Son disavows Saline dad's 'Why didn't you stay in Mexico' rebuke as 'deliberately racist'

February 04, 2020, 6:13 PM by  Alan Stamm

A family's clash of views on immigration goes public as a 23-year-old Navy veteran speaks out against parental bigotry.

Matt Burtell: "I stand in solidarity with the refugees and immigrants." (Photo: LinkedIn)

"My father asked a deliberately racist question at the Saline Area Schools diversity and inclusion meeting," university student Matt Burtell posts on Facebook, referring to a Monday exchange in a video played more than 320,000 on YouTube. It shows Tom Burtell, 49, asking restaurant owner Adrian Iraola: "Then why didn't you stay in Mexico?" (The immigrant had described schoolmates' taunting of his son's ethnicity.)

"His views of hate in no way represent my own," the younger Burtell says in a post shared over 600 times. "I stand in solidarity with the refugees and immigrants of the world."

He tells MLive from New Haven, Conn., that a friend sent him a link to the video from back home. Matt Burtell graduated from Saline High in 2014 and has siblings in the district, McKenna Ross reports at the news site.

"It's of vital importance to call out racism wherever you see it," said Matthew Burtell in an interview Tuesday. "We can't stand idly by – as children, as brothers and sisters, as friends and as people interacting with each other in daily life – when someone says or does anything racist.

"Its all of our responsibilities and it shouldn’t have to get to this." 

Thomas Edison Burtell: "Why didn't you stay in Mexico?" (Photo: MLive screenshot)

Matt Burtell served from 2014-18 on the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, rising to petty officer second class. His role was computer system administrator and supervisor. He then spent a year at Washtenaw Community College and now is pursuing a computer science degree at Yale University, according to his LinkedIn page.

His post generates more than than three dozen comments, including this one from fellow Saline native Alix Carroll, now a nurse living in Chelsea: "The world needs more young people like you who are willing to speak out against hate. Well done."

Another admirer, Katie Frego of Ann Arbor, says: "Speaking out against hateful speech, especially coming from a family member, is a really admirable and sometimes difficult thing to do."

Chela's on South 5th Avenue in Ann Arbor. (Photo: Yelp/Sean G.)

Separately, area residents rally behind Iraola, owner of a Mexican restaurant in Dexter and two in Ann Arbor -- all named Chela's Restaurant & Taqueria. Susie Baity of Ann Arbor posts: "I don't really need a reason to eat at Chela's because it is so good and the owners and staff so kind and friendly -- but I will make a point of going this week to show my support." 

In another comment on a Facebook thread about Monday's clash during the school district forum, Judy Stone says: "I didn't know about Chela's but will make a point now to stop by."

A diner's report Tuesday evening from the flagship restaurant on South Maple Street in Ann Arbor says: "Just went to Chela’s for dinner and ... they had a sign welcoming folks and thanking them for the support."


Video: Here's What Bigotry Looks and Sounds Like at a School Forum in Saline, Feb. 4

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