Nancy Navarro of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland is urging Latino immigrants with a Spanish accent to "wear it with pride and keep moving forward," after two people made fun of her accent during a virtual public hearing this week.
Navarro, an immigrant from Venezuela and the only woman on the council, was speaking Tuesday about issues pertaining to the county's unequal access to Covid-19 vaccinations for Latino and Black communities when two people could be heard mocking the way she pronounced certain words, according to WZDC, the local TV news station from NBC's sister network Telemundo in Washington, D.C.
“I love how her accent comes out and pronounces words like she thinks they’re pronounced. Like, she says ‘represents’ and ‘hologram,’” a woman said.
“I heard ‘hologram’ and thought that was kind of interesting,” a man said while laughing.
“So cute,” the woman responded.
"I was completely in shock," Navarro told WZDC in Spanish. "We still have these kinds of situations where people really think that it is completely acceptable, and that it is actually a laughing matter, to make fun of someone else's accent."
Officials identified the woman who made the comments as a council employee and the man as a contractor from the nonprofit Montgomery Community Media, which provides technical support to the county.
In a letter to Navarro, Montgomery Community Media CEO Nannette Hobson called the contractor's behavior "unacceptable."
“Participants in conversations like these intend to make the subject of the comments appear to be less than, while normalizing the language and behaviors of bigotry,” she wrote.
Hobson said that measures against the contractor “have been and will be taken" but did not detail what those actions were.
Montgomery County's Office of Human Resources and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are investigating the incident, officials told Telemundo.
“We are aware of and are investigating this incident,” county spokesman Barry Hudson said in a statement to WZDC. “Since it is a personnel matter, there will be no further comment at this time.”
Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz, a longtime Montgomery County resident and the son of Latino immigrants, said he "felt horrible" after what happened to Navarro.
"Nancy is not just a colleague, she is a great friend as well. She has been a hero to our community," he told WZDC in Spanish. “She doesn't deserve what happened."
Latino community leaders in Maryland such as Mario Alvarado Villa said they were outraged by the incident.
"If this happens to Nancy Navarro, who is our highest representative within Montgomery County, imagine what happens to other immigrants," Alvarado Villa, president of the local nonprofit INCAEF, told WZDC in Spanish.