Some people shouted at a commencement speaker this weekend after she gave a brief part of her remarks in Spanish and talked about presidential candidate Donald Trump — and many are still upset about it.
People who were there said they heard people yell, “Get off the stage!” insults, a slogan for the Trump campaign, and commands to speak English.
Maria Elena Salinas, an award-winning journalist who is an anchor for Univision, couldn’t hear what people in the crowd were yelling during her speech to graduates of the College of Communications at California State University, Fullerton, but said later that it spoke to how divided the country now is.“It’s really sad that people can turn such a special moment into a racial war,” she said. The whole speech was directed to everyone, she said. “I don’t think I insulted anyone by saying a few words in Spanish to the parents. … I think the message is, we have to cool down the intolerance right now, we really do. This is ugly, what’s happening in the country.”
She gave a longer speech earlier that morning, which was well received, before her unscripted remarks to the College of Communications.
Many people were upset by the reaction they heard from the crowd. Doris Munoz, who was graduating with “Si, se puede” written on her mortar board, loved the speech. “I’m a Latina graduate. I’m the first in my family to graduate. My family was stoked to see her. I grew up watching her on TV.”
But then she heard people around her complaining about it and a man yell, “‘English only, please!’
“I was just really upset by the fact that this is a college graduation and people were being so uncivilized,” she said. “There were people flipping her off and telling her to shut up.”
Vanessa Martinez, another graduate, said her parents particularly appreciated being addressed briefly in Spanish, and she heard some people cheering, but also a lot of negative comments after Trump’s name came up, and someone calling out his slogan, “Make America great again!”
Jeffrey Brody, a journalism professor who was on stage with Salinas, said by phone this week that he thought some people heckled her because the university is so diverse — 40 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white, 22 percent Asian, with students from 78 different countries — and they felt her remarks were directed at only one group. It wasn’t tension between whites and Latinos, he said. “It was unfortunate,” he said, “but that doesn’t excuse resentment or intolerance for an invited speaker.”
The chair of the communications department, Jason Shepard, was shocked by the reaction, first reported in the O.C. Weekly, to what sounded, from the stage, like a bit of yelling near the end of a brief and innocuous speech. “A university is a place where people should expect to be exposed to lots of ideas,” he said, “and I think it’s sad that a few hecklers decided to interrupt, for a brief moment, a commencement ceremony.
“But this did not ruin the joy for the vast majority of our 800 communications students who graduated on Sunday.”
Jaclyn Day, a graduate who said her native language is English and major is communications and public relations, not journalism, said that people who loved the speech and stood up to applaud didn’t realize how other people felt. Here, she explains her reaction:
I respect Maria Elena Salinas. I think she meant well, and I know she does amazing things for the Latino community. But a graduation ceremony was not a good place to talk about race and politics.
It’s supposed to be a celebration, not a rally.
She seemed focused on only herself, her career, her race, and her political views. She was just talking to Latinos and journalism students.
You could feel the tension people were feeling; it was like she didn’t even want to mention us at all.
I was shocked and annoyed. I felt as if I wasn’t supposed to be there.
There are so many other races and languages that weren’t included. I wanted all of us to be celebrated, and not excluded.
I have full respect for every gender, sexual orientation, and race. But we graduated as ONE group and we should have been acknowledged as ONE group: Class of 2016! That’s it.
We all wanted to hear her talk about the accomplishments of everyone who worked so hard to get their degree, and be congratulated.
I could hear the crowd booing her after she mentioned her political views. I’m sure there are a lot of Trump supporters, but it was probably both Trump supporters who were upset and people thinking, “Are you really going there?”
A friend in the audience heard a man behind him say “I’m Mexican, and this is an embarrassment.”
My friends and family agreed with me: It was just kind of awkward.
There were people who loved her speech, that stood up, that were clapping. I don’t think they realized how other people felt.
I didn’t feel racial tensions amongst us as a crowd and us as a graduating class. My age group is probably the most open, the least racist generation. I didn’t feel like people were arguing with each other. All the tension was between her and the audience.
I hope Maria Elena Salinas understands that the crowd booing wasn’t because they are racists.
They just came to see their family member graduate, not to hear all about one race and politics.
We were just like, “What about us?”
This post was updated to correct the spelling of Jason Shepard’s name.