Buffalo Common Councilmember David Rivera condemned President Trump’s racist tweets about four U.S. congresswomen of color Tuesday. Speaking outside City Hall, Rivera was joined by members of Buffalo’s Puerto Rican and Somali communities, which among many other groups have made a home in the West Side district he represents.
The president sparked widespread outcry Sunday when he tweeted about the group of Democratic congresswomen nicknamed “The Squad:” Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
For some Buffalonians, the derogatory comments he made hit close to home.
“Not a single person here and not a single person that called me has not heard similar words to what the president said to these duly elected congressional representatives,” said Jonathan Rivera, special assistant to the commissioner of Erie County’s Department of Public Works and the son of Council member Rivera.
“I’m paraphrasing, but [Trump’s tweets were] along the lines of the ‘Go back to your country, go back to where you come from.’ These are all things that I’ve heard in my life and the people behind me have heard in their lives as well.”
Three of the congresswomen Trump attacked were born in the United States, with the exception of Rep. Omar. Her family was resettled to the U.S. after fleeing civil war in Somalia when she was a young girl. All of the women are U.S. citizens, which is a requirement to serve in Congress.
Cas Rodriguez Sr., president of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York, also spoke at Tuesday’s press conference. He said Trump’s rhetoric was a distraction from serious issues the country should be focusing on—like the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers being detained on the southern U.S. border.
Rivera said his district has been the entry point for immigrants to Buffalo from the early 20th century up until today.
“People from all over the world—Burma, Bhutan, Somalia, Puerto Rico and all across the world—they make the West Side, the Niagara district,” the councilmember said. “They’re looking to me as their elected official to speak out against what’s happening, and that’s what I’m doing here today.”
He added that some of his refugee constituents, who came to the U.S. legally, are worried that this controversy might affect their path to becoming U.S. citizens.
Both Riveras are urging elected officials from the local to federal level—and anyone running for office—to strongly condemn Trump’s remarks, which he has repeatedly defended this week.
One local elected official who declined to do so Tuesday is Republican Congressman Chris Collins.
“The president and many of us are frustrated by the four individuals and their anti-American behavior,” Collins said, speaking to WBFO in a phone interview. “The president said what he said, and I’m certainly not going to vote to censor him in any way.”
Rivera said he thought there was more behind the series of offensive tweets than frustration over the Squad’s sustained criticism of the Trump administration.
“I really don’t know if he [President Trump] truly appreciates diversity and different cultures, or [if] he’s taken the time to try to learn [about] different cultures and appreciate the beauty,” Rivera said.
“I think if he spent more time doing that, he’d probably have a change of mind and heart.”