RARITAN, NJ - Some cruel words spoken in Raritan left the borough council and Mayor Zachary Bray shaken.
During his council report Tuesday, Councilman Pablo Orozco relayed a story about a mother and her children being the targets of a racial slur while in the driveway of their home.
Both the neighbor who said the racial slur and the mother and children are residents of Raritan, Orozco said.
The incident was brought to him by his council running mate Dianne Bautista, who is very involved in racial issues, having recently founded a group named the Foreign-Born Alliance.
Apparently, a neighbor’s visitor was blocking the woman’s driveway one morning, he said. She came out with her children and asked them to move the car because she needed to get to work and take her children to day care.
The neighbor refused and said, “Why don’t you go back to China?”
The children heard, Orozco said, and asked their mother if everyone felt that way about them.
Orozco called the episode heartbreaking and added, “We’re a town of friendly people and I know this isn’t how everybody feels, but when it involves children it takes it to a whole new level.”
In an interview after the meeting, Orozco explained that he grew up in Raritan and served this country as a Marine, and he also experienced that kind of prejudice.
“I was that child in the back seat of my mother’s car hearing those kinds of angry words,” he said.
He explained that when his family moved to Raritan in 1984, his mom was struggling to learn English. One day, in front of her children, someone said, “If you can’t speak the f’in language go back to f’in Mexico.”
Even though that is not where his family was from, to this day those ugly, hateful words have stayed with the councilman, who was 10 years old at the time, he said.
Unfortunately it was not an isolated incident. Orozco said he remembers that he didn’t feel like he was a part of the community for a long time.
In another incident, when he was 17 years old he said, he took a date, a non-Hispanic girl, to a movie. When they came out, there was a business card on his car window that read, “You’re in KKK country,” and on the back it said, “stay away from white woman.”
That was long before the time when you just print up a business card from your computer, said Orozco, so someone made an investment in having those cards printed up.
That is why Orozco contacted the mother and asked if he could speak with her children.
Bautista was at the virtual meeting and spoke during the public comment period.
“There is no place for incidents like that in Raritan, especially towards children,” she said. “I have had similar incidents back when I was younger, and it can be challenging if you don’t have a strong support.”
She offered to join a committee or any discussions going forward, “to make sure this incident doesn’t happen to other kids and families in our friendly town.”
Orozco stated unequivocally that he wants every resident to know, “I’m here to listen to you if you are going through something like this, or if you have had a similar experience to what I described, please feel free to reach out to me. All of my contact information is on the borough website.”
Bray thanked him for bringing the incident to the council’s attention.
“Undoubtedly, we all stand on your side with this,” he said. “That is not acceptable in this town, and it is not the view of anyone on this call or should be the view of anyone anywhere.”
As the meeting was about the draw to a close, a visibly upset Bray again brought up the subject. “Before we adjourn, there’s one thing I need to say. It’s really been bothering me ever since Councilman Orozco brought it up. As an educator and someone who works in the schools seeing things that kids say to each other and working on the front lines of trying to correct that behavior and teach about openness, unity and we’re all in this together, it’s really bothering me that this happened in our town. I really want to be a part of the fix.”