Manteca City Councilman Vince Hernandez is a full-blooded American citizen.
That doesn’t stop those who disagree with his politics from making reference to his ethnicity often in snide or cutting remarks when addressing the City Council during public meetings.
The latest was Tuesday. Hernandez was a rare no-show due to requirements of his job. The Manteca native oversees psychological services with the San Joaquin County Office of Education.
A citizen stepped up and speculated that Hernandez must be at a Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead celebration. It is of little consequence that the speaker apologized publicly for his comment about a half hour later. There is no reason to believe he is racist but it is in extremely bad taste that a number of speakers who have disagreed with Hernandez over the years he has served on the council feel it is OK to reference Hernandez’ ethnicity.
You won’t hear anyone making a reference to the fact Steve DeBrum is Portuguese, that John Harris is German/Welsh, Debby Moorhead is Italian, or Willie Weatherford is Scottish/English.
Hernandez doesn’t make an issue of his ethnicity nor does he downplay the fact he is an American first and foremost. That doesn’t mean he isn’t proud of his roots.
Each time he has run for office he has stressed his strong community ties. He has never referenced his ethnicity nor was there a reason for him to do so when seeking elective office in a nation that stands as a true melting pot of cultures.
What is impressive about Hernandez is that when he has endured such references before he simply sits there and takes it. There is more strength and character in holding your tongue at times than there is in either baiting or taking the bait.
Perhaps worse are rants made about “Mexicans taking jobs” and how the council should do something about illegals as if they have the political audacity of other some other city governments in California such as Berkeley Davis, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica that somehow believe setting federal and foreign policy is within their powers. Never are the illegals in reference to any other nationality whether they are Canadian, German, or Vietnamese. It is always Mexicans followed by general sweeping and wildly inaccurate assertions that every “Mexican” holding a blue collar job is somehow an illegal.
Yes, worse things have been uttered than asking whether a council member who has a Hispanic surname is absent because they might be attending a delos Muertos celebration.
And, yes, it could be considered satire but then again when the mayor was absent for a few meetings no one ever wondered out loud while addressing the council whether Weatherford was competing in the Highland Games.
Still, it is completely uncalled for especially since ethnic references are reserved only for the one council member that is Hispanic.
It did not constitute a racial slur. But it was offensive. Each of the other council members when asked afterwards agreed. Why they didn’t say something at the time the remark was made is the same reason that Hernandez turns the other cheek. It serves no purpose to rise to the bait whether it was intended to be such or not.
Nor is the reaction to it a matter of political correctness. The right to free speech in a political exchange should never be devalued by cheapening the dialogue or - in some cases - using inflammatory language simply to fan the proverbial flames.