Over the weekend, Emma González led a march on Washington, D.C. that protested gun violence. For six minutes and 20 seconds, the amount of time it took a shooter to kill 17 people at her school, the 18-year-old daughter of a Cuban immigrant silently stood before a crowd and honored her fellow students and teachers. Tears streamed down the high school senior’s face as she led a crowd of over five hundred thousand in a silent reflection of the senseless deaths that have come at the hands of our country’s loose gun laws.
But, Republican Senator Steve King of Iowa doesn’t want to talk about all that. He wants to talk outfits. And a culture he has no knowledge of.
A day after the march, the representative from Iowa really wanted to just talk about González’s outfit.
CREDIT: Steve King / Facebook
During the rally, González, whose activism in the weeks since the shooting has seen her compared to Jose Martí, wore a green jacket dotted with various buttons and a patch of the Cuban flag. In a meme posted to the senator’s official Facebook page, King attacked González’s expression of Cuban pride along with her understanding of the Spanish language:
“This is how you look when claim Cuban heritage yet don’t speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence their right to self defense,” says the meme which is paired with an image of González while she cries at the march.
The post was a pretty “bold” stance for King to take considering he’s not Latino. Oh yeah, and his penchant for actual tyrannical flags.
King’s FB post presents a two-part issue that is both infuriating and beyond hypocritical. The first comes with King’s suggestion that González does not get to claim her Cuban heritage because of her loose understanding of the Spanish Language. The declaration is an absurd one considering the many obstacles Latino Americans face in this country that ultimately hold them back from learning Spanish. For me, a Cuban-American whose mother fled with her parents from the island in the 1960s, my indistinct grasp of the language stems in large part from the fact that my family had to leave it’s Latino community behind in Cuba. There’s that and the fact that my core anchor to the language, my mother, worked endless hours outside of our home to make sure that she could give me and my siblings the education her parents had come to this country to ensure we achieved. My mother, like many Latino parents, didn’t have the time and resources to make sure that my siblings and I could fully understand this part of our heritage. What’s more, some of us are just downright discouraged from learning Spanish. And it makes sense considering the fact that we live in a country filled with conservatives like Senator King who lash out and attack us when we speak it.
King’s second offense is his suggestion that the Cuban flag, which was designed in 1849 long before Fidel Castro took power, serves as a representation of communism. In truth, we all know that King’s statement, similar to the ones made by the many conservative trolls who clutter social platforms, was merely an attempt to draw attention from a real issue: we need stricter gun laws. Still, his post highlights the Senator’s severe ignorance and lack of understanding of national flags and their purpose. Like the American one, the Cuban flag does not serve as a symbol of political ideology. (The Cuban communist party has its own flag for that.)
As González has explained, her decision to wear the flag came from a desire to express pride in her heritage.
In a series of tweets GOP Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American lawmaker, shared that González’s father underlined to her in a phone call that his daughter wore the flag only to express pride in her father and abuela’s heritage. It’s something Americans from different cultures and countries do on a daily basis.
In a far-fetched way, it makes sense for Senator King to make a big leap and decide that González’s flag could represent some type of ill will. In 2016 it was revealed that the Senator from Iowa kept a Confederate flag on his desk. This despite the fact that his home state supported the Union in the Civil War.
(So yeah, ahem, Senator. This is how you look when you claim American heritage but support a racist regime.)