Those with no relationship to the Northeast San Fernando Valley have weighed in droves on the leaked tape, taken to the streets, and demanded the immediate resignation of LA City Council President Nury Martinez — but as those who know her best put it — “no one asked the community she has served what we think.”
Those who live and work in the Northeast San Fernando Valley who personally know Martinez found it “surreal” to see President Joe Biden jump into the media frenzy. They said they are “sad,” by Nury’s racist remarks but all is not as it seems –this scandal has provided the opportunity and “opened the door for a full-on political power play for those who want to use it to their advantage.” They pointed out that Biden issued his call for Martinez’ resignation right before he came to LA to give his support to Karen Bass.
Over the years, Martinez has represented the Northeast San Fernando Valley in many capacities — as the executive director of Pacoima Beautiful, a local city council member for the City of San Fernando, as the school board representative for the community, and in 2013, she was elected to the LA City Council – rising as president.
Those who spoke to The San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol said they’ve known Martinez as “blunt,” but could not condone the racist and crass words that fell from her mouth, most especially about the Oaxacan community — but they pointed out that her use of the word “changito” wasn’t used as it has been portrayed and is a misrepresentation. But because names, terms, expressions and phrases don’t always mean the same thing in English as they do in Spanish — by saying that Councilman Mike Bonin’s 3-year-old son was “changito,” it was an explosion for LA’s African American community, who translated the word literally to mean “little monkey.”
For those in the Latino community, however, they understood that Martinez was talking about the child’s behavior, not the color of his skin — but the use of the term for the non-Spanish speaking African American community is the most racist and vile word that can be used when referencing a Black child or any Black person for that matter. They believe Martinez called a Black child a “monkey” with nothing more to discuss.
Those in the Latino community point out the use of words and nicknames within the Latino community cannot be left to a simple Google translation, and they don’t mean the same thing as they do for another ethnic group. There are as many language and cultural nuances and differences in the Latino community as there are within other ethnic groups.
“I called my kids ‘changos’ and ‘changitos,’ a lot when they were growing up,” said one North Hills resident who asked not to be identified. “It doesn’t have anything to do with their color, but if they were running around, I would call them that, and sometimes I used it as a ‘cariño’ — an endearment. I know if I say this now, people won’t believe me and right now it’s too hard to try to explain it to people — especially to the African American community.”
She said she didn’t want her name published because she was afraid she too would be attacked.
“What are we supposed to do now, change the way we express ourselves out of fear that we will be called racist or make sure when we use the term we use it for some children and not others?” she asked. “This is an example of what a damaging mistake it is to take a word, which is commonly used amongst ourselves, and have someone who doesn’t understand and translate it literally — the whole meaning changed and exploded.”
Gloria Jean Lopez also voiced her concern about the ripple effect this will have, “language and culture are a huge part of our being.”
Mission Hills artist Lalo Garcia, a native of Michoacan, Mexico said one of the most esteemed mariachi groups is “Los Changitos Feos de Tucson,” which is internationally acclaimed, and there are several groups that call themselves a variation of “changos.” “It is an honor to be in that group,” Garcia said.
The Northeast Valley residents also take issue that Martinez’s use of the word Judios to reference Jews or her remarks about Armenians were racist, but they acknowledge that the overall tone of the conversation during that illegally recorded meeting conveyed an ignorant attitude. They agree that her remarks about the Oaxacan community were very wrong and are concerned about the “fractionalizing that we are now seeing of the indigenous community from the Latino community and those who are taking advantage of that for political purposes.”
“I thought they should censure them,” said retired San Fernando High School teacher Alex Reza. He has known Martinez since high school. “I am so disappointed that we have come to this,” Reza said. “She represented the working people of this community and she accomplished a lot with her support of raising the minimum wage.”
Reza who has been politically active agreed with others that a recall would have been more appropriate, which would have allowed people who are Martinez’s constituents to vote on whether they would want her to continue representing them.
“Nury did a good job. She took all the right positions for labor for the community. And she was a fighter for the Latino community,” said Ruben Rodriguez, executive director of Pueblo Y Salud based in the city of San Fernando. “On a personal level, I mean, everybody knows her character defects. But she always, in my mind, always took the right position when it came to our community.”
Reza and Rodriguez said that people reacted with a “mob mentality.” “Where were all of these protestors when President [Donald] Trump made his racist remarks?” Reza asked referring to Trump calling Mexicans criminals and rapists. They point out the stark difference between how Republicans handled Trump’s crude remarks about grabbing women’s private parts and his racist remarks about Asians calling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus and Kung Flu” didn’t evoke nearly the outrage that LA’s Latino city council members’ remarks have created.
“I grew up in Pacoima when things were worse when Black-Brown issues were really heated — people got killed. I understand now that I’m older, and I have a little more consciousness that a lot of it was out of ignorance. Both the Brown and Black community said things about each other. You know, we don’t realize that we’re in the same boat.”
Rodriguez said they will be planning a community meeting to discuss what should happen next and who would be the person who should next represent District 6, a predominantly Latino district.
The San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol will continue to explore these issues of language between interethnic communities and the power of words.