Opinion of Raul A. Reyes
The fallout continues in San Diego, Calif., After a racist incident at a regional high school basketball game on June 19 – and sadly, many Latinos living in the United States are unlikely to be surprised. neither by the controversy nor by the confrontation itself.
Officials on Wednesday said the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) give up the winning title largely White Coronado high school after tortillas were thrown at members of the opposing team. This team, from Orange Glen High School, is predominantly Latin. Several days after the incident, the Coronado Unified School Board voted unanimously in camera to shoot Coronado High School basketball coach and CIF have imposed new penalties on team members, putting members on probation until the end of the 2024 school year. The school district superintendent presented public apologies calling what happened “reprehensible”.
This incident (which was captured on video) is both shameful and shocking. Worse yet, many Latinos are familiar with such harassment – whether it is more overt or in the form of micro-aggression – and some Americans are still comfortable disrespecting Latinos. While this behavior needs to change, it will only happen once more people really think about (and for some, adjust their thinking about) what it means to be an American.
It is not an isolated case either. This is at least the third time in two years that San Diego-area high school players have been subjected to fanatic behavior. In September 2019, during a football game in high school, some players were victims of racist slurs. After a thorough investigation confirmed this incident, the principal of the school where the taunts took place issued a statement of apology, expressing “deep regret” for the “pain caused … to the affected students” in the opposing school and their “school community”. In April, certain colored players have been mocked as “condemned” on social networks (for which the school in question apologized and the San Diego City Conference sanctioned school football program). All this in California, a “minority-majority”State where Latinos make up 39% percent of the population.
The tortilla throwing incident has makes national headlines and caused a storm of controversy. A Latino civil rights group, The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), called for an investigation, believing that the scene could have turned violent. The father of one of Orange Glen’s basketball players called the tortilla throw “racist and humiliating, “while the announcer of the game called him”one of the most heinous things you can do. “Defend the team and coach of Coronado, an opinion writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune argued that throwing tortillas was akin to throwing beach balls at college graduation, or people in Wisconsin wearing cheese-headed hats.
But none of these actions have the racist element more than throwing tortillas at Latinos. It’s also not an excuse to pretend that throwing tortillas is just a fun tradition, like throwing confetti. Tortillas aren’t something sports fans take with them when they go to games, but the people who threw them had them ready anyway. The argument “it’s like wearing a hat with a cheese head” might be easier to buy if the tortilla toss had been a regular occurrence in other games (Detroit fans are known for throwing a dead octopus on the ice during Red Wings NHL games, for example). But there is a glaring difference between throwing tortillas and aiming them at Latino athletes; the former can be seen as stupid behavior, while the latter is racist and hateful.
The idea behind the tortilla toss is easy to break down. Some people at the Coronado game have taken tortillas, a staple in Latino households, and used them as symbols of “otherness.” By throwing them at Latino players, they not only insulted these athletes, but they also casually profaned a Latino tradition.
Perhaps former President Donald Trump, who often makes anti-latino comments, has emboldened some Americans to express similar sectarian sentiments. However, anti-Latino rhetoric and violence against Latinos have a long history in the United States, since the Porvenir Massacre in Texas in 1918 at the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles in 1943 to El Paso Walmart massacre in 2019.
The biggest problem here is that too many Americans are conditioned to see racism in this country purely as a black and white story.
By now, most Americans understand that using the N word or blackface is unacceptable. One way or another, many people who probably don’t consider themselves racist are still comfortable with disrespecting Latinos, whether through rash comments or inappropriate actions. Yet people need to understand that racism is racism no matter who it is addressed to. Anti-Latino racism is just as pernicious and offensive as anti-black racism or anti-asian hatred or anti-semitism, whose incidents are all on the increase.
A 2020 report from the Pew Research Center noted that about half (48%) of Latinos said they had serious concerns about their place in this country, while 38% of Latinos said they had experienced discrimination in the previous year. Latinos have said they have been criticized for speak spanish in public, being called offensive names or being told to return to their own country. Thus, the tortilla-throwing incident in San Diego can and should be seen as part of a larger and more widespread problem.
It’s ironic that as July 4 approaches, a debate rages on critical race theory. This approach to history, which has recently been militarized and politicized, could potentially help Americans understand our common heritage. The same would be true of ethnic studies programs in secondary education, especially in various states with large communities of color (this was only this year that California has adopted a model ethnic studies curriculum for public school students). While opponents of critical race theory and ethnic studies say such approaches to learning are divisive, in truth, they can help us learn more about ourselves – and empathize with them. for each other.
Certainly the United States has a history that encompasses racism and bigotry. But racism and bigotry are decidedly anti-American in 2021, and the debate about our past should not obscure the reality of the present. Rather than being denied or deflected, allegations of hate should be examined and then condemned, so that we can collectively learn from the past and dismiss such feelings.
Throwing tortillas at Latinos was neither good sportsmanship nor champion behavior. CIF was right to punish the San Diego team because these racist acts are wreaking havoc on all Americans.
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