The Mexican American boy who will sing the national anthem at the Democratic debate Wednesday night learned at an early age the harsh realities of racism.

Several years before Donald Trump spoke disparagingly about Mexican immigrants, Sebastien De La Cruz was the subject of a barrage of racist comments.

De La Cruz, a mariachi singer with a powerhouse voice who had a successful run on America’s Got Talent, was invited in June 2013 to sing the National Anthem at Game 3 of the NBA finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. The 11-year-old stood confidently on the court in his full Charro suit with basketball greats like LeBron James watching and belted out “The Star Spangled Banner.”

But what followed was an ugly torrent of attacks and commentary from people upset that someone of Mexican descent had been chosen to sing America’s anthem. They accused him of being in the country illegally. They referred to him using ethnic slurs.

“My father was actually in the [U.S.] Navy for a really long time,” De La Cruz told San Antonio Fox 29 in an interview about the backlash. “People don’t know; they just assume that I’m just Mexican. But I’m not from Mexico. I’m from San Antonio, born and raised, a true San Antonio Spurs fan.”

De La Cruz was in rehearsals Wednesday ahead of the Univision/Washington Post-sponsored debate between Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Miami and could not be reached for comment. He was invited by Univision, the Spanish-language network. Immigration policy is expected to be a major topic at the debate as Clinton and Sanders vie for support from Latino voters ahead of Florida’s primary.

“Sebastien’s presence is the vindication of an American child who is entitled to be proud of his Hispanic heritage,” said Daniel Coronell, Executive VP/Executive Director of News at Univision. “It’s also a perfect metaphor of what we Latinos are in America.”

Actress Eva Longoria, who co-founded the Latino Victory Project, was among those who rushed to De La Cruz’s defense three years ago. In 2015, she produced a short film about him for ESPN called “Go Sebastien Go.” Though he’s not an immigrant, Longoria said he was thrown into the contentious policy debate.

“I am home,” he said in the film, referring to tweets that called for him to “go home.”

After the onslaught of criticism, De La Cruz was invited back for Game 4 to sing again. President Barack Obama even tweeted about it, telling people to watch. This time, he was escorted on the court by then-San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro (now Housing and Urban Development Secretary and buzzed about vice presidential pick) who called him, “a phenomenal young man.”

“The world isn’t perfect, but the world is good,” De La Cruz said in the film. “Even though bad things happen, the world will always be good.”

(This post has been updated.)