Middletown Council chambers were packed with upwards of 200 people looking to discuss last week's Hummers Parade.
The loosely organized annual event is known for edgy political satire— but this year several immigration-themed floats were called out as racist.
Pablo Trejo works in Middletown and attended Monday’s Council meeting. He said he felt especially “sickened” by a float that portrayed children in cages.
“I don’t consider that political satire. You’re spreading hate. You’re spreading propaganda. You’re spreading an image that no human being deserves,” said Trejo.
Middletown Mayor Kenneth Branner Jr. said for most of the parade’s history, the community has enjoyed it. “On the 47th year in 2019 that all changed. There were some entries that were offensive, totally inappropriate, and these actions are going to be addressed for any future gatherings,” he said.
Branner says Council will appoint a diverse committee of seven Middletown residents to develop guidelines for the parade. He says no permits will be given for it until the guidelines have been approved by council at a public meeting. "We'll do everything we possibly can within the boundaries of the law to make sure that does not happens again," he said.
Branner admits no permits were previously issued for the parade and the city only provides traffic control. He says it also remains to be seen whether the guidelines will be enforceable.
“I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't expect a change so quickly,” said activist and former U.S. Senate candidate Kerri Evelyn Harris. “I do believe that it'll be important to have public input. But he’s made it very clear that he’s willing to do that.”
Harris disputes Branner’s claim that the parade was endorsed by the entire community until this year. “I think the parade was a problem other years as well, but I truly believe the last couple of years have made people realize that they can't sit silently,” she said.
Maggie DeLisi immigrated to the U.S. from Honduras and has lived in Middletown for 27 years. She says this year’s Hummer Parade was the first time she felt unwelcome in Middletown. "I really never felt that way. I never felt ... I was mistreated. I always felt like one of you guys, just like anyone else."
DeLisi said a change needs to be made to prevent something like this year's Hummers Parade from happening again. "We are not here to make a division out of this," said DeLisi. "We want to make actually a peace moment, where we are all the same."
Javier Torrijos, chair of the Delaware Hispanic Commission, sent a letter to Middletown’s Mayor and Town Council before the meeting, urging the officials to issue a written apology to the immigrant and Latino communities, an explanation of the permitting process for the parade and a commitment to build cultural competency in the community.
He says representations like those at last week’s parade make light of serious abuses at the country’s southern border— and encourage racism. “It just creates a lot of problems for our community. A lot of hatred, a lot of discrimination,” said Torrijas.
“Our folks live in fear and isolation, and that’s a problem. And when you have these types of events like this, all that does is just empower those individuals. Even though they may think it’s satirical, it’s funny, it’s not. It’s a serious matter,” he added.
Torrijos says he is pleased with Mayor Branner’s plans to address the issue. But he maintains there is a need for more cultural competency in Town government— and for representation from Middletown’s Latino community on the planned parade committee.