Advocates say Middletown has made progress since last Hummers Parade, but not enough
Immigration-themed floats in the 2019 Hummers Parade in Middletown were called out as racist. Advocates say they saw progress in this year’s iteration of the loosely organized annual event known for political satire.
A group led by the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend chapter of the NAACP held signs with messages such as “Racism is not funny” and “Racism is not Delaware” at this year’s parade. They were met with snowflake-shaped signs asking “Does this offend you?” and one sign stating “This is our town.”
But Co-chair of the Delaware Hispanic Commission Charito Calvachi-Mateyko says that lingering tension did not rise to the level of intimidation she saw a year ago.
“There was nothing but a few gestures here and there that didn’t amount to something of grave concern for us,” she said. “So I think we have been effective, but we need to move forward.”
MOT branch of the NAACP President Scott Saunders agrees. “People were more aware,” he said “I don’t think people wanted to cross certain lines. And that’s a good thing.”
Last January, Middletown Mayor Kenneth Branner condemned the controversial floats— which included a depiction of a child in a cage— as “offensive” and “totally inappropriate.” He created a committee that met last fall to draft recommendations for guidelines for any future parades permitted in town.
The recommendations were thrown out in December over concerns they would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Town Council then approved new guidelines that hold permit applicant, Jack Schreppler, responsible for all aspects of the parade.
Saunders sees the fact that there is no screening of parade floats as a problem. He sat on the parade guidelines committee, and criticizes the process. “When this precipitating issue happened in January and we didn’t form a committee until after August, we didn't meet until the end of October, and the parade was less than sixty days away— that was irresponsible in my opinion.”
Calvachi-Mateyko also saw town leadership on the issue as insufficient. “It was more lip service to our community from the Mayor and Council,” she said. “They did denounce, but the way they went about it in not inviting us and not answering questions ... that took power away from us. And that’s not what we want to see in people that represent us.”
Calvachi-Mateyko says some in the Middletown Latino community are now galvanized around ensuring they are better represented in local government. “According to what the people were saying after the parade when we got together, we need to elect people that reflect our interests, people that know where we come from."
Calvachi-Mateyko says the immigration-themed floats at last year’s Hummers Parade were especially harmful because many Latinos in Middletown already feel a level of intimidation.
“I think there is something from Middletown down the state that is very different from Newark and Wilmington. You can feel it in the air. I know people feel intimidated. That’s why our concern was great,” she said. “When this becomes evident, it gives permission for the people to actually— the next step will be to act overtly on those feelings.”
Calvachi-Mateyko notes the the NAACP’s presence at this year’s parade and at public meetings was important. “There are many Latinos that don’t want to show up to these types of events. They are afraid that, even if they are citizens, they may be approached at these public events.”
Saunders of the NAACP sees the fact that last year’s parade led to conversations about community tensions as a good thing. “You’ve got to get [the tension] out in the open,” he said. “If it stays under the cover, that’s just a powder keg ready to explode.”
Calvachi-Mateyko calls the show of solidarity from the African-American community one of the “beautiful” things that came from last year’s controversy. “We, the Latino community, know that the African-American community cares for us. That we are brothers and sisters," she said. "And that we are also so interested in creating peace.”
Middletown Mayor Kenneth Branner did not respond to a request for an interview.