Long isolated and discriminated against in their native Mexico, L.A.’s Oaxacan Indian community is trying to reach out to America.
The group is moving its annual festival, known as the Guelaguetza, from Pico-Union near downtown to Lincoln Park on the Eastside. It’s a small change—a matter of just a few miles—but one that the festival’s Oaxacan organizers say shows their eagerness to break out of their insular world.
“It’s not an area [Oaxacan] people know. In East L.A., it’s Hispanic, but not Oaxacan,” said Arturo Aguilar, a baker who has participated in the festival for the last 10 years. But “we need to open ourselves to everyone—Oaxacans and non-Oaxacans.”
In Mexico, northerners have long disdained the shorter and darker-skinned Indians from southern states. That attitude has migrated to the United States along with the people.
Many Oaxacans, mostly Zapotec Indians, arrive not knowing Spanish, a language they often speak with an accent.
“Historically, there’s always been this difference between north and south,” said Mauro Hernandez, president of the Oaxacan Regional Organization, which organizes the Guelaguetza. “We’re short, darker and the northerners are whiter and taller. You feel discriminated against, that they think that because we’re darker, we don’t think.”
Moving the Guelaguetza to the Eastside, organizers say, is a way of expanding the appeal of the festival, which will take place Sunday.
“It’s a new strategy,” Hernandez said. “We want a different public [to attend]. We have the Oaxacans. But we don’t have people who live on the Eastside, or those who live in South Pasadena or San Marino.”