The scandal involving prominent members of the Los Angeles City Council has rippled beyond the immediate environs of Southern California. Although I do have my reservations about writing about issues that do not directly involve our communities here in the upper left coast, I still feel that given the sociopolitical implications on a major West Coast city, it deserves additional analysis. That’s especially true as I examine the event as an ethnic Mexican and former resident of that region.
The issue came to the fore when audio from an October 2021 meeting was leaked anonymously in late September. The meeting was attended by the likes of L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez, fellow councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera. In recorded audio, Martinez was heard making racist, colorist and classist remarks about members of the Los Angeles community and made note of attempts to gerrymander existing districts to consolidate and maintain power within a well-entrenched bloc of mainstream politicians.
Action was swift. Protests from diverse, multi-ethnic communities pushed for the resignation of all who attended the meeting. The councilmembers were stripped of their assignments. Martinez, for her role, resigned as council president and would later resign from the City Council itself, soon after protests were organized outside her home. As of the drafting of this column, none of the male-identified participants in this meeting have resigned.
Political scandals are by no means rare events. What stands out in this one is the intersection of class, race and power. It is quite disconcerting that these conversations illustrate a wholesale buy-in with practices that are not only corrupt but also mimic the same structural impediments that kept poor people and people of color disempowered for generations. These officials are merely replacing a white face with a visage that is more visually adapted to reflect a multi-ethnic community. At the end of the day, however, there is still a practice that continues to perpetuate the same infrastructure that negatively impacts historically marginalized communities.
This is the crux of many conversations that must be had in our communities. Is it enough to simply have representation in office without an attempt to reimagine power structures? I would argue that Martinez’ internalized racism and internalized colorism is not surprising in a politician who prioritizes power over community building. Closer proximity to the halls of power allows people — regardless of color — to do more damage in our communities.
Our communities deserve more than political tokens who perpetuate systemic injustice. Our communities deserve leadership that values collaboration over competition for resources. Outsourcing systemic negligence to ignorant, self-serving politicos of color is not the answer.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and works and resides in Seattle.
Read more of the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2022 issue.