Outcry over racism after Indigenous couple mocked on live TV

Reporter Maggie Vigil mocked an Indigenous couple on the subway for speaking to her in Quechua

Journalists from ElTrece television channel have been lambasted for racism, xenophobia and discrimination after a clip went viral of them mocking an Indigenous couple during a live report from the Buenos Aires subte (subway).

The clip sparked over a thousand complaints to Argentina’s press ombudsman, and the government’s anti-racism watchdog said it was preparing legal action over the clip.

“Where are you from?” asks TV news reporter Maggie Vigil.

“We’re from here, from Argentina,” replies Wari Rimachi in Quechua. He is sitting in the packed subway carriage with his wife, Kantuta Killa, in traditional attire.

“Oh, right. I wonder what he tried to say,” Vigil says in a mocking tone. 

She had approached him and his wife while reporting from the Buenos Aires subway for ElTrece news station. Over a thousand viewers filed formal complaints for “discrimination and xenophobia.”

While the exchange happened last Thursday, the video — posted by ElTrece’s official YouTube account — went viral on Friday when thousands of social media users started sharing it, criticizing the way the reporter and Fabián Doman, the host of the show Bien de Mañana, talked to the couple.

“We were traveling on the subway, and this reporter lady and the cameraman unexpectedly started asking us questions,” Kantuta Killa told Télam news agency. “We greeted them in Quechua and then tried to translate, but there was no time to do that because they started laughing and talking in a demeaning tone.”

Killa and her husband Wari Rimachi are abuelos (elders) of the Ayllu Mayu Wasi Quechua community, based in Villa Martelli city in Greater Buenos Aires. Killa is a retired lawyer who worked at a national court for 30 years. They wear traditional clothing, and speak Quechua as well as Spanish.

Quechua, technically a family of languages, is the most widely-spoken Indigenous language group in South America. It has over 7 million speakers, more than Finnish, and is used throughout the Andes.

Killa and Rimachi were in central Buenos Aires that day to protest along with over a thousand Indigenous people as a part of the Malón de la Paz, a march which set out from Jujuy at the end of July to protest the provincial governor’s constitutional reform, which bans blocking roads as a form of protest. Indigenous groups say it disadvantages them in disputes over title to their ancestral lands. The Malón has been camped out in the city since August 1 to demand a formal response from the authorities.

Doman and the columnists in the show’s studio laughed after Rimachi explained that he is a member of an Indigenous community. “Argentina needs to learn how to talk in the language of the indios,” Rimachi said. 

Some Indigenous people use the term indio (indian) to refer to themselves as a way of reclaiming the term from its pejorative usage during the colonial era, but it is often considered racist when used by non-Indigenous people.

Vigil replied “Oh sure, please say a word in Indian (sic) so I can learn.” He corrected her, saying they are “Indigenous peoples, not Indians.”

Rimachi talked about allin kawsay (Buen Vivir or living well), a fundamental concept in the Andean cosmovision that Rimachi said meant “living well, without prejudice, not stealing, not lying or scheming,” and added that it should be taught in school. He also said the show’s team should be renewed after the reporter told him Doman was the host. 

“We advocate for Indigenous peoples’ rights, and the Indian wants to kick us out,” one of the columnists said.

Vigil has since deleted her Twitter account and gone private on Instagram. Doman addressed the issue at the start of the show on Monday morning. “We don’t make this show to upset anyone. Therefore, to any of the people who participated in [Thursday’s] live report and felt bad afterwards, we want to send our apologies,” Doman said. “We don’t intend to make anyone feel bad in our show.”

One complaint per minute

After the exchange went viral, over 1300 formal complaints were filed by viewers to the National Ombudsman’s Office for the Audiovisual Communication Services’ Public. “It’s a super record for us, especially in such a short time,” a source at the Ombudsman’s office told the Herald, adding that on Saturday night they were receiving one complaint per minute.

The complaints mainly mention “racism, mockery, discrimination, xenophobia and disrespect for other cultures,” among other issues, the source said.

Greta Pena, director of the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI, by its Spanish acronym), said on social media that the number of complaints “shows awareness in our society regarding the importance of fighting against discrimination and racism.”

Pena said that INADI and the Public Ombudsman Office reached out to the show’s production team and are working towards not only filing a legal report on the situation, but also considering providing them with formal training and compensating the affected couple.

“Sadly, this is not an isolated event, but the cruelty in these images show us how the ‘encounter’ with Indigenous identities exoticices and ridicules them, and pushes them away to the territory of the unknown rather than showing the diverse identities that make up our national self,” Pena added.


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