LOS ANGELES (HPD) — Bricia López has welcomed people from all walks of life to her family’s popular restaurant, which offers indigenous-influenced food from her home state of Oaxaca, including Nury Martinez, the first Latina elected president of the City Council. of the Angels.
The restaurant, called Guelaguetza, has become an institution known for introducing the unique cuisine and culture of that Mexican entity to Los Angeles residents, with a clientele that ranges from immigrant families to Mexican actors and influential local officials like Martinez.
But now, after a scandal over a recording in which Martinez is heard making racist comments about Oaxacans like Lopez, the 37-year-old restaurateur and cookbook author said she feels terribly betrayed.
Martinez resigned from his Council seat on Wednesday and apologized. But the pejorative comments continued to hurt immigrants from Oaxaca, which has one of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico. Sadly, many said they don’t feel surprised. During their childhood in their homeland and after arriving in the United States, they said they are used to such scathing comments, not only from non-Latinos, but also from lighter-skinned Mexican immigrants and their descendants.
“Every time these people looked me in the face, they were all lying to me,” Lopez said. “We should not allow these people to lie to us and tell us that we are less, or that we are ugly, or allow them to laugh at us.”
Following Martinez’s resignation, two other Latino councilmembers face an outcry to resign over a year-old recording in which they mocked their colleagues and spoke about protecting Latino influence in council districts. Martinez used an insulting term for the black son of a white councilman and said that immigrants from Oaxaca were ugly.
“I see a lot of these dark-skinned short guys,” Martinez said, referring to a particular area of a predominantly Latino neighborhood in the Koreatown neighborhood. “I don’t even know what village they are from, or how they got here.”
López said he had heard similar racist comments growing up in California, but he hoped they were a thing of the past and that young immigrants from Oaxaca did not have to listen to them.
“I want people to look in the mirror every day and see beauty,” he said.
Oaxaca has more than a dozen ethnic groups, including the Mixtecs and Zapotecs. The southern Mexican state is known for its hand-woven and dyed rugs, pristine Pacific beaches, an alcoholic beverage called mezcal, and sophisticated cuisine that includes moles, thick sauces made with more than two dozen ingredients.
Los Angeles is home to the largest Mexican population in the United States, and nearly half of its 4 million residents are Latino, according to census figures. Informal studies indicate that several hundred thousand immigrants from Oaxaca live in California, with the largest concentration in Los Angeles, said Gaspar Rivera Salgado, director of the Center for Mexican Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles campus.
Degrading language is often used against indigenous Mexicans. It is the “legacy of the colonial period,” said Rivera Salgado, referring to the period of Spanish rule in the past.
Racism and discrimination based on skin tone between people of the same ethnicity have been entrenched for centuries in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Yalitza Aparicio, the actress nominated for an Oscar for the movie “Roma”, who is from Oaxaca, suffered racist insults in her country and aggressive diatribes on the internet a few years ago for her indigenous features after she appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine Mexico.
Odilia Romero said that the scandal does not surprise her. Romero, a Oaxacan community leader, is among many who had been pushing for the resignation of Martinez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and the other two council members involved in the leaked conversation.
Romero said he has also received many calls since the scandal broke, including one from a person who told him not to let hurtful comments distract from critical work helping the immigrant community.
“That is a very paternalistic comment,” said Romero, executive director of the group Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo, or CIELO, and an interpreter of the Zapotec language. “How dare they tell us indigenous people that we don’t understand. Of course we understand it, we see it every day.”
Lynn Stephen, an anthropology professor at the University of Oregon and a researcher on Mexican migration and indigenous peoples, said the concept of mestizaje — being of mixed race and a nation not unified by race — was intended to erase indigenous communities, not promote them, and that discrimination persists to this day. It comes to the United States with the migrants, she said, and similar divisions exist in other Latin American countries.
“These kinds of comments directed at indigenous people by non-indigenous people from Mexico, Guatemala, etc., is a different layer of racism,” Stephen said. “The people of Oaxaca have to deal with the backlash against immigrants and Mexicans, often coming from non-Latino Americans, white Americans, sometimes other people, and then within that (different layer of racism), often where they live or at school.
Ofelia Plato, a tenant organizer, recently went to the Los Angeles council chambers to demand the resignation of the council members. She said she hasn’t suffered as much discrimination within the Latino community as outside of it, but there is no room for such behavior, especially among elected officials who the poor count on to help improve their lives.
“They think they have the power to step on people,” he said. “They have two faces.”
For Xóchitl M. Flores Marcial, a Zapotec scholar and professor of Chicano/as Studies at California State University, Northridge Campus, it’s not just the hurtful comments that hurt. She said that she finds it very revealing about the officials who make decisions that affect her community. She endured insults growing up in the United States, and she still encounters similar rejection when she travels to Oaxaca, and people there are surprised that she is the head of the investigative team.
“It’s very painful because they are relevant people,” he said. “This hurts us, not just our emotions, but our real lives, in terms of our jobs and opportunities.”
Even so, the academic said she has hope for future generations in “Oaxacalifornia”, the united community that has maintained its traditions while embracing life in Los Angeles.
Taxin reported from Orange County, California.