Remarks by LA City Council Members Struck at Local Oaxacan CommunityRoundup
tags: racism, immigration, Los Angeles, Oaxaca, Indigenous history, Latino/a history
A. S. Dillingham is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the author of Oaxaca Resurgent: Indigeneity, Development, and Inequality in Twentieth-Century Mexico.
Last weekend, thousands of people took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles in a march to City Hall. Called to action by a coalition of the city’s Oaxacan organizations, protesters demanded the resignation of two city council members, Gil Cedillo and Keven de León. They also made clear that Oaxacans are a central part of the vibrant, diverse city, and demanded respect for their community.
Saturday’s march was the culmination of a week of outrage and protests in Los Angeles. The leaked recordings of a 2021 conversation between three Latino city council members and a local labor leader revealed their anti-Black and anti-Indigenous views. One described the adopted African American child of another council member as “un changuito,” (little monkey) and another derided Oaxacans who live in L.A.’s Koreatown for their physical appearance. The city council president, Nury Martinez, a participant of that conversation, announced her resignation, and protesters continue to call for the two remaining council members, Cedillo and de León, to resign. In L.A., the scandal has raised questions about who is best placed to govern a city of nearly 4 million people. Nationally, it has raised questions about the limits of representational politics.
Local community leaders, such as Odilia Romero, have denounced the racist and “colonial” remarks of the elected leaders and pointed out how they form part of long-standing anti-Indigenous and anti-Black views within the Latino community. For many Oaxacans living in L.A., the comments were deeply hurtful, not only for their unabashed racism but also because many had mobilized for Martinez and the other council members in previous elections. Indeed, the leaked conversation and the public response have led to important discussions in mainstream spaces regarding the diversity and divisions within Latino communities. People have rightly pointed to the fact that racist ideas and racial hierarchies pervade the Latino community as well as our broader society.
To fully understand the outrage over the leaked conversation, and the Oaxacan community’s place in Los Angeles, we need to understand how anti-Black and anti-Indigenous ideas are prevalent on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. In particular, we need to understand the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca’s unequal incorporation into the North American economy. Oaxaca and its people have been exploited economically and cast as racially inferior on both sides of the border. But crucially they have also fought back and demanded respect for their labor and culture.
The state of Oaxaca is in southern Mexico, southeast of Mexico City, and boasts impressive mountain ranges along with a long Pacific coastline. It is not far from Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. Oaxaca was a center of pre-colonial Indigenous civilization, a source of tremendous wealth for Spanish colonialism and remains a place of Indigenous resilience and creativity. Today, there are officially 16 distinct Indigenous groups in Oaxaca. They speak a variety of languages, including Mixtec, Zapotec, Mixe and Chatino, among others. Many communities along Oaxaca’s coastline are of African descent. In a relatively small geographic region, Oaxaca houses incredible linguistic and cultural diversity.