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Racist Comments On Leaked Tapes Renew Feelings Of Erasure Among Black Latinos

A family poses for a photo on a street corner during a protest. They're standing in front of a grey building with blue piping and doors with windows. A dark-skinned Black woman with long curly black hair wears a black mask over her mouth and nose, a red short sleeve shirt and black pants, and holds her light-skinned brown baby, who is covered with a white patterned blanket. She holds a white and black sign that says "We are with the Blacks." Her husband, a light-skinned Black man, stands next to her, he has curly black hair and wears a black mask over his mouth and nose. He is wearing a black short sleeve shirt and blue pants. He is holding their son, a dark-skinned Black child wearing a black shirt, black pants. and white socks and black shoes.
La Mikia Castillo, right, and her family protesting the racist comments made in the leaked tapes this week.
(Courtesy La Mikia Castillo)
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Los Angeles was built on stolen Indigenous land. And Black Latinos built Los Angeles as we know it now. The region’s 44 earliest settlers to this area included many Black Mexicans.

Leaked tapes first revealed on Reddit captured the anti-Black, anti-Indigenous conversation from then-L.A. City Council president Nury Martinez, who resigned on Wednesday, councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, and former L.A. Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera, who resigned on Tuesday, in a conversation about manipulating L.A.’s redistricting process for personal gain.

It’s hard to pinpoint the worst part of the tapes. But they certainly exposed the heavy truth about white supremacy and anti-Blackness in many Latino communities, and the challenges Afro Latinos and Black people face in this city to gain both acceptance and political representation.

“The history of Black people are often excluded from Mexican history, or told, or presented as an unimportant footnote, or as a dead footnote” said Myriam Gurba, an L.A.-based writer and descendant of Black Mexicans, who called Martinez’s racist comments “repugnant and disgusting.” She tweeted a photo this week of her ancestors with the caption, “Black Mexicans exist. And Black Mexicans founded L.A.”

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Mexican culture is also Black culture.
— Myriam Gurba

“Black people are alive and well, and Black culture is largely responsible for many elements of what we consider Mexican culture. Mexican culture is also Black culture,” Gurba said.

The Rich History Of Afro Latinos In California

Two dark-skinned Black Mexican women in a photo from 1905 pose next to each other for a formal photo. The youngest woman stands and places her hand on the shoulder of the older woman, who is seated. The backdrop is a faded black color. The women wear black dresses. Their black hair is in braids and buns.
A photo of Myriam Gurba's ancestors taken around 1905, from left, Narcisa Lugo Lozada and Felipa Coppola.
(Myriam Gurba)

Here’s one example: at Pio Pico State Park in Whittier, a large, white adobe mansion still stands tall as the home of the last governor of Mexican California, Don Pio Pico — a Black and Indigenous Mexican man in one of the most powerful positions in the new territory.

In 2022, we sit in traffic on Pico Boulevard. Some of us send our kids to Pio Pico Elementary School. We live, work, and play in the Pico-Union neighborhood. Many of us may not know why we see that name everywhere.

Black people in L.A. with roots in Latin American and some Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries tell me they aren’t surprised by that fact — many move around in the city and feel like that identity is largely invisible.

L.A. is also home to some of the largest populations of Black Latino immigrants, like our Belizean community with around 30,000 people.

The divisive comments in the leaked tapes also triggered backlash in L.A.’s vibrant networks of Black and Brown solidarity and community building that have been pivotal to efforts like the L.A. County Board of Supervisors withdrawing plans to replace Men’s Central Jail.

“We’ve always been able to communicate, we’ve always been able to have open dialogue … and come together as a community to be able to build when there hasn’t been any investment in our community,” said Estuardo Mazariegos, a community organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

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“[The tape] was heartbreaking and all. But it’s not representative of what’s going on on the ground,” he said.

Why Those Racist Comments Hit Home

Martinez’s particularly nasty remark “parece changuito,” or “like a little monkey,” directed toward Councilmember Mike Bonin’s young Black son hit home for me as well.

I am Colombian-American. I’m a mixed-race person of Black, Indigenous and white ancestry, but, like Bonin’s son, I grew up within a mostly white family.

