Institutional Revolutionary Party leader Enrique Ochoa Reza Photo:


There is no doubt that there is racial sensitivity in Mexico and it can take on many different meanings, including political ones. In case you’re wondering what racism has to do with Mexican politics, let’s start from the beginning of a complex story mixed with religious fervor and political greed.

It should be obvious by now that the political party led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), National Regeneration Movement, is the forefront of the presidential candidate polls and, as things stand now, the most viable victor, even though the July 1 elections are still four and a half months away.

From the very start back in 2014, when AMLO splintered from the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), it was clear that he was pitching a smoking ball over the home plate to score a strike. His new party, the National Regeneration Movement, is now known as Morena. (Spell the first two letters of each of the words in the name backwards and you’ll get the Spanish version.)

Of course, you don’t have to dig too deep into Mexican history to find out what Morena means. In a straight translation, it signifies “dark skinned woman,” but the word Morena itself is a direct call to the religious sensitivity of Mexicans. The Virgin of Guadalupe, the nation’s indigenous and Catholic spiritual mother, is known as “La Vírgen Morena.” Also, in elementary school, Mexicans are taught that when the founding father of Mexico, Miguel Hidalgo, declared independence from Spain on Sept. 16, 1810, on his way from Dolores to San Miguel de Allende, in the central state of Guanajuato, he stopped at the Atotonilco Shrine to pray (he was a priest), and while he was there, he realized he did not have a flag. He hastily grabbed a banner from the shrine with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, waving it to his 5,000-men-strong ragtag army, inspiring his soldiers with an image they could identify with and pray to in the upcoming war.

AMLO, from the start of the National Regeneration Movement, rolled loaded dice onto the Mexican political gaming table. The word “Morena” immediately caught on and in the mere four years since AMLO launched his party, the name has become a household word, expressed with a hint of religious fervor as it is brings to mind thoughts of “La Vírgen Morena” without being disrespectful. The word pulls at the heartstrings of most Mexicans with a grasp of religious fervor.

Now, for every word in the dictionary there is an antonym, and it took me all the previous explanation to get to that topic. If you call a Mexican “moreno” and he is brown skinned, that’s fine. In fact, as a child, my mother used to predict that I’d be “alto, moreno y buen mozo” (meaning “tall, dark and handsome”) to make me feel good. However, if you use the word “prieto” to denote the color of a Mexican’s skin, now, that’s not taken as a nicety since “prieto” can sometimes be perceived as a derogatory term.

All this explanation was necessary to get to the political gist of this story.

The word “prieto” came into play in Mexico’s political arena last Sunday when Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) leader Enrique Ochoa Reza used it in a stump speech.

His utterance was interpreted both as a derogatory term and as a political innuendo that made national headlines.

After hearing that many a PRI former militant was deserting the party to join Morena out of disillusion at not having been nominated for one of the over 2,300 candidacies in play for the upcoming election, Ochoa Reza tried to make a joke out of the situation. Unfortunately for him, that joke backfired.

“To all the Morena prietos, we are going to show them they have no squeeze anymore.,” Ochoa Reza tweeted. (The word squeeze in Spanish is “aprietan,” rounding up the pun.) After having made the statement  at a rally in the southern state of Tabasco, Ochoa posted it on Twitter, and it immediately went viral.

The negative public backlash to his use of the word “prietos” was humongous. His use of the word was considered a racist slur. The tweet was soon erased, but the blunder had already been committed, and since there are many social networkers who hate Ochoa’s guts, it became big news. Ochoa apologized, noting that he himself is dark-skinned, but he after-the-fact apology was to no avail. Mestizos in Mexico are known to be racist with indigenous “prietos.”

But that was not the end of the Morena political faux pas story. A potential independent candidate, Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez, also took note of surge of PRI members flocking to AMLO’s Morena. “El Bronco” (known by that name for his foul mouth) immediately came up with yet another play on words, claiming that Morena was no longer politically pure but it was now “La PRIeta” using the feminine of “prieto” but mixing it with the Institutional Revolutionary Party initials PRI. Afterwards, he made it clear that his pun was only meant for eloping PRI members.

“For those of you who are not from Mexico,” he pointed out last Sunday during the 12th World Political Communications Summit in Mexico City, “PRIeta is the same as Morena, but by another name.” Of course, for Morena followers, the pun was tasteless, but in any case, it did get lots of giggles everywhere.

As an outcome of the offensive moniker used by the PRI’s Ochoa Reza, on Monday, a group of 40 PRI deputies gathered for breakfast at the Chamber of Deputies  and threatened to defect to Morena, allegedly because of Ochoa Reza’s “incompetence,” but mostly because the PRI candidate for president, José Antonio Meade, is way back in third place in the polls.

Words matter!






1 Comment

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