The vicious verbal assault on the Flores family in Grand Junction, Colorado, on August 1st, is but a symptom of a larger problem. The video of the incident continues to be widely circulated and more and more Americans are learning about the contemptuous nature of some people's hearts.
But my concern here is that not enough of us are listening to what is happening to Latinos across the nation. Here is what I mean. The voices of Latinos continue to be largely silent on matters of race in this country. If it’s not immigration, then Latinos are largely left out of the conversation. African American voices by comparison are intense and more demanding—and rightly so. But where is the urgency with regards to Latino lives?
The brazen aggression against the Flores family is quite revealing. In less than a minute, the one key perpetrator, Laura Bennett, hurled a series of racist insults and threats as if they had been carefully choreographed—practiced and well thought out. She knew exactly what she was saying—her clarity cannot be denied.
In summary, Bennet and her two companions assailed the Flores family as being nothing more than “Goddamn wetbacks” and undeserving of public assistance, cheating the government, embarrassing the Mexican people, being jobless wayfarers, and refusing to speak English. "Speak English, bitch, it's America," Bennett berated Yolanda Flores while snapping her fingers in smug indignation. Indeed, Bennett and her companions were so egotistical that they goaded the Flores's to upload the phone recording onto Youtube.
And all of this was done while the Flores children cried uncontrollably, horrified and confused about what was happening to them.
Facts Don't Matter
Every time I review the footage of the incident, I can feel a mix of emotions well up inside—anger, yes, but also sorrow, and maybe guilt, of personal memories long suppressed. How many other lives haven't been affected and made to feel invisible by similar assaults?
The aggressors were wrong on every count against the Flores family. The family had paid for their services at the county facility. Yolanda and her husband, Ignacio, are legal residents and have lived in this country for nearly 23 years. Ignacio is a welder, fully employed, and they own their home.
They moved to this part of the state so that their two older daughters could attend Colorado Mesa University. And Yolanda has worked hard to learn English, even attending Colorado Mountain College to strengthen her skills. They pay their taxes and continue to contribute to our society. This family is the perfect embodiment of the American dream.
The aggressors were absolutely wrong in their assumptions about this Mexican American family. And they were also wrong that the family would do nothing about what was done to them. Their daughter, Wendy, posted the video on Facebook, and it has now gone viral. But, you see, facts don't seem to matter much in this world of ours, only raw emotions that spew appalling words.
My parents, too, came to this country long ago, built successful middle class lives, sent their four children off to college, and continue to contribute to this great nation. And, yet, in the snap of a wagging finger, this history is shamed and silenced.
Helpless and Paralysed with Fear
I remember as a child the disparaging remarks, the nasty glances, that my parents received because of their accents and the way they looked. I remember, like the Flores children, the feeling of horror and disbelief at my parents being verbally berated—like children—and me standing by, helpless and paralyzed with fear. What was worse for me was when my parents did not understand when they were being insulted, but I did—and the feeling of shame that clung tightly to my gut.
So, I did what countless young Latinos do in similar situations, I kept it inside; set it down deep to some corner of my mind, and tried to lock it away. But those feelings never go away. When I saw what happened to the Flores family, it was like a key that unlocked those terrible memories.
And who is paying attention to the trauma experienced by those feeling the brunt of hate? I never got any counseling as a kid. We grew up in south central Los Angeles at a time when the community was largely African American. But as the only Mexican American family in neighborhood, we were sometimes targeted as outsiders.
Even as we attended private Catholic schools, the demeaning insults (and playground fights) didn’t end. It became almost normal to be called “wetback,” “beaner,” “spic,” “greaser,” “cockroach,” and countless other epithets. The response by our parents to this bullying was simply, “Oh, don't worry, son. It’s just that this is the way they are. But you just keep going forward and working hard”. These words were comforting only until the next morning, when the hell started all over again.
Bennett and her companions were bullies—plain and simple. And in the context of the current political environment, these kinds of injustice have become more commonplace, brazen, and potentially dangerous.
The Courage of the Flores Family
The courage of the Flores family cannot be overstated. Any attempt to have fought fire with fire would have ended in a far worse altercation. The family did the right thing. Their composure, their level headedness, may have saved the day. And, yet, in the aftermath of this terrible experience, I find it hard to fathom Yolanda’s humility and willingness to forgive. Why is she concerned with proving to these hateful people that she is legally here and that she is not taking advantage of public services?
SHE DOESN'T HAVE TO PROVE ANYTHING TO THESE PEOPLE.
Nevertheless, they did prove one thing—that words can also be used to produce a greater good. Wendy Flores summarized it best: “These women are a disgrace to humanity over all. America is a diverse country. And that's what makes it such a wonderful place to be a part of. We are all human beings trying to survive. Remember that next time you are trying to bring yourself up by putting someone down.”
So, to the little bullies, and to the Trump minions out there, the monsters you seek are not found in the communities around you—or across the border—they exist within.