I won’t go into the myriad reasons why PETA is problematic; it’s well researched and available online.

I purposefully do not follow PETA because I got tired of seeing the ways the organization exploits people, groups and issues in exchange for their brand of animal rights activism. However, over the weekend it was brought to my attention that “PETA Latino” had a “Chilaquiles” competition where an interesting selection of so-called “celebrity” judges picked their favorite veganized version of a traditional dish. I found this interesting since P.E.T.A. has in the past shown complete disregard for the “Latino” community.

I’m always perplexed when I see people of color participate in their own commodification by white organizations trying to fill their “cultural,” or the new catch phrase, “intersectional,” quotas.

Now let me be clear, as a woman of Latin American descent who is an ethical vegan invested in social justice, I am not expecting to be represented by people like Alicia Machado or Kate del Castillo – one of PETA’s “Latino” judges, who wrote to Sinaloa cartel leader, Chapo Guzman, “Mr. Chapo, wouldn’t it be cool if you started trafficking with the good?…Come on Señor, you would be the hero of heroes. Let’s traffic with love, you know how. I love you all.” This clear disconnect in terms of the verifiable toll narco-trafficking has taken on Mexico, and Latin American in general, is quite telling.

These are the people P.E.T.A. thinks represent the “Latino” community. This follows a typical pattern of white vegan organizations that will look for anyone who fits the description of a person of color and makes them into spokespeople.

These individuals do not represent me, or my community. I will not buy into the myth of homogeneity in the “Latino” community whereby elites are installed as the “face” of all Latin Americans, and even worse, these elites are supposed to represent the lived realties of the whole “Latino” community. No, absolutely not.

To further clarify my point, I offer you the following example. In 2015, P.E.T.A. openly “praised” well-known human rights abuser, anti-“Latino,” “anti-immigrant” racist Joe Arpaio for serving vegan food in his prison, and when questioned about it, P.E.T.A president Ingrid Newkirk wrote:

“under those rules, no one who works to stop any abuse to man or beast dare praise a living soul or agency for any step forward, no matter how large or small. A more helpful mindset would mean you can join in the celebration when our flawed society inches forward in any regard, whether human rights, animal rights, environmentalism, health, you name it.”

I guess in this case Ingrid meant everyone else’s human rights except the rights of Latinos, migrants and incarcerated individuals. Her statements make clear that she either has no understanding of intersecting oppressions and/or that she does not care about such oppression.

I don’t expect much from white mainstream vegan organizations in this regard. However, the larger concern is, where were these “PETA Latino representatives” when this Joe Arpaio/PETA romance emerged?

Marco Antonio Regil, also a judge at the chilaquiles event, was involved in “PETA Latino” since at least 2013. Where was he when in 2015, the organization he supports lauded Arpaio, a man who was charged with racial profiling “Latinos” and boasted of his polices focused on terrorizing “Latino” communities.

If these people represent P.E.T.A. Latino and they do not speak out on these issues are we then to assume that they do not view this as problematic? Does their silence mean it’s acceptable for a vegan organization to support anti-“Latino” racism? As long as they throw tacos our way we’ll be all good?

Some may say that the Joe Arpaio/PETA romance was a long time ago. But PETA has never retracted its support for racist Arpaio. (It should be noted that Compassion Over Killing also openly supported racist Joe Arpaio.)

Others may ask, “why make this a race issue? It’s about the animals”. This is a race issue because systemic and structural racism are very real, and as vegans of color who have to live in a world where racism infiltrates our lived experience we shouldn’t have to deal with and accept racism as part of our advocacy for animals. Also – and this part is important as we move forward – as flawed understandings of “intersectionality” become trendy, the commodification of culture under the guise of intersectionality will be en vogue. We’re already seeing this.

Surely, P.E.T.A. and other organizations understand that “Latinos” are the largest growing demographic in the U.S. therefore it would behoove them to court the “Latino” community. I’m sure this is why the “Latino” wing of P.E.T.A. was created. P.E.T.A. also understands that in our current climate they need to attempt to appear to be politically correct and “inclusive”. Therefore, they will create events like this chilaquiles food fight; slap an overly appropriated Day of the Dead skull on a flyer, and there you go! P.E.T.A. has covered their “Latino” market. And just like that a vegan organization that supported anti-Latino policies can erase everything with chilaquiles and their curious cast of celebrity “Latinos.”

As a person of color who has been in the animal rights movement for over 20 years, I can assure you that it is entirely possible to fight for animal rights and advocate for veganism without being racist and without exploiting other people and cultures.

To the people of color in the vegan movement, I hope we all take some time to understand who and what we’re supporting as well as how it affects us.

As people who are a part of the vegan movement, I hope that, at the very least, we do what we can to hold these organizations accountable.

Dr. Linda Alvarez
Co-Founder and Director of Vegan Advocacy Initiative

*NOTE: The word “Latino” is in quotations because I believe the term is exclusive in nature. “Latino” is a linguistic classification, which excludes indigenous communities and other non-Spanish speaking communities that are a part of the Latin American diaspora.