During a community meeting on diversity, equity and inclusion in Saline Area schools on Monday night, one man asked a Latinx parent why he had come to the United States, rather than “stay(ing) in Mexico.” The meeting was held following an incident last week at Saline High School when students were found posting racial slurs in a Snapchat group chat.
The altercation occurred after Adrian Iraola, the father of three Saline school district alumni, shared his children’s experiences with racism during their years in Saline. In a video recorded by MLive, Iraola said other students called his children “taco, nacho and enchilada.”
While Iraola was sharing his story, parent Tom Burtell interrupted and said, “Then why didn’t you stay in Mexico?” The remark was followed by gasps from the audience and various calls for Burtell to leave.
Brian Wright, the father of a student targeted by the racist comments in a Snapchat group, noted, “That’s indicative of what these kids are experiencing.”
Iraola is a Saline resident and owner of the popular Ann Arbor Mexican restaurant Chela’s. He immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico City in the 1980s. The video recorded at the meeting shows Iraola responding to Burtell’s comment and explaining why he moved to the U.S.
“He asked me a question, why didn’t I stay in Mexico?” Iraola said. “Because this is the greatest country in the world.”
LSA senior Liberty Woodside graduated from Saline High School in 2016. Woodside said when she first heard the news, she was in disbelief at the blatant nature of Burtell’s comment.
“It’s shocking to hear people be so outwardly racist,” Woodside said. “I feel like subtle racism is something that I’m more commonly faced with in my classes and more commonly studying. Subtle racism is still in our system, but I was definitely surprised to hear people just be so outwardly racist.”
Woodside also commented on how the demographics of Saline may contribute to the culture of racism, such as that displayed in Burtell’s comment.
“I wasn’t surprised that people face racism in Saline,” Woodside said. “Everybody in Saline is mostly white. I didn’t really experience any of those hardships because I’m a white cis female, but I’m not surprised that this would happen because Saline is not diverse at all.”
Adi Mannari, Engineering senior and Saline Area Schools alum, said he was not surprised upon hearing about the incident.
“I’m not surprised that there are people who have those views,” Mannari said. “But I am disappointed that it revealed itself in the way that it did.”
Rackham student Guadalupe Madrigal commented on Iraola’s role as a business owner and how he contributes to Ann Arbor’s Latinx community.
“Chela’s is one of the few Mexican restaurants in Ann Arbor,” Madrigal said. “It’s seen as a pillar and as a mini-home for a lot of Latinx people in the area, so I think that it makes it even more personal because it’s somebody who’s part of our community.”
Madrigal is currently a graduate student instructor for a communications class about whiteness and the media. She emphasized the importance of conversations about race on the University’s campus.
“The professor brought it up in class today and talked about it with the students,” Madrigal said. “I think (the fact that) there is a space in which we’re talking to our students, our undergraduate students, it’s important.”
Scot Graden, superintendent of Saline Area Schools, released a statement on Tuesday denouncing the recent instances of racism in the school district. He also commented on how the district will respond and continue working on the problem in the future.
“The Saline Board of Education and administration take the issue of student and adult behavior seriously,” Graden said. “We are striving to ensure a welcoming, inclusive and safe environment for all students and families, regardless of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender identity or any other identity. This is an opportunity for us — the staff, students and community of Saline Area Schools — to stand for anti-racism, respect and inclusion of all students.”
Following the meeting, Saline residents held a Diversity and Inclusion rally on Wednesday night. More than 100 community members attended, marching through downtown Saline and calling out bigotry.