On October 9, audio of a 2021 meeting between former LA City Council President Nury Martinez and two of her city council colleagues, Gil Cadillo and Kevin de León, along with Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera, was leaked. Among the controversial comments that were uttered were racist comments toward Councilman Mike Bonin’s son and mocking the Oaxacan community.
These comments and statements sparked anger and disgust in the indigenous and Latino communities. Indigenous and Latino-run non-profit organizations, like Comunidades Indigenas En Liderazgo (CIELO), expressed their feelings and thoughts on the council members’ comments. “We honestly weren’t surprised. This is because these are the types of comments that we indigenous people in the Latino communities hear daily,” says Luis López Reséndiz, CIELO’s director of the center of language and power department. “It is unfortunate that it comes from four Latino politicians that might be the strongest in Southern California and represent the Latinos across the United States.”
CIELO was founded by two Zapotec women, Odilia Romero and Janet Martinez, in 2016. The non-profit is a woman-led, intergenerational organization based in Los Angeles committed to combating racism towards Indigenous people by shining light and bringing resources to the Indigenous migrant communities.
In a recent press release, Odilia Romero, who is a co-founder and the executive director of CIELO, stated that the comments that were made show that the politicians do not think about the Indigenous community. “They don’t think about us when they decide how to distribute resources or access public spaces; they don’t consider the indigenous populations that live in these districts,” says Romero.
Reséndiz has been working with CIELO since 2018, after working around indigenous migrants for a very long time. “I got involved in this because I am an undocumented immigrant and I understand, coming from an Indigenous community and the privilege of going to college, I understand the needs of my community,” says Reséndiz.
The audio leak comes one month before the city election, where multiple council seats are sought, including the mayor’s position. “We hope this new election will spark a movement holding our local politicians accountable and having them be more transparent and honest in their work,” says Reséndiz.
In response to the news, Martinez stepped down as Los Angeles City Council president on October 10 and, on October 12, resigned from her council seat. Reséndiz stated that he believes all those heard in the audio making racist remarks should resign. “[CIELO] doesn’t think there is any space for racist thoughts like this in the society we want to create in the United States and here in Los Angeles. We are Los Angeles, a city with more than seven million Latinos living in the county,” says Reséndiz. “We’re taking 20 steps back and not moving forward.”
Following the news of Nury Martinez and city council members, CALÓ NEWS recently spoke with Luis López Reséndiz, CIELO’s director of the center of language and power department, to understand the feelings within the Indigenous and Latino communities after the leak in-depth.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
LUIS LÓPEZ RESENDIZ, 29, LOS ANGELES, CA, CIELO DIRECTOR OF CENTER OF LANGUAGES AND POWER, CITIZEN OF MIXTEC, HE/HIM/HIS
WHAT WAS THE INITIAL REACTION TO THE STATEMENTS THAT WERE MADE BY FORMER LA CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT NURY MARTINEZ AND HER COLLEAGUES, ESPECIALLY SINCE SHE IS A LATINA WOMAN IN A LEADERSHIP ROLE?
When we heard this, we analyzed them. We honestly weren’t surprised. This is because these types of comments are the types of words that we indigenous people in the Latino communities hear daily. Unfortunately, it comes from four Latino politicians that might be the strongest in Southern California and they represent Latinos across the United States. Unfortunately, these comments came from them because these are people that have taken pictures with us; these are people that have spoken with indigenous migrants. These people promise to create a more inclusive and welcoming community in Los Angeles. So, to hear that from them, we weren’t surprised. We could expect this from Gil Cedillo because he has a history of being racist toward indigenous people. Knowing that it is not just Gil Cedillo and the rest of the council members is upsetting, but we weren’t surprised.
WHAT STEPS SHOULD THE LA CITY COUNCIL AND ALL POLITICAL LEADERS BE TAKING TO ADDRESS RACISM IN POLITICS?
I think this a wake-up call for all Latino communities and politicians to look at the way they are doing politics and look at the ingrained racism that exists within this community. For so many years at CIELO, we have talked about Latino racism, or we have asked Latinos to stop doing certain practices that are racist. So, I think given that this is out and the Latino communities are feeling shameful for these acts, we want to give a wake-up call for them to think about who they are electing into power. And to think these are the big bosses and politicians running campaigns and referring to Black and Indigenous people this way. Then what can we expect from their staff and their team? What can we expect from the people they hire? Is this a common practice they do? Are these common thoughts they have? So, we hope this is a wake-up call to the Latino community to reflect on racist practices across the United States.
