Yes, I’m Mexican American. But the L.A. City Council audio leak jogged my memory that I’m Oaxacan too

As a Mexican American, I like being from two worlds. I really feel fortunate to have been born in Florida, rising up in a beachside metropolis in all of the state’s humid glory. I really feel proud realizing methods to make tamales and enchiladas and rooting for 2 soccer groups through the World Cup.

But not too long ago, I’ve been questioning whether or not there’s extra to who I’m.

My mom was born in Ñuu Snuviko, also called San Juan Mixtepec, a small pueblo within the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. It interprets to the “place where the clouds descend” in Mixteco, my mom’s native language. Surrounded by small farms in a slender valley, the city of about 7,000 individuals clings to a gravel street operating from the bottom of the highlands to the plaza, El Centro. On Fridays, El Centro comes alive with a market.

For a very long time, I didn’t think about Mixtepec as a part of me. When individuals have requested about my heritage, I’ve mentioned I’m Mexican American.

After which got here the audio leak that also reverberates in Los Angeles: Members of the City Council had made racist remarks in talking about a number of minority teams, together with Oaxacans dwelling in Koreatown. Nury Martinez, then City Council president, mocked Oaxacans as ugly, brief and darkish. She mentioned she didn’t know “what village” they got here from, as in the event that they have been too primitive for the town.

A primary street runs via San Juan Mixtepec, Mexico.

(Melissa Gomez / Los Angeles Occasions)

The state of Oaxaca is likely one of the nation’s poorest, largely untouched by tourism seen alongside Mexico’s coasts and capital. But Oaxaca is wealthy in tradition and historical past, dwelling to savory mole, smoky mezcal and historic ruins that inform of a time earlier than the Europeans got here. Two-thirds of the state is mountainous, making a mosaic of distant villages like my mom’s. Ten primary Indigenous languages are spoken in Oaxaca, and for those who pay attention rigorously, you’ll be able to hear them within the streets of L.A.

I keep in mind sitting at dwelling after I learn Martinez’s feedback in a narrative my colleagues broke on a Sunday. The listing of individuals she and three others insulted was lengthy. But Oaxacans?

I felt lightheaded as if I’d stood up too rapidly as I processed their phrases. “Tan feos,” she mentioned. So ugly. A distinguished Mexican American had invoked stereotypes a few group that, for thus lengthy, has been among the many most marginalized in Mexico, a rustic that has lengthy refused to acknowledge systemic colorism and racism.

As proven in a transcript, then-Councilmember Gil Cedillo adopted Martinez’s feedback by saying, “I’m glad they’re wearing shoes.” Former Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera casually talked about his mom used to name Oaxacans “Indios,” or Indians, a phrase typically used not as an identifier however spat as an insult.

Councilmember Kevin de León didn’t be part of the insults, however he additionally didn’t object, his silence a tacit endorsement. Martinez and Cedillo are not on the council, however De León nonetheless refuses to resign.

Didn’t they notice Oaxacans had formed and touched tradition and meals in all corners of Los Angeles? Didn’t they know Oaxacans make up a share of farmworkers within the U.S.? Didn’t they perceive that even after they have little, Oaxacans will at all times have tortillas con frijoles y mole to supply? Possibly. But the injury was completed.

Eva Gomez waits for the start of a procession to a church in San Juan Mixtepec

Eva Gomez, the writer’s mom, wears a inexperienced skirt and rebozo as she waits for the beginning of a procession to a church in San Juan Mixtepec as a part of an annual pageant of saints in June 2022.

(Suhauna Hussain)

Papel picado decorates San Juan Mixtepec during times of festivals and celebrations.

Papel picado decorates San Juan Mixtepec throughout instances of festivals and celebrations.

(Melissa Gomez / Los Angeles Occasions)

I spoke to Indigenous Oaxacans who have been harm and dissatisfied, but not stunned by what the audio revealed. But in addition they expressed immense delight for our tradition and our individuals, who’ve fought for years for visibility. I informed them my mom was from Oaxaca, and that I understood how they felt.

I additionally spoke to Mireya Olivera, the editor of Impulso, a Oaxacan media web site based mostly in L.A, within the aftermath of the scandal. I informed her my mom was from Oaxaca. She was stunned to study my household’s roots and mentioned she needed to someday hear the story of how a Oaxacan ended up at The Occasions.

“I was born in Florida, though,” I informed her reflexively. It was a level of separation from my roots that I believed existed.

“You are still Oaxacan,” she replied.


In Mexico, some consider that they and their countrymen are all one race, mestizos with Spanish and Indigenous roots. But I subconsciously understood that this isn’t how they noticed Indigenous Mexicans, how they noticed my mom. The lighter the pores and skin, the upper the social standing in Mexico, the place advertisements usually characteristic blond or brunette fashions.

In telenovelas we’re not the glamorous moms and statuesque daughters featured in dramatic story arcs, however maids and laborers and criminals — brief, dark-skinned and infrequently meek. Seen, however not heard.

My colleague Kate Linthicum wrote in regards to the mestizo fable in Mexico and the push by activists to check colorism and racism extra intently. A 2017 examine by researchers at Vanderbilt College discovered that the whiter you’re in Mexico, the extra doubtless you’re to obtain a whole schooling. The darker you’re, the extra doubtless you’re to make much less cash than your white counterpart.

