In 2014, a morning show host and producer on MSNBC stumbled around, wearing a sombrero, drinking from a bottle of mescal, in a worn out, derogatory stereotype of Latinos on Cinco de Mayo.
Like millions of Americans, I was insulted by what happened on camera, and what took place off camera that allowed this insult to play out.
The show didn’t issue an on-air apology for two days. No producer or director objected to the offensive stereotype before the broadcast. That lack of awareness was troubling.
It showed that at no level, prior to the show being broadcast, was there a voice representing the Latino community who said, “Stop, this is offensive.”
This weekend, Donald Trump has been chosen to host NBC’s Saturday Night Live, one of the most venerable homes for pop culture on television.
The same company is now promoting a man on NBC who has deeply insulted far too many American people.
Lorne Michaels and SNL may think Trump’s attacks have all just been jokes.
After all, we know that not all comedy invoking race, gender or religion is offensive. Humor can show the absurdity of prejudice. It can poke fun at the trappings and difficulty of cultural integration. At its most basic, humor can expose differences that also help show how all people are valuable to society as a whole.
Unfortunately, Trump’s disgusting remarks are none of these. They have not been made in jest.
They are designed to drive a hateful, cynical wedge between fellow Americans.
Racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and other nativist, majoritarian humor has a long history. It is used to attack those who are “different,” to paint them as “inferior.”
It is kindling for fires of hatred.
If no one has the courage or awareness to say, “Stop!” early enough, the fire can spread.
SNL, by inviting Trump to host, fans those flames of hatred.
The producers have failed to say, “Stop.”
Is it through ignorance or simply a desire for ratings?
Allow me to illustrate to those decision makers why Donald Trump is offensive to so many people, including my colleagues in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
His remarks about Mexican immigrants being “rapists” and drug runners horrified more than 50 million Latino Americans. But Trump has not limited his attacks to us.
In the 1970s, as a real estate owner, Trump was accused of racial discrimination by the Justice Department. According to the New York Times, “The government contended that Trump Management had refused to rent or negotiate rentals `because of race and color.’”
As a result, Trump was forced by the court to integrate his apartments.
In a book, John R. O’Donnell, the former president of Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, remembered Trump saying, “laziness is a trait in blacks,” and, “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
Interviewer Megyn Kelly noted in a recent debate that Trump “called women [he doesn’t] like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”
Trump attributed her question to “blood coming out of her wherever.”
Saturday Night Live will join those who are tone-deaf to these attacks on people who have traditionally lacked a voice in our culture.
For Latinos, this is not new.
For decades, Latinos like my mother and father worked hard while being ignored by many in their nation and their government. They were attacked by racists, including politicians, as job-stealing “wetbacks” and “beaners.”
Entire communities worked hard to build our nation. They sacrificed to improve life for their kids. All the while, they were ignored, except when it was somehow profitable to demonize them.
Only recently have such attacks been condemned by the majority of Americans.
I ran for office because no matter what makes a person unique, every American deserves a voice. No American deserves to be attacked because they are “different.”
In my office is a huge black-and-white painting of my dad and my grandfather, working in the fields, picking potatoes. I stare at that painting every day. The hard work of my parents and the contributions they made to this country guide every decision I make.
They did the hard work; they did the tough jobs that our country needed people to do.
Diversity drives this country. The unique nature of our society has always enriched our national dialogue, transformed our culture and made our country a better place. Humor to encourage that growth has always been treasured.
If we celebrate those who use vile attacks to separate us, who try to make “different” mean “lesser,” we lose the heart of this nation.
We must commit, as a nation, to not giving people like Donald Trump a role in defining our culture. Doing so will make us great again