This is a difficult issue, but we cannot avoid it just because it is. There is racism within the Hispanic community in the United States.
Just as we have condemned those who make racist comments against us, we must also denounce it when those expressions come out of one or more people within our own group.
The racist comments and attitudes of three members of the Los Angeles City Council and a labor leader, recorded during a meeting in October 2021, are contemptible and shameful, and speak of a problem that goes far beyond political circles. The now former president of the council, Nury Martínez, who was forced to resign her post, made a racist remark about an African-American child and made fun of Oaxaca natives living in Los Angeles, among other offensive expressions. The words of Martínez – and the silences and nodding comments by council members Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and labor leader Ron Herrera – managed to offend virtually all African-Americans, indigenous groups, the Asian, Jewish and Armenian communities in Los Angeles and a majority of city residents, who oppose this kind of racism. The four have already apologized.
Racism within the Latin community is an open secret. It is an awkward issue, seldom mentioned in public. It happens in Latin America – the region with the world’s worst inequality – and in U.S. cities with high concentrations of Hispanics. This racism, combined with classism, long ago created the most horrible and painful divisions based on ethnic origins and skin color.
It’s wrong to believe that racism is something we learn only when we come to the United States.
“People think racism does not emigrate, that racism is learned from white Americans,” Janvieve Williams, founder of the AfroResistance organization, told me in an interview. “And that’s not true. Those are lies. Basically, racism comes from our countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. And just as people emigrate, racism also emigrates.”
But we cannot accept racism as normal.
“Being Hispanic does not exempt us from being racist,” Ilia Calderón, my co-anchor in Noticiero Univision, born in the Colombian department of Chocó and a powerful voice in the defense of Afro-descendants, wrote recently. “The words leaked from the conversation of the Los Angeles council members are common in businesses, schools, universities, the streets, the bus and the train. But they are born at the tables of many homes and in our circle of friends and family, under sanctimonious giggles and the complicit silence of those who can speak out but don’t do it.
That’s why racism must be denounced, no matter where it happens. When Donald Trump, launched his presidential campaign in 2015 with racist comments – he said Mexican immigrants were criminals and “rapists” – we immediately denounced him. I did it also when he threw me out of a news conference, telling me to “go back to Univision” – he really meant go back to Mexico – and when he alleged that Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not do his job fairly just because of his “Mexican” origins.
But just as we denounced Trump for those racist comments, we are obliged to do the same when members of our own community are the ones who give voice to offensive words. Being a member of a discriminated minority can never be a shield or excuse to discriminate against others for their origin or their appearance.
There is not the slightest doubt that Hispanics are victims of discrimination in the United States. A Harvard study showed 33 percent of Hispanics said they were discriminated against when they were looking for a job, and 36 percent said they or their relatives had been mistreated by police just because of their ethnicity. What’s more, there is a clear perception of racism based on skin color. A Pew Center poll showed 62 percent of Hispanics say dark skin makes it more difficult to improve their lives.
But we cannot treat others like those who discriminate against and offend us. That cannot be a universal rule of conduct.
It makes no difference who made that 80-minute recording of the meeting in Los Angeles or why it took a year to make it public, anonymously. What is important is that it lifted the lid on a serious social problem that must be confronted.
The words of council member Mike Bonin, whose adopted son is African-American and was the target of Martinez’ insults, show the way to follow: “We need to be a city that not only issues a statement of indignation over something like this, but does the work to make sure that no little Black boy, no young Latina, anywhere hears this.”
This all happened, sadly, during Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States, when we should celebrate our origins and highlight the enormous contributions of indigenous groups. But based on the vigorous response of many organizations that immediately protested – “Out, out!” they chanted in the council chambers – and demanded the resignations of the council members who were recorded, I want to believe that there have been some small progress. And that something like this will never happen again.
I believe a new generation of Hispanics – born in the Internet, racial diversity and globalization – is much more sensitive to those issues. They are not burdened with the prejudices of their elders. And representation is essential. If an African-American or indigenous politician had been at the meeting in Los Angeles, I am sure the tone of the talk and the reply would have been different, without that very painful silence from the complicit participants.
When they heard the racist comments from the council president against a child, why did those three men say nothing and failed to confront her. The lesson is clear: In the face of racism, we cannot remain silent.