A black and white photos shows a Black and Indigenous Mexican man with a fluffy white beard and white hair wears a black coat, black pants and black shoes, and sits in a black chair. A table draped with a black tablecloth is to his right, his arm is resting on it. On top of the table is a tall black hat. The floor is tiled with a geometric pattern.
Pio Pico, the last governor of Mexican California, in a photo from 1869.
(From 1929 book "La Reina," by Laurance Landreth Hill/LAPL)

There’s actually a name for people like me in Colombia: “triguenita” — referring to a mix of three races. But at its root, it is a racist comment — a complement for not being too dark-skinned.

My relatives in Colombia come in all shades, and, like many Latino families, sometimes struggle to love and appreciate their Blackness. Family members there have nonchalantly sent anti-Black comments or memes in group chats. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I fit anywhere — a common feeling among other Black Latinos I spoke with.

I wanted to share how Black and Afro Latino Angelenos are processing the emotions of this week. And it’s important to note that Black Latinos are not a monolith. Some people identify strongly and only as Black. Others identify as mixed-race and move through the world much differently based on their skin color. Some folks also see the term “Afro Latino” as erasing their Blackness.

What Black and Afro Latino Angelenos Have To Say

I’ve gathered a collection of responses to this moment from Black and Afro Latino Angelenos and/or their family members — organizers, scholars, parents, a politician and a restaurant owner.

Ultimately, the resignations of all four people captured on the leaked tapes would be just one step, people told me, to a much bigger reckoning around anti-Black conversations and political structure in L.A.

La Mikia Castillo

adjunct professor at USC and Cal State L.A. and diversity, equity and inclusion consultant
A family stands next to a rock formation and poses for photos. A dark-skinned Black pregnant woman with curly black hair smiles, she is wearing a black tank top and a black skirt. A light skinned Black man has his arm around her, his hair is long and curly, and he has a salt and pepper beard. He holds their young son, who has medium dark skin and has his face turned away from the camera. He is wearing a black polo short, black pants, and black shoes.
La Mikia Castillo, her husband, Daniel, and their young son, Justice.
(La Mikia Castillo)

I am born and raised in Los Angeles.

My family on one side is from Panama. I’m 100% Black. And I’m also 100% Latina. Nury Martinez said, 'the Blacks.' I’m proud to be one of the Blacks.

Initially, of course, there was disappointment and anger. And then there was this feeling of, well, I’m not surprised [by the tape]. A person doesn’t have to be considered white to espouse these types of beliefs and values that really tear our communities apart.

The majority of enslaved Africans that came over to the Americas didn’t come to the United States. They came to South and Central American countries. Those racist, anti-Black ideas still exist in Latin American countries.

These comments that we heard from the councilmembers — if that mindset is there, how has that shaped policies over the many years that they’ve been in those positions?"

Winston Miranda

owner of the Belizean-Garifuna restaurant, Gusina Saraba.
A Black man and a Black woman smile for the camera in a selfie. The man is on the right, and has a salt and pepper beard, he's wearing a black beanie. The woman is older, she has a striped red, white and black hat on, and a floral white dress with pink, green and yellow designs.
Winston Miranda with his grandmother, Lilly Grace Arzu.
(Courtesy Winston Miranda)

I’m Black and from Belize. I moved to L.A. in 1987.

Today at the doctor, they were like, 'oh, Winston Miranda?' — everyone [assumed] I was a Spanish person. When I go to the store, a lot [of people] don't know that I speak Spanish fluently. Until when they talk crazy, then that’s when I start answering them back in Spanish, and that’s when they apologize.

At the end of the day, right is right, and wrong is wrong. [The council members] all need to resign.

A lot of stuff gets brushed under the rug and people forget about it, and keep on moving. It shouldn’t be like that. But, that’s a really noted routine. America is a very forgiving country."

Aura Vasquez

environmental justice organizer and former L.A. city council candidate
Many Black and Latina women pose, smiling, for a group family shot. Their ages range from children to older adults, and wear colorful clothes.
Aura Vasquez, bottom right, with family members in Cali, Colombia.
(Courtesy Aura Vasquez)

I am from Cali, Colombia, and I am Afro Latina.

