Geneva-on-the Lake Fire Chief says his memes just poke fun at friends. Anti Defamation League Regional Director and HOLA Executive Director say posts are racist.
William A. West
GENEVA-ON-THE-LAKE_A local public official has been posting racist memes on his personal Facebook for months with apparently no objections from his 1,800 Facebook friends.
Tim Mills, Geneva-on-the Lake Fire Chief and Geneva Township Trustees’ Chairman, has posted nearly 100 Mexican Word of the Day images because he says he likes sharing them with his Mexican friends. Stereotypes of the Mexican community are the sole feature of these memes.
The memes feature a laughing overweight Mexican man wearing a large sombrero with the word Mexico emblazoned across the front of the sombrero. The image is centered on a square red, green and white background. The colors symbolize the official flag of the United Mexican States (Mexico).
Anita Gray, Regional Director of the Anti Defamation League office based in Cleveland, Ohio, finds the memes to be upsetting and intolerable. Gray’s region includes Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and the western half of Pennsylvania.
“I did not see the memes myself until they were called to my attention,” Gray said. “To me, the memes are totally outrageous. They are biased, they are hurtful, they are deeply offensive to Americans and in particular to Mexican Americans.”
“It’s just me poking fun at all of my friends that are Mexican,” Mills said during a phone interview. “We joke about the way that they say stuff; it’s just to poke fun at them a little bit.”
Gray believes a possible method may be to dull the influence of one’s exposure to racist rhetoric and memes by the ignoring of the stereotypes associated with “the other.”
“One way to combat this I think that first of all, getting to know the other. We all put our pants on the same way, we all bleed red, we’ve had for our country, soldiers of many different backgrounds, ethnicities, die for this country so that we can remain free and live in a wonderful country where all are accepted,” Gray said. “So I think that these kind of memes just bring the country down a little bit.”
Public officials are usually held to a higher standard by the citizens they serve. Some feel that Mills fails to live up to these higher standards because of the racist memes that he posts on his personal Facebook page.
“The man is a leader in his community, he needs to be made to understand that these are hurtful stereotypes that he is posting on his Facebook page,” Gray said. “I would hope that, that is not what is in his heart.”
“I have a brother-in-law and six nieces and nephews that are half Mexican; it is all in fun, believe me, I hope nobody takes it as I’m trying to be like racist or anything because that is farthest from the truth,” Mills said. “I have dozens and dozens of friends that are Mexican, a lot of them hit the like button on it, they love it, they laugh, they put on the ha-ha button.”
HOLA was founded to serve the farm worker population that was working in the nurseries. The work force was growing in numbers and started settling here with their families in northeast Ohio. There became a need for a go-to organization that could help with all kinds of issues facing the workers and their families. The organization HOLA came into being under the guidance of co-founder and Executive Director Veronica Dahlberg.
“The biggest issue that Hispanics are facing is the public campaign to create scorn towards the Hispanic community. There is a public campaign to dehumanize not only in discourse, but also in policy,” Dahlberg said. “We’re seeing families separated at the border, which has finally been put in the spotlight. We have prisons now for children, babies, toddlers, and not to mention increasingly harsher immigration policies that are focused on enforcement; rather than how it was in the past with integrating and assimilating immigrants and working them into the fabric of America for the benefit of all and our country, but is now more about making the immigrants an enemy and trying to eliminate them from the country.”
The immigrant population has noticed an increase in the racism directed at them as they work the fields and shop in the stores in northeast Ohio.
“Being a Mexican American myself, I am very familiar with our culture and our history here in the United States and there has been a little bit of tinge of anti-immigrant sentiment toward Mexican Americans,” Dahlberg said. The raids and so forth, that’s part of our music, it’s part of our poetry, our books; you’ll hear Woody Guthrie’s song “Deportee” (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), that song was written in 1948 and yet it still applies today.”
The rise in racist behavior is attributed by some to the racist inflections included in statements made by candidate Trump before the 2016 election and after by President Trump. The current atmosphere perpetuated by President Trump has given rise to the number of racist incidents in the U.S.
“A new study presented to the Midwest Political Science Association in April 2018 suggests that there’s a causal relationship between Trump’s demagoguery and those reports of racialized abuses. Brian Schaffner, a scholar at University of Massachusetts – Amherst, found empirical evidence that Trump’s rhetoric did indeed lead non-Hispanic whites to express more bigoted views of “the other.”1*
“But, what has happened recently, and I’m saying in the past two years, when you have it at the level of the President of United States using terms like breeding, rapists, gang members and that they’re infesting America; these types of words, and the policies that followed dehumanize on a level we’ve not seen before,” Dahlberg said.
Mills’ prolific posting of The Mexican Word of the Day memes on Facebook illustrates his possible lack of understanding as to the hurt he can cause with these racist images.
“These memes show a caricature of a Mexican wearing a big sombrero, and really again, perpetuates that stereotype of Mexicans,” Dahlberg said. “It is very upsetting to me because it makes people look at us as a one-dimensional cartoonish-type figure; not that we have doctors, writers, lawyers and so forth in our community right here in northeast Ohio, even here in Ashtabula.”
