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Father who spoke at Saline meeting on racism discusses pain of raising kids in mostly white schools

A blackboard sign that says "we thank the community for all the support and business #why didn't you stay in mexico"
Courtesy of Adrian Iraola
At a recent Saline school board meeting, a fellow attendee asked Chela's owner Adrian Iraola why he didn't "stay in Mexico" after Iraola shared a story about his son's experiences with racism in the district.

Normally, a video of a school board meeting would not be viral content. But a short exchange from a meeting in Saline this week has captured the world’s attention and sparked a conversation about the racism students of colors face in school.

“This has touched a nerve in the nation,” said Saline resident, Adrian Iraola.

Iraola lives in Saline and owns Chela’s Restaurant and Taqueria, which has three locations in the Ann Arbor area. He is the father of three former students in the Saline school district. During a school board meeting on Monday, Iraola was interrupted by another man while sharing an anecdote about consoling his son after he was called racist names at school. The man asked Iraola why he didn’t “stay in Mexico.” You can see a video of the encounter from MLive below.

The meeting was called to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the district after some white high school students posted racist content on Snapchat aimed at black students at the school. The school district has denounced those actions.

Iraola said it is unfortunate that these issues still persist, but that this event has been, “able to show our community, and the nation now, how this racism still is so current and present.”

tashmica torok takes a selfie in front of a large catholic church
Credit Courtesy of Tashmica Torok
Tashmica Torok protesting outside the Diocese of Lansing. She pulled her sons from the Catholic schools run by the Diocese after her son was reprimanded for kneeling in protest during the national anthem at a football game.

Other parents in Michigan have also voiced concerns about the racism their children have experienced at school. Tashmica Torok is an advocate for children, who lives in Lansing with her husband and three boys. Torok and her sons are African American. Until a couple years ago, her sons attended Catholic schools run by the Diocese of Lansing. Then, in 2017, Torok said one of her sons was reprimanded by school officials and others in the community after kneeling in protest during the national anthem at a football game.

After frustrating discussions with school administrators, she decided to remove all of her children from the Catholic school system in Lansing. The transition was difficult. Torok recalled when her son asked to re-enroll at Lansing Catholic High School after there were administrative changes in the Diocese of Lansing. Torok said she had to decline his request.

“I said, my love, as your mother, I watched the adults who essentially helped raise you refuse to protect you. I can’t put you back in that situation. And I understand what has changed, but what hasn’t changed are the people who stayed silent. And I don’t trust them with you. And that was really hard,” Torok said. “It’s really hard to tell a child that there are adults in their life who will not risk enough to protect them.”

Iraola’s children have all graduated from Saline Area Schools. He said he came to the school board meeting on Monday with his wife Lori to stand in solidarity with the students who had been called racist slurs. Iraola said that his children recently told him that they wished they had transferred to a more diverse school district, instead of staying in Saline.

adrian iraola stands in front of brick wall
Credit Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Adrian Iraola's children all graduated from Saline Area Schools, where he said they faced racist comments from fellow classmates.

“We as parents, everybody, tries to provide their children with the best. You find a school district that you think will give them an excellent education, and facilities, and environment. But you mention, Tashmica, that there are adults that just stand idle and witness examples of these ugly events, and they do nothing,” Iraola said. “Our educators need to be more aware of what they are not doing.”

He said that this incident should be a wakeup call for school districts in Michigan and beyond. He wants teachers and other staff need to pay attention to the racism that exists within their hallways, so that kids like his feel safe at school.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan. 

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