Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho stole the headlines of Mexican newspapers last week after unexpectedly signing with local futbol club Queretaro.
Most of the media coverage has focused on how “Dinho” will improve the quality of the Mexican league, which has had only a few World Cup stars in its ranks. But the Brazilian's arrival has also shed new light on Mexico's oftentimes overt brand of racism, which was on full display when a local politician called Ronaldinho an “ape” on Facebook.
The trouble began on Friday night, after Ronaldinho was presented to fans in Queretaro’s La Corregidora stadium. The event, which jammed traffic in the city as thousands of fans drove to the stadium to welcome their new player, brought out the worst in one local politician.
“I really do try to be tolerant,” National Action Party politico Carlos Trevino, the former director of social development for the City of Queretaro, wrote on his Facebook.
(Whenever someone starts a sentence like that, you know something bad is coming. It did.)
“But I hate soccer and the idiotness it produces," he continued. “I hate it even more cause it inundates avenues, and forces me to arrive home two hours late. And all of that to see an ape. A Brazilian, but an ape nevertheless, this is a ridiculous circus.”
Trevino’s comment was quickly picked up by local sports sites, unleashing thousands of Twitter messages from people angered over the racist remarks. Fans expressed their solidarity with Ronaldinho using the hashtag #todossomossimios (“we are all apes”) and posting pictures of themselves holding bananas, replicating an anti-racism campaign that spread through social media after Barcelona defender Danny Alves had a banana thrown at him during a match in the Spanish league.
Mexico’s National Commission to Prevent Discrimination promised to investigate, and city officials were quick to condemn the remarks.
Deputy Mayor José López said Trevino could face up to three years in prison, or 100 days of community service for his racist comments.
“There is absolute social rejection towards these remarks,” López told Univision.
Though Trevino, who has since appologized for his comments on Twitter, is undoubtedly feeling pretty lonely these days, statistical evidence suggests that a lot of other Mexicans share his racist views.
A benchmark survey conducted in 2010 by Mexico’s National Commission to Prevent Discrimination [CONAPRED] showed that 23 percent of Mexicans surveyed said they would not be willing to have someone of another race living in their home, and 15 percent said that at some point of their lives their rights had not been respected due to the color of their skin.
The same survey also showed that 19 percent of Indigenous Mexicans said discrimination was the biggest problem they faced, ahead of issues like poverty and communication problems.
Ronaldinho has not commented yet on Trevino’s remarks.
But this unexpected social media scandal suggests that racism is something he'll have to deal with in his new home.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.