A Latino man who stood up to a group of racists on a tram in England has become the latest superhero in the British press.
The origin story of “Superjuan,” who until last week was known as mild-mannered Juan Jasso, a 38-year-old Mexican-American who’s spent 18 years living in the UK, allegedly started when he asked a group of hooligans who were loudly swearing on crowded tram in Manchester to tone down their language. The young men then called him a “little fucking immigrant” who should “get back to Africa.” The young men, one of whom threw his beer on Jasso, challenged him to get off the train and fight, yelling "Bro, I'll waste you, I'll waste anyone."
Jasso, who served in the U.S. military and is now a lecturer on sports science at Manchester College, did not back down. He called the young men "ignorant," adding: "What are you, 18, 19? I've been here longer than you have."
The incident was filmed by a fellow passenger on his cellphone, and Superjuan was born.
The video soon went viral on social media, and some Brits took to Twitter and Facebook to praise Jasso for taking a stand against xenophobia. They expressed their support through the hashtag #Superjuan.
I wasn’t actually going to report the incident, but a few minutes after it happened I realized it was going to bother me if I didn't do anything,” Jasso told me during a Skype interview. He claims he called the non-emergency police number and the cops called back in less than four hours since the video of the incident was already going viral.
“People were calling in to complain and the video was everywhere. In a few hours it had tens of thousands of views,” he said. “The power of social media is quite scary.”
Manchester Police acted quickly and arrested the three hooligans. Two of them have since made bail.
Jasso told me this is not the first time he has encountered xenophobia in the UK or the U.S. “I had an incident here in the UK a few years back were a person who was drunk and on drugs was abusive towards me,” he said. “I also had an incident back in the States, in Kansas. I had a summer job at a carnival and was operating a game and a person didn’t want to touch me. It was very subtle. I was giving him change and he kept saying, ‘Just leave it on the counter.’ I didn’t realize what he really meant until it dawned on me a few hours later.”
In a public statement Manchester Police Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling acknowledged that his department has received more reports of hate crimes than usual in recent days, but was reluctant to blame it on Brexit, saying he couldn’t link the “small increase” to “any particular event.”
But the apparent correlation between xenophobic assaults and Brexit is hard to ignore. England’s National Police Chief’s Council has acknowledged that their national online reporting site known as “True Vision” has seen a rise in reported hate crimes following the referendum vote to leave the EU.
Jasso, however, disagrees that the uptick of racist incidents in England is directly linked to the Brexit, which he supported, even though he couldn't vote in the referendum.
“I think there has always been a [racist] undertone in this country, but it comes from a small minority and not the general population,” Jasso said. He does acknowledge, however, that the referendum “has been made an excuse by a lot of people to act out and justify their [racist] actions.”
Jasso says he supports tighter immigration controls.
“Believe it or not, when I came here I had something in my passport called ‘no recourse to public funds.’ So when I first got here I couldn’t apply to social welfare programs. But I think that's a good thing unless you are migrating from a war-torn country.”
“It’s an issue of having people pay their fair share,” he says. “Policymakers aren’t getting it right. We just need tighter controls on how and why we are letting people in. We should open the doors but don’t allow them to take the pot out without putting in first.”
Jasso says that even though he now has an English partner and daughter, he still sees himself as a Mexican-American. “I grew up along the Texas border with strong ties to my Mexican heritage. I remember visiting my cousins and grandparents in Mexico. I grew up bilingual and I still write and read in Spanish and speak it quite fluently.”
But he says he's found a new home in the UK, even though he doesn't plan to become a British citizen.
“I have something called an ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain.’ Basically that means I can stay here as long as I want as long as I comply with certain requisites," he says. "I could apply now for citizenship, but it wouldn’t really benefit me. I would just get the right to vote and a British passport. Plus it’s not a cheap process.”