Rolando Zaragoza, 21, was 15 years old when he came to the United States, enrolled in an Oxnard school and first heard the term "Oaxaquita." Little Oaxacan, it means, and it was not used kindly.
"Sometimes I didn't want to go to school," he said. "Sometimes I stayed to fight."
"It kind of seemed that being from Oaxaca was something bad," said Israel Vasquez, 23, who shared the same mocking, "just the way people use 'Oaxaquita' to refer to anyone who is short and has dark skin."
Years later, indigenous leaders are fighting back against an epithet that lingers among immigrants from Mexico, directed at their own compatriots. Earlier this month the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project in Oxnard launched the "No me llames Oaxaquita" campaign. "Don't call me little Oaxacan" aims to persuade local school districts to prohibit the words "Oaxaquita" and "indito" (little Indian) from being used on school property, to form committees to combat bullying and to encourage lessons about indigenous Mexican culture and history.
Indigenous Mexicans have come to the United States in increasing numbers in the last two decades. Some estimates now put them at 30 percent of California's farmworkers. In Ventura County, there are about 20,000 indigenous Mexicans, most of whom are Mixtec from the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero who work in the strawberry industry, according to local organizers.