Mills exhibits a kind of “get-over-it” attitude if your feelings are hurt.
“I don’t know, sometimes I think that people ought to have a thicker skin on some things because you know I can take people throwing rocks at me too,” Mills said. “I think that’s the problem with this country, too many people get their feelings hurt about nothing. You know what I mean, there are so many bigger things to worry about.”
Dahlberg, like Gray, believes that public officials, (elected or appointed) need to be held at a higher standard than the average citizen.
“I usually hold our leaders, my default position is one of respect for all, but at the same time I just find this to be in really bad taste, and form and extremely harmful to be sharing and perpetuating these memes. It is very disappointing,” Dahlberg said. “Where is the leadership to say this is not a good example for kids to look at; for the particular community that is being made fun of, in this case the Mexican community being made fun of again.”
“Well, I think someone should contact Mr. Mills and express their displeasure and see if he understands why these memes are so hurtful and ask that they be taken down,” Gray said. “And it’s particularly disconcerting to me that he is an elected official.”
The apparent lack of disapproving comments to the memes that Mills posts indicates that they may be acceptable to his friends, our local politicians and the so-called pillars of the community.
“I don’t look at it as anything derogatory towards that person’s heritage or anything like that,” Mills said. “I don’t think anything bad about people that way. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all the same, we’re all the same anatomy, it doesn’t matter what color you are or where you came from, we’re all the same, it doesn’t make any difference,” Mills said. “If somebody wants to make fun of what I do that’s great, it’s just all in fun.”
Dahlberg would like to meet with local public officials to help them understand the need to combat racism at every level.
“I invite Mr. Mills and any public official to reach out to HOLA and sit down with us, listen to our community. That’s the way to do it,” Dahlberg said. “And then maybe you’d be ashamed of those memes once you get to know us. It’s an open invitation to get coffee, whatever. Again I hold public officials in respect, but I do expect a certain comportment that I would expect even from my own kids. I wouldn’t let my kids share those disparaging memes at all.”
“Not one of my Mexican friends have ever told me, hey man, you crossed the line. They all laugh, we joke, they poke back at me too; it’s just what we do,” Mills said. “If somebody doesn’t like it and they give me lip for it, I guess I got it coming, I’ll take it. I’m not going to get upset about it either because they’re entitled to their opinion.”
The lyrics to Woody Guthrie’s song “Deportee” (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)
Artist: Woody Guthrie
Album: The Roots of the Byrds
The crops are all in and the peaches are rott’ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They’re flying ’em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again
Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be “deportees”
My father’s own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters they working the old church,
They rode the big truck still laydown and died
The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, “They are just deportees”
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Behind the Story
William A. West
ERIE, PA_The commitment to do a story isn’t always a cut-and-dried decision for a journalist. Every once-in-a-while a story comes along that requires a journalist to weigh public good against personal cost.
This can take the form of losing long-term friendships and the predictable backlash from those recently emboldened to launch vicious personal attacks questioning your humanity, patriotism, loyalty and even your right to exist.
Such were the factors weighed against the possible harm being perpetuated by a multitude of “Mexican Word of the Day” Facebook posts by a local public official.
Tim Mills, Geneva Township Trustees’ Chairman and Geneva-on-the- Lake Fire Chief, has been posting ( as some, but not all people, have described) as racist “Mexican Word of the Day” memes for some time. In all, he has posted about 100 memes disparaging people of Mexican descent on his Facebook page. He has done so without dissent, criticism or comment from fellow public officials and his friends.
Either they found his “Mexican Word of the Day posts acceptable or they were too indifferent to say anything. A belated response of: “Yes, we’re friends on Facebook, but I didn’t see the posts and we’re not really that close” is not enough in our nation’s current climate. We all need to take a look at ourselves and what we will tolerate.
The growing acceptance of racism in our country has to be thwarted by concerned and responsible citizens. Researching, writing and publishing a story about a public official promoting racist caricatures is a must-do for any journalist regardless of the possible loss of friendships and followers on Facebook. Even more so, it is a civic obligation for everyone who believes in an America based on freedom and safety for all.
In recent months we have seen people reporting persons of color doing everyday things like barbecuing, enjoying a refreshing swim in a pool, delivering newspapers, house shopping and more. Add cases in which you see someone displaying his ignorance-fueled hate by verbally assaulting a fellow citizen for wearing a shirt resembling the flag of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. This assault was, of course, aimed at a person of color. The offender has been charged with felony hate crimes and the police officer who stood by and did nothing has resigned.
Locally, the fact that Mr. Mills is a public official, thus assumed-to-be pillar of the community, makes his dubious posts bordering on racism particularly destructive to Ashtabula County, Lake County, northeast Ohio, the state of Ohio and the U.S. Mr. Mills, to his credit, has not lashed out in anger towards ashtabulacurrent.com or anyone else as a result of this story being published.2