A video was released showing Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) making an offensive Native American gesture during the California Democratic Party’s convention in Anaheim on Saturday.
Sanchez, who recently announced her campaign for retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.), was describing a phone call she had received from an East Indian man who wanted to meet with her.
“I am going to his office,” she said, “thinking that I am going to meet with a–” Sanchez then put her hand over her mouth and imitated a stereotypical Indian war cry. “Right?” she said. “Because he said Indian American.”
Delegate Amparo Diaz from San Jose, who witnessed this event, said “everyone was just shocked. We looked around to reassure each other we had just seen the same thing. Did it really happen?”
California Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose mother is from India, was likewise disturbed when she learned about Sanchez’s gesture. “It is shocking and there is no place for that in our public discourse.”
The Sacramento Bee asked Sanchez whether or not she felt the gesture was appropriate. Her only reply was “I think that Native Americans have an incredibly great history, and a great presence in our country, and many of them are supporting our election.”
Sanchez has since apologized
and acknowledged that the gesture was in fact inappropriate. On Sunday at a state Democratic Convention in Anaheim, Sanchez stated, “In this crazy and exciting rush of meetings yesterday, I said something offensive and for that I sincerely apologize.”
She then attempted to excuse her actions by stating that she has Native American ancestry on her mother’s side.
“They know my record,” she said, referring to Native Americans. “They know how much I have spent – the time that I have spent with them at their tribal councils, listening to them, advocating for them. They know that I have always had their backs. And they know what many of you don’t know – that like so many Mexican Americans, I am proudly Native American on my mother’s side.”
Some have defended Sanchez, stating that she did not mean to offend anyone. Marni Magda, a Laguna Beach delegate who has volunteered for Sanchez and supports her Senate bid, stated Sanchez “would never be racist against anyone. She embraces all diversity. I think she thought she was being funny and didn’t realize there were people who would be offended.”
There is nothing funny, however, about what Sanchez did, and her attempt to justify her actions by claiming to have Native American ancestry is just as wrong. Nothing can justify the use of offensive gestures or language, especially when they are used to reinforce disrespectful stereotypes.