HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A member of the Air Force stationed in Hawaii is getting support nationally after a woman told her it was “distasteful” to speak Spanish while in uniform.
The incident happened last month, when Xiara Mercado was at a Starbucks near Hickam Air Force Base, where she’s stationed.
Mercado, who is from Puerto Rico, said she was speaking to someone on the phone in Spanish as she was waiting for her drink.
After she left the store and was in the parking lot, a woman tapped her on the shoulder.
“You shouldn’t be speaking Spanish," the woman told Mercado, according to a post on Facebook that’s since gone viral. "That’s not what that uniform represents. It’s distasteful.”
A shocked Mercado responded, “What’s distasteful?”
The woman, she said, replied: “You speaking another language that does not represent America and that uniform, that’s distasteful.”
Mercado said she took a moment to collect her thoughts and then told the woman that she wears her uniform proudly.
“The only distasteful thing here is that you are clueless to your discrimination,” Mercado said she told the woman. “Have a nice day.”
In her post, Mercado said she was more “sad than mad” after the encounter.
“But above all, I am disgusted,” she wrote. “Even though I wanted to say a lot more, I have respect for people and the uniform I wear. That’s the best I could do in that situation.”
She added, “If you don’t see what is wrong with my story, you are part of the problem.”
The Facebook post has since been shared tens of thousands of times on Facebook, and generated nearly 4,000 comments. It’s also gotten the attention of news agencies nationally, including Newsweek.
In a Facebook livestream video several days after the first post, Mercado said she’s received lots of compliments on how she handled the situation.
“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on it. A lot of it is good. Some of it is bad," she said.
Among those who praised her handling of the encounter: Facebook user Jackie Stowell, who told Mercado, “We appreciate your service and it is great to speak two languages.
Another Facebook user wrote, “Thank you for representing and working for our safety.”
Others posted their support for Mercado in Spanish.
In that video post, Mercado said she’s 27 and has experienced encounters like the one at Starbucks at least four times in her life.
“My post was not to instigate, to fight fire with fire. That’s not my policy," she said. "My post is not about language. It’s not about Spanish. It’s a post about discrimination.”