Indigenous rights and consumer rights activists are demanding sanctions against Coca-Cola Mexico for an advertisement in which a group of pale-skinned and obviously affluent young people roll into an indigenous town to build a Christmas tree for wide-eyed locals.
"This type of publicity is an act of discrimination and racism," indigenous lawyer Elvira Pablo told a press conference in Mexico City on Wednesday. "It is a comment on our type of life and an attempt to put a culture of consumerism in it's place."
Pablo and the other activists called on Mexico's governmental anti-discrimination commission to open a case against the ad. "The ad," a statement said, "reproduces and reinforces stereotypes of indigenous people as culturally and racially subordinate."
The ad received biting criticism as soon as it began circulating on social media a week ago, but the controversy ballooned after it was picked up by mainstream local media this week. It disappeared from YouTube on Tuesday night.
Coca-Cola emailed a statement to the media on Wednesday in which it said the publicity campaign was designed to "give a message of union and happiness" and had "never sought to offend or underestimate" any indigenous group.
"We deeply great that the message has been misinterpreted when our intention was the exact opposite of the criticism received," the statement said.
Completely silent aside from a Christmassy instrumental score, the ad features an indigenous Mixe town in the southern state of Oaxaca called Totontepec Villa de Morelos. It begins with inhabitants smiling quaintly under a heading stating that 81.6 percent of Indigenous Mexicans "have felt rejected for speaking other languages."
Then, a rambunctious group of attractive white people show up to distribute bottles of Coca-Cola to locals who look on in apparent awe as the visitors build a Christmas tree of painted red wood.
Screenshot via YouTube
As they spread a universal message of brotherly love the ad proclaims, "You too can break a prejudice." It urges people to share their prejudice-breaking actions with the hashtag #AbreTuCorazon or #OpenYourHeart.
"It shows a profound insensitivity by Coca-Cola to the indigenous towns and the health problems in our country," Alejandro Calvillo, director of the organization Consumer Power, said during Wednesday's press conference in which the activists mixed their charge of racism against the multinational with complaints about its use of an indigenous community to promote an unhealthy product.
Calvillo's group has long been at the forefront of campaigns to reduce consumption of soda. Mexico currently has the highest per-capita consumption rate in the world and, in 2013, surpassed the United States as the most obese country on Earth.
The two themes were also melded together in an alternative video made by the activists that adapts the original ad to include clips of Mixe youth highlighting issues facing indigenous communities such as the lack of clean water and increasing rates of diabetes.
The Coca-Cola ad ends by displaying a Mixe Language phrase across the Christmas tree that means, Stand Together.
The anti-Coke ad has a Mixe student saying "To stand together, we must protect our dignity, our health, our culture."
Via Latino Rebels
Follow Nathaniel Janowitz on Twitter: @ngjanowitz