SHOULD MORE HAVE BEEN DONE REGARDING THE OTHER CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS PRESENT? WHY OR WHY NOT?
I think what we are calling for is for all of them to resign. To leave. Not to step down from their positions but to leave because we don’t believe there is any space for racist thoughts like this in the society we want to create in the United States and here in Los Angeles. We are Los Angeles, a city with more than seven million Latinos living in the county. So, to have such politicians refer to us as these things is taking 20 steps back. We are not moving forward; we are taking steps back. So, we do want them all to leave and resign. Also, for the community, for Los Angelinos to pick actual candidates that will create a welcoming and more inclusive Los Angeles. We hope this new election will spark a movement holding our local politicians accountable and having them be more transparent and honest in their work.
HOW DOES THIS NEWS HARM THE LATINO AND INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES? EXPLAIN.
It harms the indigenous community because now we realize and see what the Latino politicians are. We are now seeing who our allies are. Now it comes to us and affects our Latino community. Are they our allies? Or should we be looking for allyship elsewhere? Due to so many indigenous migrants in LA, we need to create spaces for indigenous migrants and if we can’t find that support within the Latino community, we must accept that and create our spaces on our own and not involve Latino politicians.
How does that impact the Latino community? Well, it impacts them negatively because now it goes to show how racist Latinos can be. These are conversations that are not always spoken about. You don’t hear conversations about how Latinos can be racist. For example, we hear conversations about Latinos being attacked by Donald Trump. Still, we don’t hear conversations about Latinos being racists and being indifferent to indigenous migrants, indigenous people, or black communities.
WHAT IS CIELO DOING TO BETTER THE REPERCUSSIONS AND THE HURT FROM WHAT WAS SAID BY THOSE SUPPOSED TO BE LEADING US?
So, we are holding a space for indigenous migrants in Los Angeles. We are doing everything possible to bring this to light and have conversations with the communities we work with. Part of CIELO’s work is controlled awareness workshops. Where we educate Latino and non-Latino organizations about the indigenous peoples and the diversity and cultural diversity and language diversity that exists in countries south of the U.S. and Mexican border. So, we are doing our best to educate and teach Latinos and non-Latinos about the migration of indigenous people. We are doing everything we can to ensure those resources are available to everyone. We hope that the same energy is being used in Latino spaces.
WHAT WOULD CIELO LIKE TO TELL WOMEN OF COLOR AND ALL PEOPLE OF COLOR ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL TOWARD THE SITUATION AND THE THINGS THAT WERE SAID ABOUT THEM?
We want everyone to know that reflecting on these actions and our small practices is essential. Because when Nury was making those comments, she made them so confidently. She sounded so confident in herself while saying those things. So, what to let people know this confidence is being reproduced at home? This is something that she learned. She probably learned it from her colleagues. We can now see that this is a common practice because of how confident they were when they said these things. But this is something that starts at home. We can’t ask politicians and then move on. Racism starts at home and those practices are passed down through their elders, which starts at home. We are celebrating Indigenous People’s Day in Los Angeles. We are celebrating 530 years of indigenous people’s resistance. And to keep thinking the way council members believe,” “they are short and ugly.” She commented, “Okay, now all these people you choose,” referring to how we are always barefoot. It was making us seem as though we were less than humans. Now, these are some things that are being learned at home. So, they will not do the work at home to dismantle racism. After 530 years, these communities are still speaking their language; these communities are still here, walking and organizing and making their voices heard. If they can’t see that and if they can’t see the resilience. Then we have a problem. Because they can only see the negative comments, they’ve made. If they can’t see that, we have a severe problem of racism across the Latino community.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE TO BE SAID? OR DONE?
I think it will be many years from what we are seeing. It will be a lot of time and internal work in the organizations. When it comes from us, it will work when we keep educating and ensuring that we are creating spaces for indigenous migrants. We are highlighting the resilience and resistance of indigenous people. We are changing that narrative because Latinos are becoming a majority in the United States. Soon, Latinos will be the largest population in the United States. If we don’t start creating the visiting point of indigenous or black migrants, we will have a country that has just changed the face of who is the majority in the nation, and we will still be racist. So, there is a lot of work that needs to be done before Latinos become a majority in the United States and there is a lot of work that they need to implement. So, we are calling for that work to be done. We are calling to let us speak for ourselves as indigenous migrants. Also, to stop speaking for us because a lot of organizations tend to speak for indigenous people when they don’t have a lot of indigenous people on staff and to give us the space to teach them the alternative story of who they think indigenous people are.