Don’t Stereotype My Culture: Oaxaco Is Not the Same as Oaxaqueño (by Stephanie Olea, 11936)


Most of us have probably heard about a quote saying something like, “You must know where we came from in order to know where we want to go”. I am Mexican American being born in Oregon and I also grew up there, while my parents never lost an opportunity to talk to me about my other half of identity coming from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. I knew where I was from, but felt that there was still more I could know about myself. I am Oregonian and I am Oaxaqueña I was sure of. I knew what being Oregonian meant but I wasn’t completely sure of what being Oaxaqueña really was about, so I found myself lost trying to find out what made up a part of me in a time where I started college and I was supposed to be thinking about where I wanted to go with my life. In other words, I needed to know my Oaxaqueño roots in order to know where I wanted to go. I found myself fortunate in a time where I was offered to come live in Oaxaca for a couple of months as, this was my chance I was told.

I had never felt more welcomed than I did in Oaxaca specifically the Mixteco Region of Oaxaca. I still do. I decided I could take a college term online where the courses would be flexible and I could take advantage of being in Oaxaca when I came to a writing course that was to be based on community work. We were to choose a community theme each of us felt mostly driven to and I automatically knew that for me it had to be the arts & culture community theme I had to put an emphasis on. I was already on a mission to find out more about my roots and culture so why not write about it? That being said, I am currently volunteering on a community organization named Orgullo Oaxaqueño meaning “Being a proud Oaxaqueño”. My volunteering hours have over exceeded but I find myself really intrigued to continue on. I simply have no words to explain how much I’ve learned about my background and how I’ve grown to be so proud of it that I want to do more as a way to show how much I appreciate it. The non-profit Orgullo Oaxaqueño Organization has included me in a great variety of projects that all have led to teaching me in great depth what it means to have Oaxaqueño blood in me all this to give closure by working on a grand project named “No somos Oaxacos, Somos Oaxaqueños” or in English, “No we are not Oaxacos, We are Oaxaqueños.”

So what does this mean? After learning a great amount about my cultural background, I came to notice that others perceive us Oaxaqueños differently. By others I mean Mexicans from other states of the Mexican Republic themselves or everyone else from other countries. Oaxaca’s population consists of about 56% of indigenous people making it the Mexican state with the most indigenous people in the country. In the US Oaxaqueño population keeps growing and so does the Mexican American population with Oaxacan roots. This is where stereotyping plays in resulting in hurtful discrimination against those who really are indigenous as well as those who are Oaxaqueños but not indigenous. Oaxaqueños is the correct term to define people from Oaxaca while people who stereotype and discriminate us call us Oaxacos. Oaxacos is not what we are. Oaxacos mean ignorant, lazy, and conformist people among other stereotypes. Oaxacos are unmodern indian people they say. But I ask myself, where have they gotten these ideas from? Because from what I’ve experienced, people from Oaxaca may indeed not be keeping up with the globalized world, but it’s a choice they’ve been making on purpose. Oaxaqueños, what we really are, means living a life full of humbleness and sticking to preserving our ancient roots and ways of living that unlike the rest of the modernizing world, we’ve been fighting to hold on to, even if it means staying behind with the rest of the Mexican Republic or the world in fact. That’s what makes us Oaxaqueños. I say, it’s not just for anything that Oaxaca rates as one of the richest places in art & culture in the world. We are proud Oaxaqueños and of what make us that, meaning that if very few have had the courage to stand up and fight back against those discriminating stereotyping comments, it is not because we feel ashamed of whom we are, it is because we are made believe that we should be. If someone decides to discriminate and judge of others in this case Oaxaqueños based on stereotyping without even giving a chance of finding some truth to it, who really is ignorant? Or who is the actual Oaxacan here? The deal here is, should Oaxaqueños be ashamed of whom they are as a result of their choices not by their life circumstances, and have the right to feel offended by the term Oaxaco? Should we stand up and have a voice once and for all?

Stop with the discrimination. Help us by informing yourself!

Get Informed: Bibliography of Resources and Suggested Readings

Kresge, Lisa. INDIGENOUS OAXACAN COMMUNITIES IN CALIFORNIA: AN OVERVIEW.” California Institute for Rural Studies (2007)

  • An article that is an overview of Oaxacan Communities taking place in the US State of California, giving an idea of the kind of lifestyle Oaxaqueños have when they migrate to the US.…/farm-labor

Erica Gabrielle Foldy and Jonathan Walters.Cultural Roots as a Source of Strength: Leadership Story.” OAXACAN INDIGENOUS BINATIONAL FRONT (OIBF). (2009)

  • This is a great article where it introduces the discrimination that Oaxaqueños experience and furthermore, it is a story involving leadership and taking action into combating this racism. It is a story where it talks about building a movement to making it happen and preserving it and serves as a proof that we too can do something about it.

