At a recent Celtics game, some hometown fans witnessed an impromptu preview of Trump Nation. It started when Knicks point guard José Calderón — who is from Spain — committed a foul, and the Celtics crowd reacted accordingly with some boos and heckles. Elvis Jocol Lara, a writer for El Mundo, the local Spanish-language newspaper, was sitting in the media section when he heard two fans nearby shout in reaction to Calderón’s name over the PA system: “Trump, Trump, Trump!” and “Build a wall, build a wall!”
In the age of Donald Trump, such sentiments are implicitly permitted to rise from bigots’ murky mental underbrush out into the open. What happened afterwards demonstrated an important lesson for immigrants: Complacency is no longer an option — not only for immigrants, but for all Americans who care about fundamental values.
Lara confronted the two fans and told them to be quiet. The two fans shouted back: “Go back to Mexico,” and “Make me some tacos.” Trump has given legitimacy to such ugly rhetoric. A recent analysis of data on Trump supporters found that most of them live in areas that rank high in Google searches for racial slurs and jokes. No, that doesn’t prove a direct correlation, but few can deny that some of Trump’s strongest support is driven by racial and ethnic hostility.
That racial hostility increasingly is out in the open now, laid bare. And that’s a Trump outcome that I welcome. It’s better to face that resentment and antagonism head on. You can’t target it, and hope to eradicate it, while it’s hidden. Trump has forced immigrant communities to confront their long-standing political meekness. How many times have we heard about the impending awakening of the mythical, jaded sleeping giant of US Latino voters? And yet we’ve never really arrived at the polls in staggering numbers. But now there’s some evidence the giant is waking up.
Back to Lara at the Garden: A few fans who were sitting nearby, mostly non-Hispanic whites, also stood up to call out the two Trump supporters for their disparaging comments. One was Nicholas Boretti, a 28-year-old South End resident. “I was just appalled,” Boretti said. When the situation escalated, and the Trump supporters continued to hurl insults at Lara and anyone who would confront them, he intervened. “I’m typically a pretty passive person, but I could see in Elvis’s face how hurt he was, what those words meant to him. That really bothered me, that was the catalyst for me. I stood up and asked them to stop it, I told them there were families and kids around.”
Lara took out his phone and snapped a picture of the hecklers. But the two young men continued with the racially charged comments and cursed at the other fans. Lara then flagged down a couple of security officers, who swiftly confronted one of fans. He was escorted away and his friend soon followed. Both were presumably ejected from the Garden.
When Lara got home he posted the image of the two “Trumpers” on Facebook, with a brief description of the incident. (The post has more than 7,000 likes and has been shared more than 4,000 times.) Lara and Boretti say people were congratulating them after the two fans got ejected. There was far more denouncing of the fans’ behavior than Lara expected.
“People have asked me about these two individuals, ‘Do you think they learned their lessons?’ ” said Lara. “But I think it’s much greater than these two. What I was hoping to accomplish with the [Facebook] post was to serve notice to others: You don’t have free rein. People will stand up and do what’s right.”
Indeed. But we — Latinos and all immigrants — can’t do it alone. We need the denunciation coming from all groups, minorities and majorities alike. And in the end, Trump may very well go down in history as the best thing that happened to Latinos and immigrants, by stirring us into action.