Isolda Ortega-Bustamante: Amherst Chamber videos’ stereotypes painful

Thursday, May 10, 2018
Find painful stereotypes in Amherst Chamber videos

The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce (AACC) recently posted videos featuring non-Mexican board members portraying stereotypes of Mexicans (“Chamber removes video promos,” April 20).

These ads attracted negative reactions from people of all backgrounds who found it deeply troubling that local business leaders — not from Latin America nor of Latin American descent — used traditional cultural garb as costumes to advertise an event centered on drinking alcohol. Dehumanizing characterizations of Latin American, Latin American-descended and indigenous people have no place in a civic organization in Massachusetts in 2018 and harken back to the shameful tradition of minstrel shows and blackface.

We are a group of residents of Amherst and surrounding communities, of Mexican and other Latin American descent, and allies, who noticed that the AACC removed the videos from their wall without sharing an explanation.

Eight of us met with leaders and members of the AACC — in the spirit of constructive dialogue — and communicated the painful impact these types of advertisements have on many of us and on our children as they echo lifetimes of experiences with discrimination and ridicule. We explained that dehumanizing portrayals of our community are part of a spectrum of oppression in a national political climate tainting immigrants as criminals and tearing families apart.

Chamber representatives personally expressed regret, and some shared an interest in learning more. While the effort was appreciated, Chamber President Peter Vickery’s letter to the editor, submitted upon our request, was inadequate (“Apologizes for promotion of Margarita Madness,” April 26).

More is needed, including fuller indications that the Chamber understands what was problematic about what they posted, and that training and learning will be initiated, along with efforts to diversify the leadership of the Chamber to prevent future cultural stereotyping. We offered other concrete suggestions for action, as have others in the Valley such as Iohann Rashi Vega, the host of radioplasma, who has invited AACC representatives to participate in a dialogue on his show.

Every one of us — and most of our employers — support Amherst-areas businesses. We invite the Amherst business community to lead by learning and taking positive actions to build respectful relationships with their neighbors and customers of all races and ethnicities in our region.

Isolda Ortega-Bustamante


The letter was co-signed by 14 other residents of Amherst and surrounding communities who are Latinos or their allies.