‘Stay in Mexico’ remark prompts inclusion rally in Michigan

SALINE, Mich. (AP) — People gathered in a southeastern Michigan town on Wednesday to promote unity and inclusion in the wake of a school meeting when a white parent asked a Hispanic parent why he didn’t “stay in Mexico.”

The Saline Diversity Inclusion Rally was being held in Saline, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) southwest of Detroit, two days after a community meeting at the local school district office to deal with racist social media posts directed at black students. At the Monday meeting, Adrian Iraola said his son endured racist name-calling in the district several years ago, to which Tom Burtell interjected, “Then why didn’t you stay in Mexico?” — prompting gasps and outbursts in the room.

Participants in the rally walked along the small town’s downtown district with signs, including one that read, “Racism Not Welcome.” They moved inside to a building, where speakers included Saline Mayor Brian Marl.

Marl told the demonstrators that racist, bigoted words are discraceful and not to be tolerated.

``You represent the majority of Saline and I want you to know that,’' he said.

Many attending the rally said they were heartened by the turnout and the condemnation o f racism by the wider community.

Saline High School senior JJ Ohren-Hoeft the rally could be evidence of possible change from the difficult experiences at school related to their ethnic and racial backgrounds voiced by students of color.

``(Students of color) just want to see a lot of change happen,” Ohren-Hoeft said. ``I think it’s definitely going to happen now that there’s this much attention to it.”

Supt. Scot Graden, Saline schools’ superintendent, said the district established a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and has worked to train teachers and administrators on social justice. It also has endeavored to develop a more culturally inclusive curriculum, though, he added, recent incidents and comments make it clear that much more must be done.