John Duran is a proud Latino — just don’t call him ‘Latinx’

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WEHOville celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with this series of profiles on Hispanics who have made an impact on West Hollywood. In this article, former Mayor and Councilmember John Duran discusses his ethnic background and the trails Hispanics have blazed in West Hollywood.

Can you share info about your ancestry, where your family originated in Latin America/Spain, and how they came to reside in Southern California?

I took a 23andMe DNA test to better understand my ancestry. Like many Latinos, I have a mix of ethnicities. I am 40% Native American, predominantly Apache from New Mexico/Arizona, 20% Spanish (my mother’s maiden name is Madrid), 18% Bosnia/Herzegovina, and 12% North African, possibly from Egypt or Morocco. The remaining 9% of “unknown DNA” is what my dad jokingly refers to as the “Roswell New Mexico effect.”

My Spanish ancestors once ruled the Mediterranean Sea and controlled much of the world’s wealth before venturing to the New World. I identify as Mexican American since my recent family history spans Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. When people ask when my family crossed the border, I say, “Your border crossed my family in 1912 when Arizona and New Mexico were admitted to the United States.” Before that, the area was a mix of Spaniards, Mexicans, Native Americans, Asians, Blacks, and White settlers with no defined border, only the wide open West. The only institutions keeping records were the Catholic churches in the settlements.

My grandparents and parents moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s when mining operations in Silver City, New Mexico, shut down. This led to a mass exodus from New Mexico to Southern California. I remember seeing a photograph displaying separate drinking fountains in LA for “Whites” and “Mexicans,” which is part of Southern California’s history.

What were some experiences as a city leader where your Hispanic background came into play?

I’ve never been comfortable making identity politics my first approach. Although I’m proud of my Mexican heritage, when I was first elected in 2001, I didn’t ask for votes because I was a “person of color.”

Instead, I focused on public safety, economic development, and protecting renters. At that time, I was the only Latino in public office west of La Brea in LA County and the first gay Latino elected in the entire state of California. To celebrate my heritage, I had an all-female mariachi group perform at my first council meeting.

I’ve heard racist comments about Mexican “gardeners” among gay men and homophobic comments in groups of Latino men. Each time, I had to remind people I was present. People often forget my ethnicity because I am light-skinned and have an uncommon surname.

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As the first openly gay Chairman of NALEO (National Association of Latino Elected Officials), I learned that patience is more effective than anger when dealing with prejudice.

Who are some noteworthy Hispanics in WeHo’s cityhood and history?

The most prominent Latino in Weho’s history is probably former city manager Paul Arevalo. Despite occasional disagreements, I know he always had West Hollywood’s best interests in mind. He was the managing CEO for over 20 years, steering the community toward prosperity. West Hollywood has always been predominantly white and Jewish, but this doesn’t bother me; I focus on what we have in common.

Have Hispanics always been visible as a community to the Anglo majority here?

Greater Los Angeles is a modern-day Constantinople where various cultures intersect, but it is predominantly Mexican. Sometimes I have to remind people that names like “La Cienega” indicate the Hispanic culture surrounding West Hollywood. If you live in greater Los Angeles, you’re living amidst Mexican culture, from the red-tiled roofs to the hot, dry weather.

Do Hispanics feel pressure to assimilate?

West Hollywood is a small town with big city problems, making up only 1.9 square miles with 35,000 residents. While Latinos are fewer in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Culver City, we’re the dominant culture across greater Los Angeles, comprising 50% of the county. Latinos heavily influence the culture throughout the larger area.

Native Angelenos, regardless of ethnicity, generally don’t try to pass as anything; this is home. Today, there might be more pressure to “pass” as gay than as straight, considering the well-groomed, buffed-out straight guys in WeHo. Rather than being a melting pot, America is more like a chopped salad where each unique ingredient is identifiable. Latinos, I like to think, add the jalapeno and peppers to the mix.

How do you feel about the term “Latinx?”

