A 22-year-old undocumented immigrant waved a Mexican flag as she crossed the stage of her college graduation in California, proudly unfurling the red, white and green symbol of her former country. The resulting backlash was likely nothing she could have expected.
Indira Esparza graduated June 14 from the University of California San Diego, and the local paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune detailed her story of first coming to the U.S. at two years old and eventually graduating from college. The story led with her unfurling the Mexican flag as she crossed the stage, and commenters soon began to weigh-in on Esparza’s decision to do so. The controversy built to such a fever pitch that the Union-Tribune ran a follow-up piece addressing the controversy.
The original story had reached 148 total comments by Tuesday afternoon. The latest, from commenter Bob Buck, reads: "This woman’s action is a slap in the face to all the hard working legal citizens in this country that paid for her to get the education she’s so proud of. Please do this country a favor and go back to where came from and take all the members of your Undocumented Student (aka illegal immigrants) Services Center with you."
Many commenters made similar points, suggesting that Esparza, as an undocumented immigrant, had used the public education system to gain a degree on taxpayer dollars and was ungrateful. Many messages used strong wording and arguments grew heated.
Esparza -- who received a scholarship to help support her studies during her time at UC San Diego -- received a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in education studies and helped set up the Undocumented Student Services Center at the university. She had reportedly planned to pursue law but discovered teaching was the right fit for her. Throughout her time at UC San Diego, she was involved in a number of projects, including tutoring high school students, interning for the provost and serving as a research assistant. The story in the Union-Tribune said she suffered financial insecurity and had longtime fears of her relatives being deported.
As the controversy surrounding Esparza gained momentum, the writer of the original story reportedly began receiving a higher-than-usual volume of emails and calls. National attention built as well. The story of the controversy was picked up by multiple outlets and sparked a scathing opinion piece. While some supported Esparza's choice to wave the Mexican flag, a majority of respondents in an online poll disagreed with the choice, saying she should have waved the American flag, both the Mexican and American flags, or neither, reported Fox News Latino.
— John M. Ackerman (@JohnMAckerman) June 23, 2015
She also previously addressed some of the complaints many people have expressed following her flag waving. "No matter how hard you work or how qualified you are there are people... (who feel) that we’re taking the place of a student that was born here,” she said, according to the Union Tribune's story about the graduation ceremony.