Some Chicago Latinos are pushing back against a popular house music DJ after he mocked undocumented Mexican immigrants at a music festival last weekend. His comment came at a time when many Latinos are on edge because of aggressive federal immigration enforcement efforts and violence targeted at Mexicans.
People have taken to social media to lambast DJ Julian "Jumpin" Perez for his comment that the best way to scare Mexicans is to "say ICE." The remark doesn't seem to be recorded anywhere, so the exact wording is unclear. But according to reports on social media and sources who witnessed it, Perez asked the crowd at Festival Cubano on the Northwest Side: "What’s the best way to get Mexicans to run?" and answered "say ICE."
Perez was scheduled to perform last Sunday at My House Music Festival in Pilsen, home to a majority Mexican population, but organizers took him off the lineup after his remark.
“My first reaction was just disbelief and shock,” said Amy Diaz, who was at the Festival Cubano. “Like did he really just say that? And then I immediately groaned and booed, as did my husband and the rest of the crowd.”
“ICE is one of the most terrorizing organizations in my lifetime”
Many critics have pointed out that Perez made the remark at a tumultuous time for Latinos nationally, as the Trump administration beefs up immigration enforcement. Many also point to President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric dating back to his campaign for president.
“It’s offensive because there are people, even if they aren’t our people, that are in cages, that are being hunted down, that are losing their lives and ICE is the big bad threat,” Diaz said. “ICE is one of the most terrorizing organizations in my lifetime that I can recall.”
ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that last week detained nearly 700 people in Mississippi, the largest single state workplace immigration raid in U.S. history. Earlier this month, a gunman killed 22 people at an El Paso, TX. Walmart known to be frequented by people of Mexican heritage from both sides of the border.
“The joke is another example of how people continue to contribute to this anti-Mexican sentiment, and it sort of sets this tone for other people that it’s okay to joke about Mexicans, it’s okay to joke about immigrants,” said Pilsen resident Jorge Valdivia at the National Museum of Mexican Art, near the location of the My House Music Festival where Perez was scheduled to play. “And we become another easy target...for another young brown kid to be ridiculed for being brown.”
“He was very specific when he said Mexicans”
When crowds started to boo Perez, and later in a video in which he apologized, Perez said his fans are “his people” and that he would never purposely offend his people.
But people quickly pointed to Perez’s Cuban ethnicity and the differences Cubans and Mexicans have faced when immigrating to the U.S. For decades, U.S. policy allowed most Cuban migrants who reached U.S. soil to stay and become legal permanent residents after one year.
“The history is very clear that when the U.S. provides sanctuary to a particular subgroup of Latinos, they also award it in a way that seems deserving or ‘better than,’” Diaz said. “And so that colonial mindset leaves an impression and it’s intended to divide us.”
While Cubans arrive in the U.S. with a legal status, Mexicans who get caught at the border face detention. Undocumented immigrants who get caught trying to cross the border illegally for a second time face years in federal prison.
When Perez brought up his immigrant background in his apology, the Mexican fans quickly responded on social media that his immigrant experience is vastly different than other Latinos.
“Cubans were granted amnesty and legalization decades ago and so there is this belief that because they are already granted citizenship or have been here for many decades, that sometimes there is this feeling that those who are undocumented are less than,” Diaz said.
Diaz and others have added that this could be a teaching moment for Latinos to talk with one another about some of these long standing issues within the community. She said she hopes Perez can become a leader on the issue in the Cuban community.
“He’s in a position of privilege, I’m in a position of privilege, and it’s important for those of us who are in a position of privilege, who are documented or whatever that may be, to use that to protect those that are in a vulnerable position.”
“I’ve been trying to take a step back and call people in”
While many on social media have reiterated their support for Perez, others have used profanity to vow they’d never listen to him again. Valdivia said he hopes people can move past their anger.
“I think that one of the things that we’re seeing on social media is this growing call out culture. We’re allowed to identify an issue and go after a person who’s perpetrated an act of racism,” he said. “But I think that I’ve been trying to take a step back and call people in. I think he needs to take a moment to reflect on what he did. And I think we need to take a moment to call Julian in and say: 'Hey, you really messed up.'”
Diaz, who works at the Latino Policy Forum’s Multicultural Leadership Academy, a program aiming to unite black and brown communities, said she believes this should be a teaching moment for Latinos more broadly.
“We need to look at why we have historically made jokes like this, why do we continue to make jokes like this. It’s an opportunity to say: 'Let’s stop, and where did we get these lessons from that it’s okay to dismiss our pride and ourselves or mock ourselves or how we came here?'” Diaz said.
“It’s not coming from us, we were taught that many, many, many generations ago and it lingers. It’s a colonial trauma. History is written by the victors of conquering and we don’t have to do that,” she said. ”We are a resilient people, and we should be proud.”
Mariah Woelfel is a producer at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.