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Following City Council members’ racist remarks, hundreds of Oaxacans march for justice in L.A.

Los Angeles’ Oaxacan community gathered under cloudy skies for a march for justice Saturday afternoon, following revelations over a leaked audio recording in which some City Council members disparaged Black and Indigenous people, among others, in starkly racist terms.

Carrying signs that proclaimed “Proud Oaxaqueña” and “Fuera Racistas,” hundreds of demonstrators gathered at noon on Grand Avenue in front of Los Angeles Trade-Tech Community College near downtown. Many attendees dressed in traditional Oaxacan outfits, and some brought their children and grandchildren.

They called for all of the city officials involved in the audio leak scandal to resign.

Odilia Romero held a sign that read, “Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo & Kevin de León resign now! We cannot let latinidad divide us. I stand with black communities & indigenous communities.”

“People from all over the state came,” Romero said of the protesters, “from farmworkers to construction workers, because Indigenous people are essential to the economy of this city, of this state and of this country.”

She said it’s important for those officials involved to step down.

“They cannot continue representing the highest population of Indigenous peoples’ district, when you think and talk about them in such a despicable way,” Romero said.

In the audio recording of a conversation that took place in October 2021, former L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez refers to Oaxacans as “little short dark people” — a racist stereotype often used to demean Indigenous communities.

“I don’t know what village they came [from], how they got here, but boy they’re ugly,” Martinez said. She added “Tan feos” — So ugly.

Martinez is heard making the racist remarks while talking with fellow Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and labor leader Ron Herrera about how the city’s council district boundaries should be redrawn.

Martinez resigned this week, in the wake of the fallout, but Indigenous community leaders say it’s not enough. They are calling for the resignations of Cedillo and De León and a public apology from Martinez.

Los Angeles is home to one of the largest Oaxacan communities outside of Mexico. One expert estimated that there are as many as 200,000 Zapotecs — the largest Indigenous group from Oaxaca — living in Los Angeles County.

“The comments made clear that these politicians are not thinking about us or considering us in their decision-making,” Odilia Romero, director and co-founder of Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo, or Indigenous Communities in Leadership, said in a statement. “They don’t think about us when they decide how to distribute resources or access public spaces; they don’t consider the Indigenous populations that live in their districts and across Los Angeles.”

On Saturday, Erika Aquino, 37, arrived with her four children and her mother before the march began downtown.

The family carried signs that bore quotes from MLK, Muhammad Ali and Benito Juarez. One of her daughters’ signs read “Be Brown & Be Proud.”

Aquino’s parents are both from Hidalgo Yalalag, a village in Oaxaca. Her mom arrived to the U.S. in 1980.

“In Mexican culture there’s always been colorism,” Aquino said. “Myself, as a brown person, I have always felt and seen how our own kind sometimes favor someone of lighter skin. It’s always been an issue and I think more hurtful when it comes from someone you know is your own.”

“Colorism is wrong in general, but it does hurt more when it comes from your own.”

Aquino’s mother, Emma Diego, 63, said she came because she was angry.

“We voted, as Democrats, to put people into office who will guide us, who will be our leaders. That’s how I saw Cedillo,” she said. “But we were wrong. He said indigenous people and immigrants mattered to him. He voiced that, but his heart didn’t believe it.”

“I came here so they can resign. We — Democrats, Latinos — put them in … just like we put them in, we can force them out.”

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