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CoCo gathering defies City Hall racist remarks


Last Wednesday night, more than 150 community members gathered at the Community Coalition (CoCo) at it’s South L.A. office on Vermont Avenue, to voice their concerns following the racist remarks made by four Latinx city leaders.

“We want to address three questions,” said Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, the organization’s executive vice president said as she spoke to the diverse crowd that featured Latinx, Black, Oaxacan, Asian and White members. “The impact this has had on you; how do we build solidarity; and where do we go from here?”

One by one, several participants raised their hands and took the microphone to speak, all of them deriding the taped comments and calling for further resignations. Translation devices were passed around for those who wanted to better understand the comments made in English.

“Two down, two to go! Two down,” shouted Alberto Retana, CoCo president and CEO, noting the resignation of LA County Federation of Labor president Ron Herrera and City Council President Nury Martinez that took place that week.

“Two to go!” the audience shouted back.

According to its website, CoCo trains activists and organizers in order to support power building with Black, Brown, Indigenous and other people of color. The organization began in 1990, when a group of activists, gathered by then-physicians assistant, Congressmember Karen Bass, huddled together in a living room to address the community’s concerns over the health crisis and crack cocaine epidemic.

The organization states that Nearly 40% of California youth of color have taken part in a march, rally or protest in the past year. Even more importantly, young people of color are determined to demonstrate their power at the ballot box, with 64% saying they plan to vote. Overall, 80% of young people think it’s more important to vote in this election compared to the previous presidential election.

A 17-year-old member of CoCo’s South Central Youth Empowered to Action (SCYEA), noted that being biracial — Black and Latinx — had him in a tough spot when it came to his family. They do not have backyard barbecues together. But, he noted, he has found family at the Community Coalition.

“And that’s what we’re doing here now, creating family,” he said, pointing out the diversity of the crowd. “We need to learn from each other.”

One participant spoke in Spanish and was translated by a Coco staffer to note that she thought Martinez, who had been the president of the City Council, must have some mental issues to pick on a child.

Many participants agreed that love and understanding between ethnic groups is needed now, more than ever, and that the taped comments did not reflect the ideals of the Latinx community as a whole.

“Love is number one,” said one Black speaker that night. “But number two should be some kind of procedure to put our foot up their a**es.”

Another speaker suggested that there should be some kind of morality clause required to hold city council members accountable for their actions.

An Oaxacan came forward and further explained that her indiginous race is often looked down upon by other Spanish-speaking communities as living in the “rebellious state” of Mexico.

“We speak differently, we dance differently,” she said. “Oaxacan music is important.”

At the end of the meeting, everyone in the room was invited outside as an Oaxacan band played in the parking lot. Meeting participants joined elbows in a big circle and pledged to support one another. Later, they danced to the music and celebrated their unity.

A number of other persons reacted to the city hall scandal last week and shared their sentiments via the OurWeekly email:

“Do Better. No, really… Just do better,” wrote Former City Councilman Bernard Parks. “To my former council colleague, Mike Bonin: whenever you approach the unenviable task of explaining this one day to your son, I might suggest the story of a police lieutenant promoted to captain, who found the “n-word” scribbled throughout his new city-issued vehicle. Now, the good news is that I survived that OK. The bad news is that the incident occurred in 1977. And, that means we still have a long way to go.”

“This sad chapter has left a permanent stain on our city council, forever changing the face of LA politics,” said Councilmember Curren Price. “Their abhorrent actions have cut deep into the hearts and soul of Los Angeles. It is unforgivable and the damage they have done is reprehensible. This is a time of reckoning, reflection and most importantly action. But this is not enough. In order for us to govern and handle the people’s business, we will need Kevin and Gil to listen to their conscience, own their mistakes and do what’s morally right. Only then can we embark on the road toward healing the city.”

“I am disgusted but I’m not surprised,” wrote Sydney Kamlager, who is running for U.S. Senate.

“We have to talk about expanding the pie rather than pitting communities against each other for the crumbs,” she continued. “We have to talk about representation that sees everyone and in which everyone benefits.”

The collective South LA Building Healthy Communities is not only calling on the resignation of Councilmembers Martinez, De Leon and Cedillo but also on the next LA Mayor to present a proposal outlining how they will address the disparities in South LA, ensuring race is not a factor in life outcomes, within their first 100 days in office.

This article is a part of a series of articles for Our Weekly’s #StopTheHate campaign and is supported in whole or part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library. #NoPlaceForHateCA,

#StopAAPIHate, #CaliforniaForAll