Congresswoman apologizes for Indian whooping-cry caricature

May 17, 2015, 8:06 PM
California Rep. Loretta Sanchez, middle, greets supporters at the California Democrats State Conven...
California Rep. Loretta Sanchez, middle, greets supporters at the California Democrats State Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday, May 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez apologized Sunday after a videotape surfaced showing her making a whooping cry in reference to Native Americans that brought her a cascade of reprimands from fellow Democrats to posts on Twitter.

Speaking to party activists at a state Democratic convention Sunday, Sanchez described herself as a longtime champion of civil and human rights who has Native American blood in her mother’s family. She said she had a hectic day of speeches and handshaking at the convention Saturday and was not the type of politician routinely managed or sheltered by “handlers.”

“It’s hard to put yourself out there and to do what leaders need to do — day in and day out — and yes, sooner or later we make mistakes,” she told the delegates. “In this crazy and exciting rush of meetings yesterday, I said something offensive and for that I sincerely apologize.”

The video, which was shared on social media, shows Sanchez tapping her hand over her open mouth and making a whooping sound while speaking to a group of delegates Saturday. She appeared to be making a joke about the difference between Indian-Americans and Native Americans.

Her chief rival in the Senate race, Attorney General Kamala Harris, called the gesture shocking.

It was the second round of unwelcome publicity for her campaign, which formally launched Thursday. Earlier in the week, a misfired email announced she was running for Senate, which was later recalled. That led to confusion about her intentions, although she ended up announcing her candidacy at the same time and place listed on the errant email.

The 10-term congresswoman told reporters she would leave the convention with momentum for her campaign, and her contrite words were greeted with a burst of applause. But it was clear her caricature at an event that highlights diversity and inclusion unsettled many activists, who said the video had become the buzz of the convention.

A flood of negative comments about the video were posted on Twitter.

Delegate Amparo Diaz from San Jose, who said she was in the room at the time, said “everyone was just shocked. We looked around to reassure each other we had just seen the same thing. Did it really happen?”

“Offensive, absolutely,” Diaz added. She said Sanchez’s actions would make her look cautiously at her candidacy. The Indian caricature “seemed a step back in what this convention is about.”

That was echoed by Dinah Frieden, a delegate who lives in Irvine, in Sanchez’s congressional district, who called the taped caricature “incredibly insensitive.”

“That was the kind of behavior you’d expect to see at a preschool.” said Frieden, who said she is leaning toward Harris in the race.

But Marni Magda, a Laguna Beach delegate who has volunteered for Sanchez and supports her Senate bid, said she was confident the congresswoman “would never be racist against anyone. She embraces all diversity.”

“I think she thought she was being funny and didn’t realize there were people who would be offended,” Magda said.

Sanchez is known for a colorful personality and style that has sometimes brought her unwanted attention. She scheduled a fundraiser during the 2000 Democratic National Convention at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion and changed the location only after fellow Democrats protested.

California State University, San Francisco, political scientist David Lee, who is also a party delegate, said the episode would leave voters questioning her judgment. Lee noted that Harris, who entered the race in mid-January, has over $2 million on hand and has lined up a string of endorsements, including from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of the party’s left wing.

Compared to Harris, Sanchez “came in late to the game. This is the launch of her campaign. It’s like watching a rocket go up and sputter right on takeoff,” Lee said.

Harris, whose mother was an immigrant from India, said in a statement Saturday that “there is no place for that in our public discourse.”

The two Democrats are the leading candidates for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Asked if she could change direction and file for her House seat, she said, “Let me be very clear, I am running for the United States Senate.”

“We have found so much energy in this great convention,” Sanchez said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Congresswoman apologizes for Indian whooping-cry caricature