Op-Ed: City Council’s leaked audio emphasizes need to address colorism in Latino community


Photo credit: Cadence Callahan

I found myself researching the situation after seeing the numerous articles The New York Times published on the resignation of previous Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez. Martinez and three of her colleagues are being demanded to resign by the public after a leaked audio of racist comments against Black and Indigenous communities in Los Angeles was posted on the online platform, Reddit.

By Lizette Gonzalez, Features Editor

Embarrassing. Infuriating. Disappointing. Yet, somehow, not surprising. That’s where the problem starts.

A conversation that was anonymously leaked this past Sunday demonstrated Los Angeles City Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin De León, Gil Cedillo and prominent labor leader Ron Herrera’s racism.

From calling Councilmember Mike Bonin’s Black son — an innocent child — a “monkey” in Spanish and an “accessory,” to calling Oaxacan immigrants in Koreatown ugly because of their skin tone, they were not hiding their anti-Blackness and anti-indigeneity.

As a Latina who strives to work in government in the future, it is angering to see these three tarnish the representation Latinas work so hard for in politics.

The fact that Martinez, De León, Herrera and Cedillo are all Latino showcases the deep-rooted colorism prevalent within our community. Sure, this traces back to the effects of white-washing, colonialism and violent self-hatred, but in no way does that make their behavior and language justifiable.

There is no room for excuses.

Martinez broke history by being the first Latina ever elected to be City Council President in Los Angeles. Her accomplishment means nothing now; it only adds to the embarrassment. These accomplishments hold zero weight if the behavior behind closed doors directly contradicts what is supposedly being fought for.

The more you listen, the worse it gets. It’s angering and heartbreaking to listen to the thirst for political power and dominance evident in the audio. How can you, as a member of a historically marginalized community, be complicit in the thoughts and system you are supposedly fighting against?

Latino prosperity cannot come at the expense of Black and Indigenous communities. This isn’t a competition; we cannot expect to be treated with dignity ourselves if we are feeding into the dirty work of white supremacy. Frankly, it’s embarrassing.

We would not have the Los Angeles we see today without Black and Indigenous communities. In Martinez’s statement she claimed this conversation was a moment of anger. It isn’t. Any leader who falls into the trap of corruption and pits different ethnic groups against each other has no place in power, but it hits a certain chord when people like her misuse the seat at the table we rarely even get.

To my fellow Latinos, we must and should hold our own people accountable. This begins at home where anti-Blackness, anti-indigeneity and colorism are woven into the fabric of our culture. You can’t ignore it. You can’t justify it. It’s not a joke or sarcasm. Break those generational views that have hurt Black and Indigenous communities far too many times.

This conversation occurred over a year ago. Imagine the conversations that happened since then. I guarantee you, the consequences are apparent to this day. These people’s words translate to their actions, their votes and their bills.

For example, Mike Bonin’s son, who these three disparaged, was in the foster care system. Who has the power to control and implement changes in the foster care system in Los Angeles? The very politicians who made these offensive statements.

More so, the leaked audio reveals a more serious issue. Why did no one intervene? Why did no one call out the blatant racism displayed? It doesn’t matter who leaked it; what matters is the words that were said, and the mistrust in government this leakage will only perpetuate even more. They can’t step on those who put them in office in the first place.

There is no place for people with this behavior on City Council nor in any position that is meant to serve such a diverse city like Los Angeles. It’s time for Martinez, De León, Cedillo and Herrera to face the overdue consequences. Their resignation is the bare minimum. Martinez resigning was the least she could’ve done, and honestly, her statement shows that she still hasn’t learned her lesson.

This audio exposed the complex fact that non-Black Latinos can uphold and even benefit from the exact system that has damaged them. We cannot escape the conversation just because it’s complex.

We need leaders that are willing to not only call out this behavior everywhere — even within our own communities — but acknowledge their own privilege and the difference in struggles that Black and Indigenous people face daily.

It’s time for a new generation of leaders, but there is no new generation if we don’t dismantle the anti-Blackness and anti-indigeneity in our communities now.