In Saline, Michigan, racism is a pervasive problem. During a meeting to address the issue, a white man proved exactly how deeply-rooted it is.
The town of Saline, Michigan, held a meeting on Monday to discuss the pervasive racism that plagues its schools. While Adrian Iraola, a Latina man who immigrated to the United States from Mexico four decades ago delivered a speech on the issues his children once faced as former students, Tom Burtell, a white man piped up, "Then why didn’t you stay in Mexico?" The incident has since rocked the town, proving the severity of the problem not just inside the classroom, but outside it too. Burtell is yet to face any consequences for his racist statement, The Washington Post reports.
During his presentation, Iraola painted a portrait of what it was like for his children, first-generation Americans, to attend a white-majority school in Saline. He stated that the taunts his son would experience left him in tears. Words like "taco," "enchilada," and "dirty Mexican" were commonplace. "I went to his bedroom to say good night," he explained. "He was crying because of the abuse that he was enduring in this school system." This is when Burtell asked the deeply racist question. The crowd of parents present at the meeting gasped audibly. One woman stated, "You need to leave." Another joined in, shouting, "That is disgusting."
The painful exchange was captured on video and has since circulated throughout the town. As a mostly white, suburban area, Saline was already grappling with issues of systemic racism. This incident drove the point home. Iraola said in an interview with The Washington Post, "We wanted to tell the audience that this [kind of discrimination] was alive and well. We were very surprised to see that, right then and there, is the ignorance manifested by those comments." The determined father moved to the United States with his wife 40 years ago. Both parents were highly involved in coaching sports and the family eventually fulfilled Iraola's lifelong dream of starting a Mexican restaurant. They now own three branches in the town. His three children, meanwhile, have long since graduated school, and are now in their twenties.
However, little has changed since the Iraola children were in school. To this date, the school is majority white, with white students making up over 85 percent of the student body at Saline Area Schools. The meeting between parents was called as a response to a Snapchat exchange initiated by white students. A group of white football players on the school's team added their Black teammates to a group chat, welcoming them with the n-word and proceeding to change the name of the chat to “Racist” with two gorilla emojis. The act was condemned by Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden, who denounced that chat as “an act of racism that created harm to all of our students, especially students of color." Nonetheless, it is evident the problem is more deeply-rooted than a simple group chat. The interjection Iraola had to experience is but the tip of the iceberg. How will Saline move forward from this? Only time will tell.