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Plano promotes diversity. It also was the site of a racist rant that went viral and it's complicated

Plano rally
Caroline Love
/
KERA News
People gathered in Plano's Haggard Park Saturday to support four South Asian women who were the targets of a racist rant a week ago.

City leaders say the viral video that recorded a rant targeting four South Asian women on a restaurant parking lot doesn’t represent Plano’s character — but it's more complicated than that.

It was a typical Wednesday night in Plano — four friends had gone out to dinner at Sixty Vines restaurant. They were chatting in the parking lot in their native language before heading home.

Then, Esmerelda Upton approached them.

“We don’t want you here,” Upton said. “If things are so great in your country, then stay there.”

The confrontation was recorded in a video that went viral on social media. The next day, police arrested Upton. She was charged with misdemeanor assault and making terroristic threats.

Ed Drain is Plano’s police chief. He said his department is investigating the incident as a hate crime. He’s also talked with the department of justice and the U.S. attorney’s office about filing federal charges.

Drain said hate crimes aren’t common in Plano. The city has only three or four a year, and Drain said they’re not as severe as what happened last week.

“They rarely involve any violence against the person, but of course, this was an exception,” he said.

Not infrequently, hate incidents against Asian Americans don’t involve physical violence. The organization Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate found that most of AAPI hate incidents in the past two years were “non-criminal.”

But that doesn’t mean hate isn’t present. Mamta Jain said at a rally for the victims on Saturday that the threat is growing.

“We’re seeing that everywhere, and it’s sad,” Jain said.

Riyaz Muhammed also attended the downtown rally. He’s from Allen.

Muhammed used to live in Plano. He said he was shocked by the parking lot confrontation.

“I never thought this happens in our backyard,” he said.

Speakers at the rally in Plano’s Haggard Park praised the crowd’s diversity — there were women wearing saris and members of the local NAACP chapter in attendance. One woman brought a sign that said “this Mexican rejects hate” — Upton said in the video that she is Mexican American.

One woman wrote “make racism wrong again” in thick black marker on her poster board.

The crowd chanted that phrase together during the rally.

The incident has shaken Plano’s leaders. They say diversity is something that Plano celebrates. The city is about 22 percent Asian and 15 percent Hispanic. Mayor John Muns said Plano takes pride in that.

“I embrace our diversity here in Plano because I see how much it makes this such a better community to live in,” Muns said.

Anti-Asian hate can happen anywhere according to the report from Stop AAPI Hate, which shows hate against Asians happens in cities big and small and places with Asian populations of every size.

Sanjiv Sinha said even Plano isn’t immune from anti-Asian hate.

“The fact that we live in an affluent suburb doesn't shield us from it,” said Sinha, who moved to Allen from England and is from India.

City leadership said Upton’s actions don’t define Plano – it’s diversity does. But Dallas activist John Fullinwider warned the crowd at the rally against dismissing the idea that other people in Plano don’t share Upton’s views.

“That’s aspiration, because she represents some people in Plano,” Fullinwider said.

Cassandra Hernandez-Garcia from North Dallas agrees. And she said the fight to end hate isn’t over in Plano.

“As much as we hope and we aspire that would be the case, it’s not,” she said. “And we need to continue to keep fighting.”

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at clove@kera.org.

Caroline Love is a Report For America corps member for KERA News.

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Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.