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Saturday, October 15, 2022

Race and Ethnicity in Los Angeles

Racist comments by progressive Hispanic members of the city council have roiled Los Angeles. Miriam Jordan at NYT:
“They just made public that their colonial minds have not changed,” said Odilia Romero, director and co-founder of Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo, or Indigenous Communities in Leadership.

People from native, pre-colonial communities in Latin America have frequently faced harassment in Los Angeles, a city that prides itself for being tolerant and diverse — and not just from white people.

“The assumption that if you are Latino and progressive, you don’t hold racist views, ignores the reality that racism is very deeply ingrained in Mexican and Latin American cultures,” said Gabriela Domenzain, a Mexican American who worked as a Hispanic community expert in both the Obama 2012 and O’Malley 2016 presidential campaigns.

Latin America is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse regions, and throughout its history, racial and ethnic groups have converged there — Indigenous people, white colonizers and Black people brought as slaves. Their mixing gave rise to a “browning” of Latin America, with people of different shades of skin depending on their heritage.

Many people are now of mixed ethnicity, but people with lighter skin have remained at the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy, while those with darker skin, whether Indigenous or Black, often tend to be poorer and to be shut out of elite social and political circles.

That unofficial caste system was exported to the United States, which has its own history of racial stratification and tensions. Among Latinos, who are all considered people of color, studies have found that those who are lighter-skinned are more likely to make economic strides than their darker-skinned brethren, like Black Cubans, Indigenous Mexicans and Central Americans.

“What you get is this convergence of colonial racism from Latin America recreated in communities in the U.S.,” said Lynn Stephen, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Oregon.

Indigenous Mexicans and Central Americans typically are shorter and have darker skin than other Latinos, and their first language is often not Spanish. Prejudice against them is commonplace at workplaces in farm fields, in restaurants and even on construction sites, where subcontractors sometimes separate Indigenous crews from other Latinos on the same job to avoid conflict.

“We are regarded as dark, short people, brown people who are ugly and ignorant,” said Arcenio López, a former farmworker who is executive director of Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project, an organization that advocates for Indigenous field workers in California.

“On top of being exploited by employers, Indigenous farmworkers suffer discrimination from co-workers,” he said.