Angry note from customer at Virginia Beach business a sign of divided U.S.

Marlon Machado, owner of Sol de Mexico restaurant, at work in the kitchen. [John-Henry Doucette/The Independent News]

[Ed. — This story originally ran in print on Dec. 9.]


VIRGINIA BEACH — A couple of weeks before Election Day, Marlon Machado worked in his restaurant, Sol de Mexico, with his brother on a Friday night. An employee was sick, leaving them short. It got busy.

A woman who came in from time to time was there with her dad, and she got fed up with waiting, according to Machado.

Recounting the incident a month later, he acknowledged service was slow. His mom came in to help. It’s a family restaurant. It has been for a couple decades now.

The customer made her displeasure known to his brother, then him. Machado said she complained they couldn’t even handle a “two-top,” a table for two.

He recalled that she told him she’d leave a bad review on social media, though it does not seem she ever did, and she wrote on a napkin. “I thought she was leaving an angry note,” Machado said.

It was more than just angry. It can’t be quoted in its entirety, but it mentioned illegal immigration, and it recommended going back to Mexico.

He said he was surprised more than anything else. The woman’s dad said she was having a bad day, Machado said, noting that nothing like that had happened to him before at the restaurant.

“This is a diverse place, you know?” Machado said, speaking of Virginia Beach, a Navy town. “It’s just part of this whole bigotry going on.”

Across the nation, Americans are dealing with a political climate in which race, gender and nationality were subjects of divisive comments by Donald Trump, now the president-elect, when he was a candidate.

There also have been documented examples of harassment and hate throughout the bitter political season, including a few reported incidents specifically targeting Trump’s supporters here.

Division has also been felt in colleges and schools, with media reports and organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center discussing incidents of harassment and intimidation.

A report by the center documented nearly 900 incidents surrounding the election, including those that target people based upon ethnicity, gender, race and religion. It also chronicles examples involving anti-Trump bias.

The center, responding to a request from The Independent News, reported that the only incident in Virginia Beach was an anti-Trump instance of vandalism in the Green Run area that was reported on the news. A so-called “Trump Train” display on private property at the intersection of Holland and Dam Neck roads was vandalized repeatedly before the election.

As mentioned, if only briefly, in a recent edition of The Independent News, Princess Anne Middle School’s principal, Dr. Alex Bergren, wrote a letter to the school community.

This came, he wrote in a blog post, “following several incidents of students making harmful comments to other students in the days following the election.” The message was not about partisanship but common values, about seeking solutions.

“These are universal and quintessentially American values like respect, kindness, self-control, responsibility, and cooperation,” he wrote. “They are values that transcend politics and popular culture.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center also sought input from educators around the nation about the impact of the election upon learning environments and students, and it reported that thousands of responses helped it shape another report called “The Trump Effect.”

Nine out of 10 respondents said the climate at their school “has been negatively affected.” The report also suggests a rise in harassing language, including slurs, and racist and intimidating images.

These things are happening in local schools and at local businesses.

Machado, the restaurateur at Sol de Mexico, has no plans to go to Mexico.

“Not any time soon,” he said.

He isn’t Mexican American, for starters.

“My family originally is from Ecuador.”

He grew up in Los Angeles. He tends to wear a Dodgers cap in his restaurant.

He also mentioned that before the election, shortly after he said he got the angry note, he got another from some customers who heard about the incident. They were members of a soccer team that plays at a nearby sports complex. They took a different approach than the irate customer.

“Marlon,” they wrote, “we think you are awesome!!! So glad you are here!”

© 2016, 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

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