Ramiro Reyes. “Sorry, No Hablo Mixteco: Transnational Migration, Indigenous Language, and the Promotion of Ethnic Consciousness via Hybrid Discourse.” Journal of Univerisity of Washington (2012).

  • Sorry, No Hablo Mixteco is a deep analysis on Indigenous Oaxaqueños living in Oaxaca and in the United States and their battle to try to establish themselves and become accepted focusing mainly in the greatest indigenous language, Mixteco. It is a well inormative essay on Mixtecos which are Oaxaqueños from the Mixteco Region Of Oaxaca giving a better understanding of how we should put a greater importance in respecting Oaxaqueños while ending discrimination.


The article “Indigenous Oaxacan Communities in California: An Overview” is a great article serving as an introduction to the lives of migrating families from Oaxaca to the US. According to this article Oaxaqueños are currently the fastest growing population in California alone and 100,000 indigenous Oaxaqueños in this same state was the minimum population in the year of 2007 according to the US Census. Oaxaqueños are part of a population that constantly continues to outnumber those of other Mexican States therefore getting to know a bit about the struggles they find here is crucial to know in order to take action into making their transition smoother and combat discrimination. You can also be sure that this research is reliable as the data collected was gathered from a range of sources such as just mentioned, the U.S. Census, and the National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS).

“I hope we never forget who we are or where we came from,” says Rufino Dominguez co-founder of the California-based Oaxacan Indigenous Binational Front who lives with Oaxacan blood in himself. The article of “Cultural Roots as a Source of Strength: Leadership Story” is an article of hope. It introuduces a bit on the discrimination that Oaxaqueños suffer in the U.S. and tells how their organization came to be and still manage to exist. They give hope for those who want to make a difference helping out the indigenous people and become a leader within the community. It explains how certain organizations work and how it is possible to make a great difference through not just their organization but any other one. There are organizations available to actually help Oaxaqueños, and make leaders out of them as well as anyone who’s willing to help. The benefits of a long term organization are good but it takes more of us willing to help. This article is a proof of it.

If a deep analysis of what it is to be Mixteco, or from the Mixteco Region of Oaxaca, by emphasizing their language Mixteco is what you’re aiming for the essay entered for a contest in a University of Washington, Sorry, No Hablo Mixtecois a great article!

How to Get Involved

It is likely that if you are not Oaxaqueño, Indigenous, or even Mexican you may not be interested in helping combating the term Oaxaco and its discrimination that comes along with it at all. So the question to try to get others involved is not whether you find the term Oaxaco offensive or not. Instead, it is about getting informed about discrimination that unfortunately still happens and USA still takes part in. Today Oaxaqueños are 22% of all Mexicans who reside in the US and who suffer of discrimination. Racism in the US then becomes our problem. Organizations that exist to defend the rights of Oaxaqueños in the US are very few and us Oaxaqueños today are working on making more organizations reachable to Oaxaqueños and those who want to help to stop discrimination in the US but it is a project that is still being put some work in. So one thing we could do, is put an emphasis on those few organizations that are available today. Know that they actually exist, that there are people who care about Oaxaqueños and pass on the word so that Oaxaqueños know this too! Organizations like:

  • OAXACAN INDIGENOUS BINATIONAL FRONT (OIBF) An organization available in California and one that is also being active with Oaxaqueños in Oaxaca as well. Their goal is to educate Oaxaqueños and give them the courage to have a voice. To know their rights in California, the rest of the US country and in Mexico as indigenous people. To come out and be proud of who they are!
  • California Rural Legal Assistance An organization that provides legal assistance to rural immigrants. Know of a Oaxaqueño who has suffered from discrimination or you have experienced it and need legal help? This organization offers help throughout the case and sometimes with free of charge.
  • 1-800-MIXTECO Due to the fact that Oaxaqueños often feel in doubt of expressing themselves, they struggle to find a way to settle in and get access to healthcare, education for Oaxaqueño children, or even translation services and this is a line that offers rapid entry into an increasingly visible and active community, while offering a variety of direct help and referral services of all kinds.
  • Derechos Humanos Oaxaca if you are in Oaxaca and need to report if you or someone you know has been a victim of discrimantion, please do so! You are guaranteed to be heard in this website.

Sometimes the answer to a strong problem can be simpler than we think. A simple but powerful answer to help combat discriminating stereotypes against Oaxaqueños is getting informed. Get informed about the Oaxacan culture whether it is by reading about it, making a friendship with someone from Oaxaca, or traveling to Oaxaca and experiencing what Oaxaca really is about and why it is considered one of the richest places in the world when it comes to preserved and conserved cultures! Find out why Oaxaqueños really shouldn’t stay quiet and be proud of their roots.

steph2It has been an honor to be able to portray one of the unique attires worn to dance some of the region’s famous Chilenas de Silacayoapan, while representing the Mixteca Region of Oaxaca. I now have a better idea of who I am. I am a proud Oaxaqueña.


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