New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. joined community leaders Thursday to decry a recent torrent of hate mail the city has received in response to its decision to fly the Mexican flag on the New Haven Green in honor of Mexican independence day last week.
At the rally, held by the flagpole on the Green, DeStefano blasted groups like the anti-illegal immigrant Community Watchdog Project for “inundating” his office with “hateful” phone calls and e-mails. He told the crowd of about 20 people from various community groups that New Haven has a long tradition of flying foreign flags for patriotic holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day and Puerto Rican Day — but only the Mexican flag has been singled out for derision, he said.
“This is a simple message about what kind of community we are,” DeStefano said. “We do not tolerate hate.”
In a voicemail message to the News regarding the rally, CWP President Dustin Gold said New Haven’s flag code prohibits the city from flying foreign flags on the same pole as the American flag, as the city did last week; rather, they must be flown side-by-side, on separate flagpoles. At the rally, DeStefano said he is not familiar with the code, but that flags have been flown this way since before he was elected mayor.
During brief remarks at the rally, DeStefano read excerpts from several of the e-mails his office has received. He added that his office has never received such a response to any of the other flags raised on the Green in his tenure.
“This is the United States of America. We don’t want Spanish. We don’t want Mexican flags,” read one e-mail provided to the media by the mayor’s office.
“Get rid … of the Mexican flag and fly it in Mexico if you like so much [sic],” said another. “Kick them out and you go with them.”
Among the e-mails provided by City Hall was one from Gold to his supporters encouraging them to call the mayor to protest the Mexican flag. The CWP has been a vocal opponent of the Elm City Resident Card, which allows all city residents — regardless of immigration status — access to city services, like debit accounts and social services.
New Haven residents at the rally, however, said they do not sympathize with the e-mails.
“I was here on Saturday,” Father James Manship of New Haven’s St. Rose of Lima Church said before the rally, in reference to New Haven Family Day, where the city promoted the ID card. “There was a beautiful celebration going on, with families and people feeling connected, while outside, there were hate groups spewing vitriol. New Haven is much better than this. They protest against the foreign, but to us, their hateful actions are foreign.”
Added city resident Suzette Franco-Camacho: “New Haven is a place that celebrates diversity.”
DeStefano echoed those sentiments in his speech and a press release, saying that New Haven is “welcoming” and should not be divided across “racial, ethnic or socio-economic lines.”
David Schaefer, on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League, emphasized in his speech that the United States is a nation of immigrants, and residents should embrace different backgrounds.
“We must gather to condemn intolerance,” Schaefer said. “Manifestations of hate are not proper ways of expressing opinions.”
When asked how the city has responded to the phone calls, City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said she tried to explain to callers that the Mexican flag is flown in honor of its independence day in accordance with New Haven’s policy of celebrating diversity. She said she does not respond to the e-mails.
But despite all the mail, New Haven residents interviewed at the rally said they feel strongly that their city is tolerant of immigrants and diversity. They said they are optimistic that their city is not an anti-immigrant one.
“New Haven is an accepting place,” Barbara Tinney, a lifelong New Haven resident, said after the rally. “Although we did see intolerance displayed here last Saturday, on the whole, our citizens are not so small-minded. We have a long history of embracing different cultures.”