A group of schoolchildren who won a robotics competition were subjected to a barrage of racist abuse from some rival pupils and their parents who shouted: “Go back to Mexico”.
It was the first time that pupils from Pleasant Run Elementary School had entered the robotics challenge. Their victory over the youngsters from other Indianapolis schools, put them a step closer to the state championship.
Yet as the children, aged nine and ten, left the event and walked out to the parking area, some of the children they had just beaten, along with their parents, unleashed racist comments.
“They were pointing at us and saying that ‘Oh my God, they are champions of the city all because they are Mexican. They are Mexican and they are ruining our country’,” Diocelina Herrera, the mother of student Angel Herrera-Sanchez, told the Indianapolis Star.
The incident in the parking area had reportedly been preceded by racist comments that were being whispered inside the gymnasium at Plainfield High School.
The team from Pleasant Run Elementary School, Indiana, included three youngsters who are Latino and two who are African American. The children in the other 20 teams taking part in February contest were largely white.
“For the most part, the robotics world is kind of a white world,” said Lisa Hopper, the team’s coach. “They’re just not used to seeing a team like our kids. And they see us and they think we’re not going to be competition. Then we’re in first place the whole day and they can’t take it.”
In the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump, teachers from schools across the country reported an increase in incidents of racist abuse. They said they children from immigrant families were often told to 'go home'.
Sabrina Kapp, director of communications for Plainfield Community School Corporation, said: “We don’t condone that behaviour; we don’t tolerate it in our schools. We talk a lot about community values here. That is simply not something that anybody associated with Plainfield schools would put up with.”
The newspaper reported that the children Pleasant Run Elementary School responded in the best way possible - by going on to win the prize for best robot design and engineering at the state championships. Their win means they are going to participate in the Vex IQ World Championship next month in Louisville, Kentucky.
“They yelled out rude comments, and I think that they can talk all they want because at the end we’re still going to ‘worlds’,” 10-year-old team leader Elijah Goodwin, told the newspaper.
“It’s not going to affect us at all. I’m not surprised because I’m used to this kind of behaviour. When you have a really good team, people will treat you this way. And we do have a pretty good team.”