Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis upset Sheriff Alex Villanueva when she recently pointed out that law enforcement clearly engages in systemic brutality and racism. An anodyne enough observation, yes, but one that so rankled Villanueva that he thought it appropriate to go live on Facebook and refer to Solis using a slur.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Villanueva first accused Solis of trying to sow distrust between law enforcement and the community, before launching a more personal attack: “I don’t know,” he said, “Are you trying to earn the title of a La Malinche? Is that what it is?” From the Times:
Many were stunned by Villanueva’s use of a name used to demean a woman as a traitor or sellout. It refers to a historical figure in Mexican culture who was the interpreter and slave of the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés and became a symbol of betrayal for facilitating the conquest of the Aztec empire.
Solis, a child of immigrants from Nicaragua and Mexico, called Villanueva’s reference “highly unprofessional, inappropriate, racist and sexist.”
“It doesn’t just malign me, but women everywhere,” Solis said in a statement to The Times. “The sheriff needs to recognize his influence and be a good role model, as I am sure I was not the only one offended by his slur.”
Tensions have been rising among LA county leaders, but Villanueva’s comment was too far for many in the area’s Latinx community.
Sandra Messinger Cypess, who has studied the historical figure for several decades, told the paper that “it’s usually one of the most derogatory things that one could call a woman.”
Maria Brenes, the executive director of InnerCity Struggle, added that while there has been an effort to reclaim the term, Villanueva’s remarks were unequivocally meant to offend.
“We don’t need that old way of thinking that the sheriff is trying to perpetuate. No way,” Brenes said. “We’ve done too much work. We cannot let him take us there.”