As a colonized culture, we leave a legacy of white supremacy and classicism, and the idea that if you are more European looking, or white centric, you’re better than other folks. This isn’t new for us. And I have personally experienced that — with comments like, 'cásate con un gringo para que mejores la raza — 'marry a white person so you can better erase.'

It hit so much home the comments in the recording. I have heard the rhetoric in the Latino community who have not done the internal work to get to know themselves, and to understand that we are a very racially diverse community.

We need to start choosing leaders and supporting folks that are committed to a full solidarity and integration of both cultures. At the end of the day, we know that the white supremacist agenda is to keep us divided."

Stephanie Moran Reed

parent of an Afro Latina 3-year-old, owner of MiJa Books
A family poses in front of a blurred background of trees and leaves. A dark-skinned Black man and a light skinned Latina woman hold their daughter, a young Afro Latina girl, in their arms. The girl is wearing a white clip in her brown curly hair. She is wearing a red dress and a red and white jacket. The man is dressed in a red leather jacket, and wears a plaid blue, white and red scarf. The woman wears black glasses and wears a red leather jacket with a red scarf.
Stephanie Moran Reed, Muammar Reed, and their young daughter.
(Courtesy Stephanie Moran Reed)

I was born and raised in Southern California. I identify as Latina.

I’m married to an African American husband. We have an Afro Latina daughter.

It’s hard not to get emotional. We’ve already experienced hateful comments like that, just owning our bookstore. We need to look at the root issue at play here — and I really believe it’s the fact that this probably was not the first time that one of those three made a comment like that. And they’re probably not the only three in the political sphere that make comments like that in the workplace.

I, you know, personally, as a Latina, have those family members that have expressed really, just absolutely absurd and racist comments like we’ve seen. It has to be called out — otherwise, there’s just a perpetuation of the same type of behavior. And that’s where the cycle doesn’t end."

Malcolm Harris

community labor and political organizer, board member for the Liberty Community Land Trust and Downtown Crenshaw Rising
A Black man and older Black woman both smile, her hair is covered and he wear glasses and a collared shirt that's unbuttoned.
Malcolm Harris, left, and his grandmother
(Courtesy Malcolm Harris)

I identify as Black. I come from an African American family that is so-called very mixed.

I grew up with family from Colombia and Panama. We are 100% Black, but we are not 100% African.

We all move through the world as Black people — like nobody in my family would identify as a Latino. Because our experiences were always Black.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with folks who are non-Black Latinos, who talk about, 'well, we’re so mixed.' And I’m like, 'OK, so what does that mean?' They never usually uplift their proximity to whiteness, even as they talk about the mixed piece of it, and the credit — or clout — you get for your distance to Blackness.

We are always in these 'moments,' and then 25 years later, these moments come back to these moments. I think that part of this [moment] has to be not about asking Black folks for the answers, but, what do non-Black Latinos need to be doing? How do we name the issues?

How do they hold themselves accountable for this system that we are all a part of?"

Sonia Smith-Kang

founder ofMixed Up Clothing
Three people with medium skin tones pose for a photo arm-in-arm
Sonia Smith-Kang and her siblings.
(Courtesy Sonia Smith-Kang)

I identify as Afro Latina. I’m a military brat who was born in Puerto Rico to an African American father and a Mexican American mother.

I had texted my brother and sister going, 'do you remember hearing stuff like this?’ Specifically when [Martinez] said 'changuito.' It kind of brought up some of the past hurt. Here we are, 30 years later, and still having the same kind of responses to folks — we have not addressed people’s feelings and the fact that we still talk about things like this.

I don’t want to say I was surprised, just because I had heard it, and I hear it, and I live it. But it was hard that it came from folks that are this high up in our government.

I get choked up, because the decisions that are being made for us are coming from someone who doesn’t even see you as someone deserving of equal rights."

Editor's note
  • Smith-Kang is a member of Southern California Public Radio's Regional Advisory Council. SCPR owns and operates LAist. She does not have an influence over editorial decisions.

What questions do you have about criminal justice in Southern California? 
Emily Elena Dugdale covers smaller police departments around Southern California, school safety officers, jails and prisons, and juvenile justice issues. She also covers the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.