State Assemblyman Devon Mathis has upset some of his constituents with a racially-insensitive Christmas poem entitled The 12 Vato Days of Christmas.
Mathis posted the poem to his personal Facebook account on December 18. It remains in place as of the night of Sunday, December 20. While the post received little attention so far, three of the five responses it–including one laden with Spanish profanity–took Mathis to task for the poem’s insensitive treatment of Latino men.
Vato is a Spanish-American slang term similar to “dude,” but carrying a somewhat heavier tone, and it is sometimes used to refer to gang members. The gifts described in the poem include stolen jewelry, cans of spray paint, EBT cards used for spending government benefits, unpaid parking tickets, as well as several items associated with American Latino culture.
In describing the poem, Mathis said the poem was written by a friend in 2007 and is intended as satire. Mathis did not return a call requesting clarification and comment.
The following was written by my Battle, Robert Sarge Perez during Christmas in Iraq 2007, he wrote this to cheer up our troops as a comedy satire piece he titled The 12 Vato Days of Christmas.
On the first day of Christmas a Vato gave to me….
A pair of crispy ironed khakis!
On the second day of Christmas a Vato gave to me….Two fried churros
On the third day of Christmas a Vato gave to me…. Three faded tattoos
On the fourth day of Christmas a Vato gave to me…. Four rims with tires
On the fifth day of Christmas a Vato gave to me….
“FIVE STOLEN RINGS”
On the sixth day of Christmas a Vato gave to me…. Six lottery tickets
On the seventh day of Christmas a Vato gave to me….. Seven bowls of menudo
On the eighth day of Christmas a Vato gave to me…..Eight baby Chihuahuas
On the Ninth day of Christmas a Vato gave to me…. Nine cans of spray paint
On the Tenth day of Christmas a Vato gave to me…. Ten EBT cards
On the Eleventh day of Christmas a Vato gave to me….11 unpaid parking tickets
On the Twelfth day of Christmas a Vato gave to me….. Twelve dozen tamales
The post was shared 10 times so far, and has five comments and several “likes.”
“What can you expect from a racist Proud Boy?” wrote Amelia Oliva, responding to Mathis’ post. “Oh, wait. It’s OK because the person who wrote it has Perez as his last name. It’s OK…”
Oliva’s post ended with an emoji indicating the sarcastic nature of her comments. Commenter Richard M. Herrera was far more direct with his condemnation of Mathis.
“Hey, Devon. Thank you for being a puto and pendejo,” he wrote, using profane Spanish epithets to describe the assemblyman. “We’ll be sure to shout ‘puto,’ ‘pendejo’ and ‘cabrón’ if you’re lucky when we see you. Don’t worry. It’s just a joke, hijo de perra.”
Mathis Defends Post
Asked for his comments on the negative responses to his post, Mathis issued a statement defending his posting, adding that sharing the poem via social media has become an annual tradition for him. He then questioned the motives of those who take issue with the use of a derogatory Latino stereotype and attempted to color the complaints as a minority opinion.
“Hasn’t been an issue for over 10 years. Why now?” Mathis wrote in an email. “Why would a small group cry foul? Simple they are still upset that I won a historic reflection [sic] by over 10 points.”
Presumably, Mathis intended to write “re-election” and not “reflection.”
Tulare County Politicos Respond
Drew Phelps, Mathis’ opponent in the recent campaign for the 26th Assembly District seat, called the remark typical of his opponent.
“This is just another iteration in a long line of inappropriate comments that reflect poorly on our district and its constituents,” Phelps said. “Statements like these are why almost 70,000 people–the most ever–voted against him this year.”
Mathis’ post of the poem marks the second time a white politician in Tulare County has made insensitive public remarks about Latino culture. While the Tulare County Board of Supervisors was discussing the distribution of resources to fight COVID-19, Chairman of the Board Peter Vander Poel described Supervisor Eddie Valero, the board’s only Latino member, as wanting “another bite of the tortilla.”
Vander Poel’s remark came during an open meeting of the Board of Supervisors in April of this year. He later made a public apology, but did not comply with calls for his resignation.
Valero said he is unfamiliar with Mathis’ post. He declined to comment without reading it.
Slander Against All Latinos
Farmersville City Councilman Ruben Macareno, who ran as a Democrat for the seat Mathis now occupies in 2014 and ‘16, finds the assemblyman’s post indicative of a mindset that, while fading in most areas, remains frustratingly prevalent among a “certain kinds” of individuals.
He said it was “unfortunate” but not surprising to see such rhetoric from a local elected official–which he said was particularly insensitive in light of the unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd–and he called for continued resistance to such behavior.
“We have to call out representatives who do that, or anyone for that matter,” Macareno said. “It’s really disappointing and it means nothing has changed. Things have changed, and nothing has changed. This is still the core of some people.”
Those characterized by Mathis as vatos, he said, are actually victims of poverty.
“The truth of it is they’re in that state because of their economic status and that of their families,” Macareno said. “In that way, it becomes representative of the entire ethnicity.”