Minority Elementary School Winners of Robotics Championship Told to ‘Go Back to Mexico’

Race and Ethnicity, Racism and Hate Groups

Some bigoted parents in Indiana seem to feel threatened by the achievements of non white elementary school kids.

They tried to ruin what should have been a very special moment for the team that was made up of 9- and 10-year-olds. Two are African American and three are Latino.

After making racist remarks in the gymnasium during the competition, some losing students and their parents were waiting for the winners in the parking lot in a super childish move by the bigots.

“Go back to Mexico!” angry kids and their parents screamed at the proud team and their parents, according to USA Today.

Elijah Goodwin, 10; Angel Herrera-Sanchez, 9; Jose Verastegui, 10; Manuel Mendez, 9; and Devilyn Bolyard, 9, make up the Pleasant Run Elementary PantherBots, a team that incredibly, just a few months ago, knew nothing about robotics.

“They were pointing at us and saying that ‘Oh my God, they are champions of the city all because they are Mexican. They are Mexican, and they are ruining our country,’ ” said Diocelina Herrera, the mother PantherBot Angel Herrera-Sanchez.

“For the most part, the robotics world is kind of a white world,” said Lisa Hopper, the team’s coach and a Pleasant Run second-grade teacher. “They’re just not used to seeing a team like our kids.

“And they see us and they think we’re not going to be competition. Then we’re in first place the whole day, and they can’t take it,” she said.


Nearly 35 schools competed in the Feb. 2 robotics challenge. Plainfield High School was the host, but the participating elementary school teams came from more than 20 communities in and around Indianapolis.

“I was afraid they would let [the comments] get in their heads and wig them out,” Hopper said. “We sat down and talked to our kids, and obviously we let them share their feelings.

“They were on top of it already,” she said. “They said: ‘We know they are mean. We know they were jealous. We’re not going to let it bother us.’ One of our guys said ‘to take stuff like that and let it make you stronger.’ ”

On Wednesday, Superintendent Scott Olinger of Plainfield Community Schools, released a statement:

The Plainfield Community School Corp. does not condone or tolerate language or behaviors that degrade others. Had our organizing team been made aware of the alleged behaviors by unknown adults on Feb. 2, we would have taken immediate action.

We were pleased to host such an impressive array of young students, and we were equally proud of the teamwork, camaraderie, knowledge and fun that these children displayed. To learn now that adults may have acted in a way that distracted from the success of the day is disheartening. In the Plainfield schools, such behavior is unacceptable, regardless of whether it comes from adults or students.

These kids are already aware the best revenge on simple-minded bigots is success.

Three weeks after the incident, the PantherBots won the Create Award—for best robot design and engineering—at the state championships, which qualified them for the Vex IQ World Championship next month in Louisville, KY where they will compete with kids from all over the world.

No child should have to be used to this kind of bigotry, but Goodwin and the team have a very mature attitude about the racists.

“They yelled out rude comments, and I think that they can talk all they want because at the end we’re still going to Worlds,” said team leader Elijah Goodwin, 10. “It’s not going to affect us at all. I’m not surprised because I’m used to this kind of behavior.

“When you have a really good team, people will treat you this way,” he said. “And we do have a pretty good team.”

It is amazing how well those kids were able to deal with the bigotry of the other kids and their severely racist parents, but it is sad they are used to such behavior.

(Article By Jeremiah Jones)

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