The man who harassed Cristina Riofri and her three friends from SCAD (screenshot by author)

Last Saturday, September 21, student Cristina Riofrio was visiting a local McDonald’s restaurant with three fellow art students when they found themselves faced with the type of incident that is becoming far too common in Trump’s America. The group was speaking Spanish when a stranger interrupted them to insist they “speak English.”

Riofrio, who attends the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia, is originally from Quito, Ecuador, and told Hyperallergic it was the first time she had ever experienced something like this. “When I first heard him, I didn’t want to respond because I was afraid, but he kept on saying it and I couldn’t resist anymore so I responded him,” she explained.

The incident, captured on video by Riofrio, has since gone viral with over 2 million views. The man is heard telling her to “Shut the fuck up,” and admitting to being racist. She shared the video on Twitter with the comment, “In America, I can speak FUCKING Spanish if I want to.”

Eventually a store employee stepped in to ask the man to leave, which Riofrio witnessed. Riofrio said she has since received a lot of solidarity, especially from the the Latinx community at SCAD, which she characterized as “very supportive. Everyone, in general, has told me they are really proud of me.” She has also received some hateful comments on Twitter, but they haven’t bothered her. “I am kind of a shy person, and people in school would tease me a lot, they would see me as weak,” she said. “I would say the benefit I’ve received, is just demonstrating my courage to everyone, especially to the people back home.”

She has no regrets. “A lot of people have told me, that it’s better to ignore [things like this], it’s better to not let them see a reaction,” she said. “I am truly against that, what if I hadn’t responded to him? What if I didn’t film it? He wouldn’t have had a punishment, like he has now. My advice would be, don’t let fear win, don’t stay quiet, we are stronger than these people, they deserve to be punished!”

The man at the center of the video has since been identified as Walter Browning, who worked as a jail maintenance mechanic at the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office for the past three years. He was fired from his position after the video went viral.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

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