The effects of xenophobia and racism that became commonplace throughout the presidential election marred what should have been a joyous occasion for the Pleasant Run PantherBots, a group of elementary students who had just won a robotics challenge at the high school in Plainfield, Ind. last month. The five-person team, comprised of 9 and 10-year-olds (two of the kids African American and three are Latino), had won a competition that moved them closer to a state championship, but students from other schools in the competition and their parents were heard shouting “Go back to Mexico” at the team, according to USA Today.
“They were pointing at us and saying that ‘Oh my God, they are champions of the city all because they are Mexican. They are Mexican, and they are ruining our country,’ ” said Diocelina Herrera, the mother of PantherBot Angel Herrera-Sanchez.
The PantherBots were one team out of about 35 that competed on Feb. 2. And despite the horrifying way they were treated, the brand new team, which was formed just a few months ago when the Pleasant Run Elementary school, a low-income school, was given a grant to create a robotics program. Fourth-grade teachers were tasked with naming 10 students who showed an aptitude for robotics and tryouts were held, USA Today reported.
The team’s coach Lisa Hopper, a second-grade teacher at the school, weighed in on the hateful incident that occurred during the competition.
“For the most part, the robotics world is kind of a white world. “They’re just not used to seeing a team like our kids,” Hopper said. "And they see us and they think we’re not going to be competition. Then we’re in first place the whole day, and they can’t take it.”
Upon learning of the incident, officials in the Plainfield school district condemned the behavior of the competing students and their parents who sought to intimidate the PantherBots, but Hopper said that her team and their parents could not identify the perpetrators of the racist language, so no individuals have been disciplined.
Despite the competitors’ attempts to derail the PantherBots, the story has a happy ending. Three weeks after the incident, the team won the Create award for best design and engineering at the state championship, qualifying them for the World competition in Louisville in April.
“They yelled out rude comments, and I think that they can talk all they want because at the end we’re still going to Worlds,” said PantherBots team leader, 10-year-old Elijah Goodwin. “It’s not going to affect us at all. I’m not surprised because I’m used to this kind of behavior.