained people from all walks of life at her family’s popular restaurant, which offers Indigenous-influenced cuisine from her home state of Oaxaca, Mexico. This includes Nuri Martinez, the first Latina elected as president of the Los Angeles City Council.

The restaurant, Guelaguetza, has become an institution known for introducing Oaxaca’s unique cuisine and culture to Angelenos, with clients ranging from Mexican immigrant families to influential local officials like Martinez.

But now, after a scandal over a recording in which Martinez was heard making derogatory remarks about Oaxacans like Lopez, the 37-year-old cookbook owner and author says she felt deeply betrayed.

Martinez resigned from his council seat on Wednesday and apologized. But the derogatory comments had hurt immigrants from Oaxaca, one of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico. Many people said that unfortunately, they were not surprised. Both during his childhood in his home country and after arriving in the United States, he said he was used to such hurtful comments not only from non-Latinos, but also from light-skinned Mexican immigrants and their descendants.

“Every time these people looked me in the face, they were all lying to me,” Lopez said. “We shouldn’t let these people lie to us and tell us we’re short, or that we’re ugly, or that they shouldn’t laugh at us.”

After Martinez leaves, two other Latino council members face calls to resign over a year-old recording of them mocking their colleagues and speaking about protecting Latino influence in council districts. Martinez used a derogatory term for the black son of a white councilor and called Oaxaca immigrants ugly.

“I see a lot of these dark shorts,” Martinez said, referring to a particular area of ​​the predominantly Latino neighborhood in Koreatown. “I don’t even know from which village they are or how they got here,” he said. “they are ugly”.

Lopez said she had heard similar racist comments growing up in California, but hoped they were a thing of the past and that young immigrants from Oaxaca would not listen to them.

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“I want people to look in the mirror every day and see the beauty,” he said.

There are over a dozen ethnic groups in Oaxaca such as the Mixtec or Zapotec. The southern Mexican state is known for its hand-woven and dyed rugs, pristine Pacific beaches, an alcoholic drink called mezcal, and sophisticated dishes that include moles, a thick sauce made from more than two dozen ingredients.

According to census data, Los Angeles is the US city with the largest Mexican population and nearly half of its 4 million residents are Latino. Informal studies show that hundreds of thousands of Oaxaca immigrants live in California, with the greatest concentration in Los Angeles, said Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, director of the Center for Mexican Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Derogatory language is often used against indigenous Mexicans. It is a “legacy of the colonial period”, Rivera-Salgado said of the Spanish conquests of the past.

Racism and discrimination based on skin color have been rooted in Mexico and other Latin American countries for centuries between people of the same race. Actress Yalitza Aparicio, who was nominated for an Oscar for “Roma,” and who hails from Oaxaca, faced racist insults in her country and aggressive atrocities on the Internet a few years ago, when she appeared on the cover of Vogue Mexico.

Odilia Romero said the scandal did not surprise her. Romero is a leader of the Oaxacan community and is one of those pressed to demand the resignation of Martínez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and two other councilors who interfere with leaked talks.

Romero said he has also received several calls since the scandal broke, including one man asking him not to let hurtful comments distract him from significant efforts to help the immigrant community.

“It’s a very patriarchal commentary,” said Romero, executive director of the group Comunidades Indigenous en Liderazgo, or CIELO, and a Zapotec interpreter. “How dare they tell us indigenous people that we do not understand. Of course we understand it, we see it every day.”

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Lynn Stephen, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon who researches Mexican migration and indigenous peoples, said the mestizaje concept was intended to eradicate, not promote, indigenous communities, and that discrimination persists today. It comes with immigrants to the United States, he said, just as similar divisions exist in other Latin American countries.

“These kinds of comments directed at indigenous peoples from non-indigenous peoples of Mexico, Guatemala, etc. are a different layer of racism,” Stephen said. “The people of Oaxaca face backlash against immigrants and Mexicans, and often with racism from non-Latino Americans, white Americans, sometimes from other peoples, and then within, where they live or school. “.

Ofelia Platten, a tenant organizer, recently went to the Los Angeles council chambers to demand the resignations of council members. She said she has not faced as much discrimination within the Latino community as outside it, but that there is no room for such behavior, especially among elected officials, who are charged with helping the poor improve their lives. are dependent.

“They think they have the power to step on people,” he said. “He has two faces.”

As Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial, Zapotec scholar and professor at Chicano/Study at California State University, noted, not just hurtful comments. It was very revealing to him about some officials who made decisions affecting their community. She endured humiliation growing up in the United States, and she faces similar rejection when she travels to Oaxaca. People are surprised that she is the head of the investigation team.

“It’s very painful because they are relevant people,” he said. “It hurts us, not only our feelings, but our real lives, in terms of our jobs and opportunities.”

Still, the academic said he has hope for generations to come in “Oxacalifornia,” the united community that has maintained its traditions while embracing life in Los Angeles.


Taxin reported from Orange County, California.

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