My first racist attack occurred at a Vegas Victims Relief Fundraiser

Juan Cardenas
Nov 2, 2017 · 4 min read

Four days after the tragic event that took the lives of 58 people in Las Vegas a month ago, I went with some friends to one of my favorite local bars.

As many businesses did in the aftermath of the shooting, this bar hosted a Vegas Victims Relief Fundraiser with several local musicians performing. All of that night’s proceeds were donated to the victims and their families.

Candle Light Vigil For Victims at Las Vegas Boulevard one day after #VegasShooting

A shared night out was something that many of desperately needed that week, and the bar we went to, located on the revitalized Main Street, is one of the best local joints in the Valley. Since they opened a few years ago, I’ve only had good experiences. It’s everything you can ask for in a neighborhood bar, from the owners and staff to the music, ambiance, crowd and regulars. It’s truly a must for everyone near downtown Vegas and worth a visit from anyone in town.

I certainly didn’t expect that on that night — in that bar — after that event — I was going to experience the worst racist interaction I’ve had since moving to the United States 7 years ago.

I’m there with my friends having fun when one of them steps outside for a smoke. Two guys decide to sit: One next to me, the other in my friend’s chair.

Common occurrence, right? I politely tell the guys that the chair is taken by my friend who is coming back, but that sofa to my right is free if they want to sit there. One guy moves, but the one in the chair next to me sits there silently.

Long story short: He doesn’t move, he doesn’t answer, so I suggest it again.

Candle Light Vigil For Victims at Las Vegas Boulevard one day after #VegasShooting

Finally I’m fed up with being polite and ask if he’s going to move or not. His answer tells me exactly what kind of person he is.

“Oh yeah, is your friend coming? I don’t think he is. What’s your friend’s name? Pedro? Is Pedro coming back? I don’t think so!”

If you noticed my name, you might have guessed that I’m Mexican. In person you would too — not only do I have dark skin and hair, but a strong accent when I speak English.

A man rises a candle with the Stratosphere Hotel in the back at a Candle Light Vigil For Victims one day after #VegasShooting

My question for him changes: “Why are you being an asshole? Why would you choose today to be an asshole?”

“I choose every night to be an asshole” he answers jovially.

I stay calm, but raise my voice and ask him again, then direct the same question to his friend. His insults escalated even throwing the old “Go back to your country!” line. My wife starts to grow concerned that things will get physical, so at her urging, I drop it. Eventually the guy turns away, ignores me, and after a few tense minutes, moves away.

I’ve felt racism before: In Mexico, my country of origin. In Europe, and here in the US. I’ve experienced the intrinsic racism within our society at different times; but this was my first experience here with overt racism. That was the one and only thing he used to insult me: my origin.

And I’ll admit, it was extra jarring considering what we’d all been through that week, and extra surprising that it happened in the bar where I’d spent so many nights feeling truly at home.

I realized that’s precisely what I needed to remember: Racists are here, everywhere, all the time.

This guy wasn’t racist that day — he is racist. It’s a belief he has chosen, and one he’s comfortable expressing.

We cannot be defensive all the time of course, but we should be conscious that racism doesn’t stop when the world changes. Racism doesn’t care if we’re in the shadow of tragedy or in a sensitive moment with a community struggling to come together strong.

To be conscious is to fight back, to stand your ground. For all I know, this guy is a regular and this was just our first interaction — and maybe not our last. But I’ll keep going to this bar because I like it. One jerk or a thousand racists won’t stop me from living my life.

He might never change his mind, but I’m never going to change my plans. I will be there too, asking him to move away from my friends’ seats for as long as it takes.