Republican State Rep. Mike Sylvia has alarmed some in the Hispanic and immigrant communities by using racist stereotypes in describing strategies to further the goal of having New Hampshire secede from the Union.
“Frankly I’m going to throw in there, and one you’re going to hate is the whole border situation. This is not my feeling, but you know the atmosphere out there is that those dirty Mexicans or Guatemalans or whatever are coming across the border bringing in Covid with them,” Sylvia of Belmont, said in an Aug. 12 video chat (at 4:55 mark) posted on NHExit.US and making the rounds on social media.
“It’s a bit of nonsense but that is a genuine mood that is out there. And whether or not it’s true and real, you know, if we could take advantage of it, why wouldn’t we?”
Sylvia, who didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment last week is chair of the Belknap County Legislative Delegation. State Rep. Matthew Santonastaso, R-Rindge, was also among those on the chat. He did not return a call for comment.
Carlos Cardona, chair of the Laconia Democrats group, said he’s heard this kind of thing before.
“This racist rhetoric that they use in politics is normal politics that they use,” he said. “I was watching twitter feeds throughout the day and I saw this video pop up and immediately felt alarmed as a Hispanic in the Lakes Region and somebody that is connected in the community.
“This is the type of stuff they are using to put fear in people and to put down our community. They’re putting fear in their community that we’re out here to steal their jobs, that we are spreading Covid.”
He added that incendiary rhetoric can lead to violence.
“Eventually somebody is going to get hurt because of this stuff they are saying,” Cardona said. “At some point, somebody in the community that might not be mentally stable, who might be a white supremacist, who might be an extremist right-wing fantastic might go out there and hurt somebody.”
Republican Rep. Norm Silber, of Gilford, analyzed Sylvia’s comments.
“I note that before the ‘strong words’ he says they are not his own feelings,” Silber said in an email.
He elaborated in a phone interview that while he doesn’t agree with the use of the word “dirty” in Sylvia’s remarks, he does support closed borders and disease surveillance among people coming to this country.
Silber said overheated rhetoric can be seen on both sides of the political divide.
“Sometimes they come out with outrageous comments that I personally don’t agree with,” he said.
Eva Castillo, director of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, said Sylvia’s remarks were infuriating.
“I think it is pathetic that candidates have to appeal to the lowest instinct of voters to get a vote or to get elected,” Castillo said.
“It’s sad. Latinos don't have anything to do with the virus any more than any race. You should not be [linking] Latinos or any other group with that virus.If anything, we have vaccinated tons of Latinos. I have not seen any Latinos actively marching against vaccination.
“Why don’t people just run on moral values, on ideas, on whatever they can bring to society, rather than disparaging other groups?”
New Hampshire House Speaker Sherman Packard put out a statement.
“Employing racial stereotypes for any purpose is wrong, shameful and will never gain Republican support,” Packard said.
“Secession is not something House Republican leadership is even remotely involved with, nor do we condone racial stereotyping of any kind.”
Texas A&M Political Science Professor Kirby Goidel said it’s not unusual for a politician to espouse a view designed to get voter support even if he or she doesn’t agree with it or even if it is not true.
“I think it has always been that way, probably even more so in the past,” he said.