Washington, DC – Below is a column by Maribel Hastings and David Torres from America’s Voice en Español translated to English from Spanish. It ran in several Spanish-language media outlets earlier this week:
At a time when the immigrant and Hispanic communities, like other minorities, are facing racism from an extremist Republican Party, it is both sad and contemptible when the prejudice comes from Democratic and Latino politicians who have, ironically, denounced the other side for its discriminatory positions.
The most recent marquee scandal broke with the release of a conversation—recorded a year ago—between Nury Martínez, now former President of the Los Angeles City Council, and Council Members Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, along with Ron Herrera, Chief of the L.A. County Federation of Labor. In the outskirts of a redistricting meeting, racist comments were made about the African American son of a white Council Member, Mike Bonin. But there were also comments about indigenous peoples, especially those from Oaxaca, who Martínez labeled “ugly.” There were also homophobic comments.
The expressions are so hurtful that the very idea of this group of politicians being held up as the community “leadership” of Los Angeles, one of the most Latino cities in the United States, is immediately repugnant. The Oaxacan community, on the other hand, is one of the largest cultural presences in the state of California and its most important festivals, like the Guelaguetza—which, in Zapotec, expresses the idea of participating, cooperating, offering, helping, and standing in solidarity—have been celebrated for decades in different cities across the state, and shown the greatness of a people that has struggled to preserve its roots, even outside of its places of origin. Were Martínez, De León, Cedillo, and Herrera aware of this when they expressed their real opinion about a people that has also given them votes?
The fact that this conversation was recorded a year ago and is coming out now, for who knows what political motivations, means nothing; these comments should never be uttered, not in private conversations nor public ones. With what moral authority can these so-called “Latino leaders” denounce prejudice toward communities they represent, if they think just like the people who are attacking them?
Now they know the best way to end a political career in an instant, like in that game of “Serpientes y Escaleras” (Snakes and Ladders) —which as Mexican-Americans, they should know very well—when one thinks they are above others or are just about to achieve their goal, and come across a terrible snake that forces them to descend to the lowest level of the game.
Even President Biden, through his spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre, said they should resign, calling their language “unacceptable” and “appalling.”
Around the country, civil rights, and pro-immigrant groups are embroiled in an all-out battle against racism emanating from Republican candidates and leaders, who state that the border with Mexico is under “invasion,” and claim that Democrats want to “replace” them with minorities to take away their political power. Others use migrants desperately seeking asylum like pawns in a Machiavellian game of political chess, like the Governors of Florida and Texas, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, respectively.
Now, one might expect anything from racist and anti-immigrant figures. But when representatives of these targeted communities exhibit similar conduct—behind the scenes, not suspecting they are being recorded—it is hypocritical and, even more, so despicable.
After all, it is not normal to discriminate; it’s not OK to reject someone and use racist attitudes. It’s not right to see the mote in your brother’s eye and not the rafter in your own, not in private and not in public. But especially not when one or more minority groups call you a “leader”; or when you are pro-immigrant and fighting for equality among all communities; not when your ancestors suffered countless abuses and put up with them, so that you could get where you are.
Martínez resigned from her council seat. And while the other two Council Members offered apologies, calls for all to resign their posts are growing louder. All three are Mexican-Americans and have recounted their respective family histories at various times, sharing a past of suffering. What will they have to say now, when they go home?
But sadly this isn’t an isolated case. Those of us who are Latinos know first-hand the rampant prejudice that exists at various levels in our community: some nationalities denigrate others, and even among people of the same nationality, prejudice exists by class, race, color, and migration status. It’s something so generalized that there’s often an attempt to “soften” it, saying that the jokes and comments are just “funny.” It’s common, on the other hand, to hear conversations among Latinos where they claim their white and European past, despite the geographic reality of Latin America where they were born and raised.
This is how things were and are in our respective countries. What’s strange is that when we arrive at the United States and feel prejudice and discrimination from other groups, we then accuse the others of being racist; and the politicians that also represent us raise their voices, and while they are mostly sincere and genuine, figures like Martínez, who don’t practice what they preach, also abound.
This, of course, presents a wake-up call to those who attempt to call themselves “leaders” of a community like the Latino community, which—in these crucial moments for its future in the United States—needs nothing less than a group of representatives who are, in private, exactly the opposite of what they pretend to be in public. And that is beyond shameful.
It’s time to examine our conscience at all levels, because racism and prejudice must be condemned, no matter who they come from.
To read the Spanish version of this article click here.