Racism Among Us: Latinos vs. Latinos

The use of derogatory racial terms between members of the community is more frequent than we could have thought

The Latino immigrant to the United States is today, in 2023, the main actor in a distorted world, imagined by white supremacists. He is the enemy in the “war” they imagine, “they” being also a significant part of the electoral base of the Republican party. That is a world whose atmosphere is made of racism.

The usual racism, the deadly

It is a racism that grows, twists, adopts new forms but always for the worse, and that can end, as it did at different times in modern History in holocausts, carnage, extermination campaigns, massacres and mass deportations.

It is also a racism not limited to hatred by the white Christian population of Latino immigrants.

This racism exists and persists within the Latino community itself, and is directed especially against immigrants. This came to light on October 9, 2022,  when the Los Angeles Times revealed that three Los Angeles council members and a union leader, all of them Latinos, had insulted other “members” of “the race”. Specifically, they lashed against Oaxacan immigrants, –whom then councilwoman Nury Martínez called “shorty” and “so ugly”–  and others from southern Mexico and belonging to indigenous ethnic groups.

The conversation took place nearly a year earlier, and dealt with the effects that recent redistricting would have on their re-election chances. For some it was not a surprise. For others it came as a shock. In any case, it caused a huge damage to the prospect of collaboration between Hispanics and African Americans in this city, to this day.

As is known, the publication led to the resignation of Martínez, then the President of the Council and that of union leader Ron Herrera and a generalized boycott against still councilmember Kevin de León.

As she exited political life, Martínez apologized. “As someone who believes deeply in the empowerment of communities of color, I recognize that my comments undermine that goal.”

The scandal also led to the sad loss of face and popularity of Gil Cedillo, who was until then an important legislator for the community. It is he who, through insistence, managed to get the Legislature to approve and the governor to sign the law that allowed for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in January 2015.

The tragedy of Kevin De Leon

As for De León, he lost his committee assignments, had discretionary funds to distribute in his district withdrawn, and has since been booed and sometimes physically assaulted numerous times by insistent and outraged crowds. They don’t forgive. And it’s a pity. Because of those discriminatory and racist words he probably has lost his world despite his huge contributions to the community for many years.

“We have a message for council members Cedillo and De León: if they don’t show their faces and resign from their posts, we will continue protesting until they do,” said one of the participants in the 5,000-person march in front of City Hall on October 15. to César Arredondo for the San Fernando Sun.

True, racism against immigrants almost always comes from others, not from Latinos. Frequently it is not rejected. Furthermore, racism it is already an integral, organic part of the ideological fabric of the Republican party.  

Racism is everywhere, starting with the physical rage felt and expressed by its activists against Latinos in general and immigrants in particular. Especially if they are undocumented, which leads them to imagine that they are the personification of evil, of the alleged misfortune that hangs over them, the whites, because they are doomed to become a minority in California in 2045.

We are not a homogeneous group; on the contrary

But it is not possible to hide the fact that Latinos are not a homogeneous group, of a single origin. On the contrary. Not only because we come from different countries, like Mexico, El Salvador, all of Central America, all South American countries. Racial differences have been reflected between different Latino communities for centuries. Skin color as an important element in determining discrimination. Racism (or “colorism”), since the Conquest of America has been organically entrenched against indigenous communities. Historical miscegenation (“mestizaje”) did not solve the problem. On the contrary, demographic processes just expanded the racist system of self justification. 

Here in the United States, where almost all of us are immigrants or children of immigrants, in this country where we arrived with almost nothing, racism becomes a subculture of Latinos against Latinos.

There are entire communities of Latino immigrants who do not speak Spanish, but rather one of the many indigenous languages of the ethnic group to which they belong. They are at the bottom of the Latino racial ladder.

As Miriam Jordan writes for the New York Times:  “Many people are of mixed race, but those of lighter-skin remain at the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy, while those with darker skin, whether indigenous or black, often tend to be poorer and excluded from the social and political circles of the elites”.

A study by Pew Research from last May shows, as the title on its website expresses, that “Latinos feel discrimination from other Latinos as much as from non-Latinos.”

An astonishing 41% of the participants claimed to have been the victims of racism committed by other Latinos. Most of them are the dark-skinned Latinos who are also undocumented. Surprisingly, almost the same percentage complained of similar racist behavior by non-Hispanics. It is as if they –“our” racists”– have absorbed, among the values of American society, the worst.

In the same poll, 48% recognized that racism in the United States has become a serious problem. It is. It’s a problem that keeps growing, while there are already 62 million Latinos throughout the country, according to data from 2021, 50% more than in 2010.

Racism of Latinos against African Americans

In the same way, there is racism and prejudice within the Latino community against African-Americans, who, as is known, have been settled in the United States for several centuries. In Los Angeles, the former are half of the population, and the latter, 8%. The aforementioned Nury Martínez said in the recording that the African-American adoptive son of a (white) colleague “looks like a little monkey”. In addition, she used a derogatory and humiliating term that compares African-Americans to an insect,

Within the Latino community, Oaxacans, once again, tend to be despised with the epithet “oaxaquita” –a local equivalent of “indito”– a word they had never heard in their homelands. So much so that there is an organization dedicated to eradicating the use of the term, and the Oxnard School District banned it as early as 2012. Once again, immigrants are the main targets of hostility. And Oaxacans feel betrayed, but not surprised. For them the concept of Latinos against Latinos is personal.

“Every time these people looked at my face, they were all lying to me…we shouldn’t allow these people to lie to us and tell us that we are inferior, or that we are ugly, or allow them to laugh at us.”

This is how the owner of the popular Oaxacan restaurant expressed herself to the Chicago Tribune.

It is not isolated; is representative

We cannot see the racist expressions of the Los Angeles council members as an extraordinary case, because it is not. Nor is it isolated. It is representative of an important part of the Latino population.

But the politicians to whom I alluded at the beginning are not declared, recognized racists. They did not act politically to follow their racism. Their racism is almost folkloric, albeit pernicious. At the same time they act, legislate, distribute resources, politically defend the same people they have so viciously denigrate.

But there are also the professional racists, the outspoken racists. Their characteristics are fairly uniform: they tend to vote Republican. They say “Trump is right.” They speak English and react violently when hearing somebody speaking in another language. Their families were indeed  immigrants, they are perhaps the third or fourth generation born in the United States. In New Mexico, Latinos call themselves “Spanish”. One of them told me that his family arrived there before 1650. Their skin is lighter and they can be defined as white. 

Racism is of Latinos against Latinos and exists between us.

This article was supported in whole or in part by funds provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library and the Latino Media Collaborative.



  • Gabriel Lerner

    Founder and co-editor of Latino Los Angeles. Editor Emeritus of La Opinion, former Editor-in-Chief. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a journalist, columnist, blogger, poet, novelist, and short story writer. Was the editorial director of Huffington Post Voces. Editor-in-chief of the weekly Tiempo in Israel. Is the father of three grown children and lives with Celia and with Rosie, Almendra and Yinyit in Los Angeles.

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