MEXICO CITY — Racism in Mexico has different dynamics than over the border in the United States.
The majority of people here have both European and indigenous roots. The census does not identify people by skin color. After the Mexican Revolution, the government promoted the concept of the “Raza Cosmica,” an ideal of a mixed-race nation.
Yet, racism still exists, and at some of the highest levels. That showed this week in a blowup over a leaked phone call with Mexico’s top electoral official, in which he mocked indigenous people — the 15 million Mexicans who speak languages such as Nahuatl or Mixtec.
Lorenzo Cordova, president of the National Electoral Institute, was talking on the phone to an aide when he launched into his racist rant.
He ridiculed an indigenous leader who’d called for a new electoral district, saying, “I’m not lying, I’m going to tell you how this bastard spoke.” Then he proceeded to impersonate Tonto from the “Lone Ranger”: “Me, boss Chichimeca great nation. Me come Guanajuato. Me to say you….” Then he compared the community to “Martians.”
To give a sense of how incendiary this is — it’s a bit like if a white US Supreme Court justice were caught using the N-word and speaking in mock Ebonics.
The audio of Cordova’s call mysteriously appeared on YouTube on Tuesday, and clocked up a quarter of a million views within a few hours. It went viral on Twitter and drew thousands of comments on websites.
“Incredible phone conversation of Lorenzo Cordova. Making fun of those he should be serving,” tweeted the columnist Gabriel Guerra.
It couldn’t come at a worse time for Cordova. He’s overseeing midterm elections on June 7, in which Mexico will vote for hundreds of new lawmakers, governors and mayors.
The ballot has already been clouded by corruption scandals and political violence.
On Tuesday, Cordova apologized for his outburst in a hastily called press conference.
“During the phone call I spoke in an unfortunate and disrespectful manner,” Cordova said. “I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a frank and sincere apology to anybody who could have been offended.”
However, he also filed a criminal complaint with federal prosecutors about someone recording and leaking his calls.
It’s unclear who was behind it. The audio was posted on YouTube by “Jon Doe.”