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Father Discussing Racism Asked “Why Didn’t You Stay in Mexico?”

Adrian Iraola discussed the racism his son was encountering at school when a white male parent responded by saying “Then why didn’t you stay in Mexico?” The Washington Post reports Iraola shared that his son was called “taco,” “enchilada” and “dirty Mexican” by classmates when he attended a high school in Saline, Mich. where 94 percent of the population is white. But unlike these racist encounters that tend to happen in public spaces with strangers, this collective united to defend Iraola telling the man, identified as Tom Burtell by Ann Arbor News/MLive.com, to leave. “That is disgusting,” one woman shouted, while a black parent said, “that is indicative of what our kids our experiencing,” as parents can be heard yelling “get out” in the background.

The audio and video have since gone viral and once again put Saline in the spotlight for racism after a group of high school football players claimed “white power” and used the n-word in a Snapchat in late January, the Ann Arbor News reported. The meeting was mean to address the incident and how schools in the area can do better to prevent this behavior.

“We wanted to tell the audience that this [kind of discrimination] was alive and well,” Iraola, who has been in the U.S. for 40 years, told The Washington Post. “We were very surprised to see that, right then and there, is the ignorance manifested by those comments.” Iraola responded to Burtell’s question by saying this is “the greatest country in the world” and Burtell then responded by saying, “But you’re complaining about being here.”

Burtell, to the visible dismay of many in attendance, continued his tirade by talking about “black racism” saying “Try being white and walk in a black neighborhood, see what happens.” He also said the Snapchat incident happened off-campus and “nobody got hurt” saying they were exercising their right to free speech.

Iraola and his wife, Lori, own local Mexican restaurant Chela’s and their three kids, all in their twenties were born in the U.S. and attended school in Saline. They  shared that one of their daughters was called “Pocahontas” and their son was asked how their dad crossed the border and if he mowed lawns. “We didn’t want this to be seen as an isolated event,” Lori Iraola said about the reason why they attended the meeting. “We wanted to tell the story of what we saw through our children’s eyes.”

Iraola, who migrated from Mexico City, offered the mic to Burtell when he made that comment but he didn’t take it, and Iraola is using the encounter as an example to show that racism is a problem in the area. “I thank the gentleman for being vocal and expressing his opinion because it will make people realize that this is not a figment of imagination, it’s amongst us,” he told WDIV.

Additional reporting: 

Burtell’s son posted a statement on Facebook calling his father out for the racist comment saying he doesn’t condone his father’s behavior.

He’s a 2014 Saline High School alum whose siblings are still in the district, according to MLive, and who admitted he witnessed racism during his time at school.

“It’s always around you,” he told MLive. “It’s microaggressions. It doesn’t always come in the form of something totally, obviously racist. Oftentimes, that’s not what racism looks like. I don’t think there’s ever been a long period of time where I didn’t see either the effects of racism or racism itself in any situation.