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Two girls wearing Oaxacan traditional costumes prepare to enter the stage during the celebrations of the Guelaguetza in Los Angeles, 03 August 2003.
The Oxnard school district passed a resolution this week, banning the words “Oaxaquita” (little Oaxacan) and “indito” (little Indian) from district campuses.
"This is very constant in Los Angeles, and that 'Oaxaquita' is rooted here in L.A.," said Gabriel Martinez, a Oaxaca-born professor at SDSU. "Its been going on for quite some time and we've been quiet about that."
The ban comes after months of lobbying from the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project’s “No me llames Oaxaquita,” or “Don’t call me little Oaxacan” campaign. The project claims the names are racial epithets, often used by Mexicans to put down indigenous Mexicans, of which there are about 20,000 in Ventura County, where many work in the strawberry industry.
"Many of our Oaxaqueños are indigenous, so the kids use these words to bully the other kids from Oaxaca," said Arsenio Lopez, associate director of the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project. "We started seeing this situation happening in the school and in the work area of the parents, so thats why we believe its important to start this campaign."
Researchers say the treatment links back to a legacy of discrimination against indigenous people in Mexico. Martinez says Mexico has an institutional prejudice from indigenous Mexicans that pervades the establishment there.
"In a historic context, the fight has been going on for a couple centuries," said Martinez. "The Mexican institution, the government, the church, the education system, this is what they ask for to leave behind the Indigenous people and move on into a European behavior, language, Spanish, and adopt their version of institution, so this is just a manifestation of what the three different institutions have applied into the minds of Mexican people."
Patt talks about the meaning of the names and diversity within the Mexican community that is not often recognized by outsiders.
Gabriel Martinez, professor at San Diego State University where he teaches Zapotec language and culture classes; he is an immigrant from Oaxaca
Arsenio Lopez, associate director, Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), which succeeded in getting the Oxnard school to pass the ban