Human 'wall' shields parishioners from fear of racist taunts
Supporters of Portland's Spanish-speaking community formed a human wall Sunday morning with signs in Spanish and English in front of St. Peter Catholic Church to support Latino, Hispanic and Mexican parishioners who faced racist taunts just a week ago.
About 200 people formed a line in front of the dual-language church, 5905 S.E. 87th Ave., just before the Feb. 5 mass started at noon. People urged on by a social media post showed up in response to a Jan. 29 incident, when a small group started shouting insults while churchgoers were entering for Spanish mass.
In two short videos posted last week online by a church member, the men can be heard yelling, "You're going straight to hell," and "You're not the true Christians!"
No one showed up Sunday to harass churchgoers.
Juan Mayoral, a church member for the past 10 years, said that one of the men spoke Spanish and called women racial slurs for whores. Mayoral attends the church regularly with his family, who are from Mexico.
"There's been subtle racism ever since I've been here," Mayoral said. "What has happened is President Trump's stance on immigration has allowed people to feel free to harass us."
'It's just beautiful'
News of the event spread on Facebook, with users sharing a post that said, "ATTN WHITE PEOPLE – USE YOUR WHITE BODY TO INTERRUPT RACISM!" and that Portland's Mexican and Latino community was seeking assistance from people who would place their body "between violent bigots and people of color" to form a "strong human chain to stand as a buffer between Latino worshippers and those who hate them."
People gathered before the mass, singing songs together like "Lean On Me" and "This Land is Your Land."
Brenda Ramirez, 21, was shocked when she heard about the previous week's incidents. She's been attending the church since she was 10 and had her Quinceanera there. However, she had missed the incident last week.
"They were speaking of Jesus, they claim they were Christians. If they want to bring hatred, they can bring it somewhere else because this is a house of worship," she said.
She was happy to see the crowd gather in front of her church. "It's just beautiful. This is what America is — not racism or hate. This is what it should be."
Cosima Ritter of Southeast Portland isn't a member of the church but responded to the call of using her "white body to interrupt racism."
"I think in this time, I have a white body that I can combat white supremacy with and put myself in dangerous situations that other people can't," Ritter said. "It's important for people to engage and protect the community right now."
Included in the conversation
Pedro Anglada, a social worker for the office of equity and partnership at Portland Public Schools, attended the event in support of the Latino community. "When I see this, I see a great deal of connection," he said.
Anglada said he saw one of the men who shouted racist insults at later protests held at Portland International Airport. "They were allowed to move on with their hate speech and inciting violence. There are certain levels of privilege for people on the wrong side of history," Anglada said. "It summarizes how much harassment the Latino community is dealing with."
He says he hasn't been satisfied with Portland's dialogue around sanctuary cities, which he believes hasn't been inclusive of the Latino community. Officials declared Portland a sanctuary city, which means that law enforcement has been instructed not to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement in deporting undocumented immigrants.
"We are not being included in that conversation. It isolates the Latino community," he said.
The event concluded with Pastor Raul Marquez telling the crowd that the church was appreciative of the turnout. "This is what it's all about — community, acceptance, partnership," he said.