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Angered by racist comments, Oaxacan immigrants march to Los Angeles City Hall

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Over the weekend, hundreds of protesters marched to Los Angeles City Hall. Most were Indigenous immigrants from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. They're angry over racist comments that the former president of the city council, Nury Martinez, made denigrating their community. Her offensive remarks were captured on a secretly recorded conversation that Martinez had with two other Latino council members. Martinez has since resigned. But protesters want the other two to step down as well. Here's NPR's Adrian Florido.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: At the front of the march, a Oaxacan brass band led the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLORIDO: More than 1,000 people marched, most of them Oaxacan immigrants or their LA-born children and grandchildren.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Non-English language spoken).

FLORIDO: Out with the racists, they shouted. This is Clara Montellano.

CLARA MONTELLANO: (Non-English language spoken).

FLORIDO: "I'm here to protest the racist comments from our elected representatives," she said. "They are unacceptable." On the secretly recorded tape that set off a political implosion last week, then-Council President Nury Martinez shocked the city with how casually she used racist language to talk about Black people and Indigenous Oaxacans. She called Oaxacan short, dark and ugly. At the march, Irais Leon carried a sign that read...

IRAIS LEON: Short, dark and very beautiful (laughter).

FLORIDO: She switched to Spanish to better express herself.

LEON: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "She called us short and ugly," Leon said. "But these short, ugly people contribute a lot to their salaries." This scandal has forced a reckoning within LA's Latino communities that many people have thought long overdue. Indigenous immigrants from Latin America have long faced racism from other Latinos. But it's something rarely talked about. Nancy Luis, the daughter of Oaxacan immigrants, said discrimination from fellow Latinos always hurts, but more so in this case because it came from three of the most powerful Latinos in the city.

NANCY LUIS: It's, unfortunately, something we've learned to endure. It did not surprise me. But it was very, extremely hurtful and triggering to hear that at, like, a political level. But we're here to fight against that today.

FLORIDO: Karina Marcial said hearing the tape brought back painful childhood memories.

KARINA MARCIAL: I used to get people telling me, like, oh, you're so dark. Why are you so dark?

FLORIDO: Those questions from her Mexican classmates, she said, filled her with insecurity.

MARCIAL: As I grew up, I would kind of always, like, tell my classmates, oh, I'm just Mexican. But I would never want to say where my parents are from. I would feel like I'm ashamed of my parents. I'm ashamed because they're not as tall as other parents. They're not as light as other people.

FLORIDO: Marcial is no longer ashamed. When she marched to city hall, she carried a small sign that said, proud to be Indigenous.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIRTWIRE'S "SAILING THE SOLAR FLARES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.

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