In 2012, his organization started a campaign called “No Me Llamas Oaxaquita” or “Don’t Call Me Oaxaquita,” in a bid to draw attention to, and to stop, the denigrating treatment of people from Oaxaca, a state the size of Indiana in southwestern Mexico that has become popular with tourists because of its vibrant culture, colorful markets and unspoiled beaches.
Mr. López recalled that the political campaign drew stinging criticism from some Hispanic leaders, who faulted him for highlighting differences among Latinos, rather than presenting a unified front.
So when the leaked recording of the City Council members exploded into the open, “we weren’t surprised by people like Nury Martinez making fun of us; it’s what we experienced in our own country from lighter-skinned people, and it followed us to this country.”
Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, a Oaxacan who now directs the Center for Mexican Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that too often the “tremendous diversity” of the Latino population in the United States is overlooked.
“If you say Latinos, you are lumping together Nury Martinez, Ted Cruz, everybody,” he said. Ms. Martinez is Mexican American; Mr. Cruz, the Texas senator, is the son of a Cuban immigrant. But their lived experiences are completely different, Mr. Rivera-Salgado said.
The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” have become embedded in the American mosaic, appearing in census forms, newspapers and political polling since a law passed in 1976 began requiring federal agencies to aggregate into one group data on people who trace their ancestry to Spanish-speaking countries. The classification is based on common language, culture and heritage — not race.
People in the category are far from homogeneous: Many have roots in Mexico, while others are Puerto Ricans, Argentines, Colombians, Cubans, Spaniards, and, of course, Indigenous people.