Dwelling in Los Angeles, I felt like this didn’t contact me. But the audio jogged my memory that centuries of colorism and classism in Latin America have insidiously seeped into American tradition, meshing seamlessly with the U.S. variations.

Once I informed different Latinos the place my mom, Eva, is from, they’d say, “You don’t look Oaxacan,” as if it have been a praise. And for some time, I took it as one. I’m fair-skinned, lighter than my two sisters. My hair is curly and thick, not just like the straight raven black of most Oaxacans.

Eva Gomez, the author's mother, in San Juan Mixtepec

Eva Gomez, foreground, in San Juan Mixtepec throughout an annual pageant of saints in June 2022.

(Melissa Gomez / Los Angeles Occasions)

Nonetheless, as a baby, I understood how my mom’s Mixtec background influenced our lives. It’s in all probability why I’m brief, standing at a mere 5 toes. It meant that Mother didn’t study Spanish till she got here to the U.S., and that her grasp of the language was imperfect. It meant that my face would flush sizzling once we have been procuring and my mom answered cellphone calls in Mixteco and folks would stare.

I’ve many regrets about not being trilingual like a few of my cousins born in Mexico. I’ve requested my mom, why didn’t you educate me your native tongue? “You refused to speak anything but English,” she would inform me. Certainly, I might watch for my older sisters to translate her Spanish orders into English. I’m grateful that in adolescence, I started to grasp the significance of Spanish and caught to it.

When my mom discovered English for her U.S. citizenship check, we practiced writing out numbers in English collectively, filling lined pages with rows and rows, into the tons of. I craved assimilation, for each of us, as a result of it meant we wouldn’t be totally different from all people else.

For a very long time, I solely tolerated my mom’s hometown. We spent summers in Mixtepec, and I at all times dreaded the 13 hours it took to get there. I piled books and my Nintendo into my suitcase. It nonetheless feels overseas to attend an annual pageant that includes males on horseback violently ripping off the heads of roosters which can be hung and embellished like piñatas.

But now I really feel fortunate to have frolicked in my mother’s pueblo, disconnected from social media and taking part in life-size Monopoly and manhunt within the darkness that cloaks the city after sundown. The air is obvious and nonetheless, with a quietness that I miss.

My grandmother, who died in 2012 of most cancers, solely spoke Mixteco. We by no means held a single dialog. But I keep in mind her smile. She as soon as requested me for a pair of scissors with a movement of her hand.

At present, Mixtepec has modified. Those that traveled north for financial alternative, like my tías and tíos, have come again to construct houses. They’ve clung to Mixteco, however some say the youthful technology is dropping the language. There are web cafes connecting Mixtepec to the world in a approach that didn’t really feel doable earlier than. The buckets we used to take showers have been changed by operating water.

But we nonetheless wash dishes exterior in a concrete basin. An ofrenda for my grandparents goes up each October for Día de Muertos, with heaps of pan dulce and pollo con mole as choices. My mom likes to reminisce about scrubbing her garments within the icy chilly waters of Río Mixteco earlier than leaping in to chill off. She smiles when she recollects her glory days operating monitor and subject in class earlier than she dropped out in sixth grade to work.

I used to be in awe — as have been many in Oaxaca — when Yalitza Aparicio, the star of the Oscar-winning film “Roma,” introduced Oaxacans to mainstream U.S. media. I keep in mind excitedly watching it with my mom as Yalitza introduced a Mixteco dialect, totally different from my mom’s, to Hollywood. My chest swelled with delight realizing she was from Tlaxiaco, a small city I’ve visited to see my aunts and uncles. Whilst I simmered with anger, she held her head excessive as Mexican personalities mocked her pores and skin colour, her nostril, her indigeneity. She responded by persevering with to succeed.


Our identities don’t outline us. They will really feel uncomfortable and painful, like breaking in a brand new pair of shoes. But typically, they are often like a pair of previous denims sitting at the back of the closet that maintain every kind of recollections.

In a small approach, I’m grateful Martinez was caught insulting Oaxacans. Leaders have used it as a possibility to spotlight the poor therapy Oaxacans face in a metropolis as progressive as Los Angeles. Oaxacans are artists, regulation college students, nurses, engineers. We’re journalists, too.

I spent per week this previous summer time in Mixtepec, serving to my mother put together for a three-day pageant, a celebration of saints. She had been named mayordoma, a accountability so nice that greater than a yr in the past, she packed up her one-bedroom condominium and give up her two full-time jobs in Naples to dwell there full time.

Column One

A showcase for compelling storytelling from the Los Angeles Occasions.

At first it was onerous for me to see the pageant as something however frivolous, days of dancing, individuals sporting masked costumes and consuming from daybreak to midnight. “The party never ends there,” my mom, 54, mentioned. But it’s additionally a homecoming for these like my mom, who may not have left if she had the prospect to create a affluent life in Mixtepec.

My aunts have been on the town, gossiping in Mixteco about who wasn’t volunteering sufficient to assist with the meals and itemizing backup plans in case the rain got here. The scent of tortillas and mole crammed the air.

My mom regarded lighter. She was not weighed down by laborious housekeeping or lodge food-prep duties. As an alternative, she darted round in colourful skirts that modified day-after-day, her hair in braids, a rebozo round her shoulders.

She was dwelling. And for as soon as, I didn’t need to depart.