I don’t like the word Latinx. I won’t use it. I understand the reasons why some linguists want to take gender out of words like Latino and Latina. But I guarantee you if you went about 10 miles east of here into East LA, Montebello, Pico Rivera, Whittier — Latino neighborhoods where I grew up  —and asked what those communities thought of “Latinx,” you would be stared at with bewilderment, with thinking that runs along the lines of “what the hell is he talking about….”?

Sorry. This culture didn’t just arrive in the last 10 years when the word Latinx started to get bandied about. It is a culture that has formed over thousands of years (if you want to go back to the Aztecs, Incas and Spaniards) — and the communicative language is part and parcel with the music, dance and food of Latino culture.

If you want me to call you “Latinx” — I will because you asked. But I don’t think the majority of Latinos in Southern California are going to make that “fetch” happen.

Should there be a WeHo advisory board for Hispanics and/or Spanish speakers?

I don’t like using the Advisory Boards any longer. I think they should be disbanded. I really don’t think we need a Russian Advisory board, Disability Advisory Board, Senior Advisory Board, Transgender Advisory Board, Lesbian Gay Advisory Board, Women’s Advisory Board, Social Justice Task Force – and the not yet created but I am guessing contemplated Hispanic Advisory board, Black Advisory Board, Asian Advisory Board, Muslim Advisory Board, etc. ad infinitum ad nauseum. How about just one Human Relations Commission, made up of all the distinct categories of people?

Otherwise, each of these boards is just “preaching to the choir.” There is no cross talk or pollination of opinion occurring. You are all talking in circles to yourselves. And no one is learning anything different or new. And nothing is changing. I understand the intentions that the first councilmembers had in trying to better understand Russian-speaking Wehoans from the former Ukraine and the special needs for the disabled and seniors.

But what held true in 1984 seems stale and antiquated in 2023. Forty years. A lot has changed. New dynamics. New communication devices. And now – Mixtos! Individuals with many mixed race, ethnicity and religious factors. I really don’t want to focus on the differences. I would rather focus on what we have in common. And bringing in the best ideas and experiences from each of the varied groups.

Which brings me back to Hispanic Heritage month. You see the point? We are Argentinos, Cubanos, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Venezuelans, Columbians, Spaniards, El Salvadoreans, Guatemalans, Costa Ricans, Chileans, Brazilians – and so on. We have unique and varied backgrounds and cultures.

Yet – we share this in common. We put our families first. Whether biological or chosen families. We are passionate and sometimes irrational people (ever date a Latino? Then you know what I mean!). We are hot headed, hot blooded, hard working and fiercely independent. We will fight like buffaloes for the weakest that we protect in the center of the herd. And our stories are about people who left oppression to seek bright sunlight, fresh air and wide-open spaces. We may be culturally conservative or culturally progressive. But we will always band together to protect the family – including our one big Latino family. Viva la Raza!

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CHLOE ROSS
CHLOE ROSS
9 months ago

I have read the comments. Latinx is so stupid and insulting and dumb it appalls me that ANYONE would have ANY kind of “pro” comment! Shall we also call ‘Black’ people AfricanX?????

JTW
JTW
9 months ago
Reply to  CHLOE ROSS

The BIG difference re your point, there is only one designation for both African males & females & 2 different ones for Latin men & women. SAG changed the designation of actor to exclude the world actress. It’s all supposed to be, I think, in the name of equality. A sign of the times.

CHLOE ROSS
CHLOE ROSS
9 months ago

John and I have not seen eye to eye a few times, but on this issue we are of one mind. LATINX. NO!!!!

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
9 months ago

This is a refreshing profile of a solid big thinker. I know there will be many (too many) small thinkers who will rekindle ancient history in a futile attempt to discount John Duran’s reality of intellectual heft. They will attack me, too, for daring to say it.

Crookies
Crookies
9 months ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

His problem isn’t that he’s stupid, it’s that his rampant public sexual deviancy calls into question his ability to conduct himself professionally and represent his constituents.

Is he better or worse than the current crew?

