Nury Martinez Controversy Spotlights Anti-Indigeneity & Racism in Latinx Community

In the wake of the anti-Indigenous and racist comments made by former Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, the impact is still felt within the communities affected

Nury Martinez racist remarks

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Solagil1126

In the wake of the anti-Indigenous and racist comments made by former Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, the impact is still felt within the communities affected. Martinez resigned as president on Monday, Oct. 10, after spending nearly 10 years on the council and becoming the first Latina president in January 2020. She represented the city’s sixth district in San Fernando Valley, in Los Angeles County with 41.5 percent of the population registering as Latinx, according to the 2020 Decennial Census.

Martinez’s controversial comments during a redistricting meeting were part of an audio recording leaked on Sunday, Oct. 9, by a now-suspended Reddit user. The Los Angeles Times and KnockLA first reported on the scandal involving Martinez, council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera in a council meeting held more than a year ago on or around October 2021.

The council members were heard in the taped conversation discussing their efforts to keep the city’s economic assets in “heavily Latino districts.” However, the Latino legislators criticized Councilman Mike Bonin and his involvement with the Black community since adopting his now-8-year-old son.

In the recording, Martinez can be heard saying “Bonin thinks he’s f—king Black” and called him a “little b—-h” after suggesting that council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson, a Black man, move Los Angeles International Airport out of Bonin’s district on the city’s west side, as reported by the LA Times.
De Leon also chimed in by stating that Bonin was considered the council’s “fourth Black member,” adding, “Mike Bonin won’t f—ing ever say a peep about Latinos. He’ll never say a f—ing word about us.”

Martinez described Bonin’s son as a “changuito” (monkey) and claimed he was using him as an “accessory” when they appeared on a float for the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in 2017.  These racist remarks are unfortunately nothing new within the Latinx community and this conversation has spotlighted the anti-Blackness and colorism that are often taboo topics.

“One of the most discouraging aspects of Martinez’s comments is how common they are, both in this country, as well as within the Latinx/e community,”  Dr Angel Jones, an Afro-Latina educator, activist and critical race scholar, tells HipLatina. “What she said about Bonin’s son was not just an attack on Black Americans, but the Black community as a whole. Her choosing to refer to him as both an accessory and a monkey perpetuates the degrading narrative that attempts to strip us of our humanity.”

The conversation continued with Martinez using the racial slur “Su negrito” to describe Bonin’s son, who she says was reportedly misbehaving during the event. “This kid is going to tip us over,” she said in the audio recording. Martinez also claimed that she and other women on the float had to step in and correct the child’s behavior.

“They’re raising him like a little white kid,” Martinez said. “I was like, this kid needs a beat down. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”

Bonin and his husband, Sean Arian, released a statement hours after the recording was leaked, calling for the council members to resign. “The entirety of the recorded conversation … displayed a repeated and vulgar anti-Black sentiment, and a coordinated effort to weaken Black political representation in Los Angeles,” they said in a statement.

But those aren’t the only comments sparking a demand for all the council members involved to resign. The group also discussed Koreatown — which has a large Latinx population.

“I see a lot of little short dark people,” Martinez said of the Oaxacans living in Shatto Place and Lafayette Park.   “Yeah, puro Oaxacan…” a man’s voice can be heard saying following her statements. “I was like, I don’t know where these people are from, I don’t know what village they came [from], how they got here,” Martinez said, describing  them as “tan feos.”

Informal studies show that several hundred thousand Oaxacans have settled in California, with most of them residing in the Los Angeles area, according to Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Mexican Studies, the Associated Press reported.

Mirna N. Martinez, a first-generation immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, trauma therapist and member of the LGBTQ+ community, says she experienced “anger and sadness” after hearing the remarks Martinez made.

“Oaxaca is Mexico, it is not a separate entity although it is often spoken and regarded as such due to the racism, colorism and elitism embedded in Mexican Culture,” Mirna explained in an emailed statement to HipLatina. “I believe that Martinez’s comment come from her [own] racism towards Oaxacans.”

Mirna says she also believes the council members “know the contributions Oaxacan culture has made in the city, with many of them utilizing “Oaxacans and Indigenous folks for their [own] showcase and their [own] convenience.”

“The hard part about racism in Mexico, and the way it travels to the United States, is that it’s kind of everyday common, embedded in jokes,” UCLA Chicana/o Studies professor Maylei Blackwell told LAist. She cites jokes directed at the Indigenous community depicting them as “ignorant, tacky, low-class and ugly.”

While Martinez has stepped down as president and resigned from the City Council and Herrera has resigned as president of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, Cedillo and De Leon have yet to resign. After several protests and calls for resignation, former interim Council President Mitch O’Farrell announced Monday that de León and Cedillo would be removed from all assignments aligned with their positions.There is no way for the council to remove them from their positions so resignation is currently the only option.

The remarks made during this meeting is overt proof that many Latinxs still view those with dark skin as inferior while refusing to hold themselves accountable for practices deeply ingrained in Latinx communities. In the aftermath, how do Black Americans and Oaxacans begin the healing process? It begins with accountability and having these difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Mirna says one way is to close the gap between Latinxs and anti-Blackness.

“You have to take into consideration that we are talking about practices that have been embedded since colonization and many people try to either erase or pretend they no longer apply. In any case, having conversations such as the ones happening since the release of this audio is a great place to start.”

Meanwhile, Jones believes addressing anti-Blackness in the community means to “admit that it exists and self-reflect and acknowledge the ways they have perpetuated anti-Blackness and upheld White supremacist ideologies.”

AfroLatino anti-racist activist  Dr. Bryan Leyva tweeted a response to the leaked audio stating it’s more than just an example of colorism, it’s rooted  in white supremacy.

“Do NOT dismiss the recorodding of Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, etc as another ex of ‘colorism’ in the Latino comm. It is a playbook on the ways racial dominiation and hierarchy are maintained here + in Latin America with Indigenous and Blk ppl at the [bottom] and [white] and mestizos at the [top].”

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Anti-blackness indigenous culture Internalized racism Nury Martinez racism
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