Different issues of failure to compare and contrast but we should be aiming higher than limiting ourselves to a choice between sordid, corrupt, and/or, halfwitted.

Is it too much to ask that we elect someone with some dignity, integrity, and self control?

NEAL ZASLAVSKY
NEAL ZASLAVSKY
9 months ago
Reply to  Crookies

Sexual deviancy? Get off the Cross, Mary… someone else needs the wood. I suspect that you are just jealous because you aren’t getting very much. As 19th century literary columnist Washington Irving famously said, I don’t care what people do in their bedrooms – so long as they don’t do it in the streets and scare the horses. I haven’t seen any horses running scared. And before you retort about lawsuit settlements, let me remind you that the City didn’t pay out anything. An insurance company did. In most instances, when a business (or municipality) carries certain types of liability… Read more »

West
West
9 months ago

Victims of relational abuse may experience “euphoric recall,” where they selectively remember the positive aspects of their relationship while forgetting the traumatic events. This defense mechanism helps them cope, but can hinder healing. Similarly, voters should avoid “euphoric recall” about ousted corrupt politicians, too. Let’s make informed decisions based on a comprehensive evaluation of actions and character, lest we repeat past mistakes.

WeHo Mary!
WeHo Mary!
9 months ago

This is a nice window into the lives of older gay men, struggling in some ways with the younger generation and their ideas. They were edgy 20 to 30 and more years ago with their “unapologetic” and “sex-positive” attitude, these older gents are now the conservative ones, as you can see here. Young people are embracing identities such as being queer, fluid gender and LatinX, instead of Latino/Latina.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
9 months ago
Reply to  WeHo Mary!

I think Latinx is a great term if you wanted to described yourself as being non-binary. But otherwise it is culturally inauthentic, something being imposed by elites rather than coming organically from the community. Frankly my family didn’t have a lot of use for the term Latino; we are happy to be Mexican.

Manny
Manny
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

In fact, in Central to South America, even the term Latino is rejected in favor of an individual’s nationality. So is the case in the Caribbean. “Hispanic” may be the only identifier that all can agree on. Let’s not even get into the Spaniards.

So “LatinX” is just plain stupid.

WeHo Mary!
WeHo Mary!
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

I think that’s what happening, a lot of younger people are identifying with being non-binary, so they’re embracing terms like “LatinX. In the past, they would have simply been gay and Latin.

Manny
Manny
9 months ago
Reply to  WeHo Mary!

I don’t think that’s what Barbara Ferrer meant when she was doing her COVID cases race charts in 2021

Voter
Voter
9 months ago

Better the devil you know? We got stuck with the 3 stooges BECAUSE this guy was so bad. Career politicians like Duran bank on us having the memories of goldfish.

Pure pandering
Pure pandering
9 months ago

Playing the anti-woke card at this stage won’t hide his corrupted nature. This guy thinks you’re an idiot.

Straightforward
Straightforward
9 months ago

Straightforward and sensible. Agree with discarding LatinX and dispensing with the Advisory Boards. The AB’s promote division rather than unity. People can find their voices without a collective lobby.

hifi5000
hifi5000
9 months ago

I am with Mr. Duran on the term “Latinx”. I don’t know where or how the term came into usage.I know my family would not use the term and would be laughing at it.

I consider the term “Latinx” a fad.I am going to stick with Latino and Latina.

Outraged
Outraged
9 months ago

We need the Incompetent Cabal of Septic Shyne, Joke Ferret-son, and Nazi Byers OFF the City Council, and smart, competent statespeople like Duran back on it. WeHo was a much better City when he ran things.

Straightforward
Straightforward
9 months ago
Reply to  Outraged

Please make a cogent argument even though you appear outraged.

Joshua88
Joshua88
9 months ago

S/He more appears childish to me.

Manny
Manny
9 months ago

I agree. The made up word “LatinX” is NO BUENO!

Most on the Latin Community including Latinos, Latinas and Hispanics think “LatinX” is stupid. The academics that made this word up and are still using it are living in 2021. Time to move on from the nonsense.

Gracias!

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