- The racial abuse and attack by a Mexican American realtor outside a restaurant in Plano, Texas, riles the community.
The racial abuse and attack on four Indian American women in Plano, Texas, has irked the community in Texas and across the country. Lawmakers, elected officials and civic rights and political groups have condemned the attack amid the growing rise in hate crimes on Asian Americans. Recent data shows that anti-Asian hate crimes have increased 339 percent last year alone – over 11,000 incidents last year and nearly 600 more every month, according to data provided by Indian American Impact.
The incident, captured on camera, occurred on Aug. 24 when Esmeralda Upton walked up to — Rani Banerjee, Bidisha Rudra, Anamika Chatterjee and Sabori Saha — in a parking lot and began harassing them. When asked why she approached them, she continues with her hate-filled rants. “Go back to India. You curry-assed people are ruining this country,” she says at one point. “If life was so great in India, why the fuck are y’all here,” she says, adding: “You Indians are fucking everywhere.”
At times, Upton is seen walking very close to one of the women and starts getting physically violent, hitting and shoving her. She is seen physically assaulting another of the women and intimidating a third one, who was recording the incident on her phone, threatening to kill her. “Turn that goddamn phone off, or I swear to god I’ll fucking shoot your ass,” she says as she’s seen reaching out inside her bag.
One of the women is seen calling 911 immediately and when she identifies Upton as a white woman, she says she’s Mexican American and was born and raised here. When asked “what makes [her] think that [they] are not American,” she tells them, “because of the way you speak, because I’m a Mexican American, and I speak English.”
The following day the Plano Police Department arrested Upton on charges of bodily assault and making terroristic threats. She has since been released on $10,000 bail.
A tweet by a user named Johnny Akzam describes Upton, 58, as “a realtor for California Federal Bank, and a parishioner at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Plano.”
Rudra and Bannerji have been posting about the incident and subsequent updates to their respective Facebook pages. “Dinner with friends ended with a frightening experience,” Banerjee wrote. “As we left Sixty Vines, Plano and headed towards our cars, an angry, drunk woman came at us with hateful racial slurs and even physically attacked us. We called 911 and thankfully the cops arrived in minutes.” She continues: “I have lived in DFW for 29 years and never have I felt so humiliated, threatened, and scared for my life. Can’t believe this is what America has become.”
Her friend Rudra, in a Facebook post, wrote: “Four friends who were spending a nice evening in a free democratic country with rule of law were verbally abused using racial slurs and thereafter, threatened and body shamed by a complete stranger.” She said they feared for their lives “because she was extremely agitated and seemed totally out of control. We called cops who came in time and diffused the situation. Is this a way to live in a free civil society,” she questions. “Finally, do not be quiet about this. The racists and bigots have no place in my country, my America.”
In another post, Rudra answered a question about what triggered this behavior. “Answer is ‘nothing’. We were talking amongst ourselves when she walked by and made a racially insinuating comment. And kept coming back to add additional insults as captured in the video. This unprovoked attack terrifies us even more.”
Rudra also posted a photo with Dallas Police Department Chief Eddie Garcia, thanking him “for listening to me regarding the racial hatred incident that occurred with my friends and me in Plano. You are super busy yet you stopped to talk. You were concerned about the incident, and you took the time to listen and offer your support. Much appreciated.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) issued a statement denouncing the attack. “I’m appalled by the footage of the hate-motivated harassment and assault on four women of Indian descent and urge police to prosecute the woman responsible to the full extent of the law,” he said. “Such bigoted attacks motivated by racism, xenophobia, and other forms of hate victimize not only those directly targeted by them, but also broader communities through creating an atmosphere of fear and danger. As our country continues to combat the surge in anti-Asian hate since the beginning of the pandemic, I urge all Americans to come together and prove that our country and our people are better than this.”
Salman Bhojani, Democratic Nominee for Texas House District 92 commented on the incident. In a statement sent to Indian American Impact, he remarked that “targeted attacks against individuals for their race, ethnicity, faith, or immigration status have no place in our community. Yet too often, we are faced with the realities of anti-immigrant and xenophobic behavior. The verbal and physical attacks that our DFW neighbors received in the recent recording demonstrate that violent rhetoric has dangerous, real-world implications,” he said.
Similarly, nonprofit Indiaspora, in a letter, strongly condemned the racial attack and reiterated their commitment to fighting discrimination and prejudice in all its forms.”We stand together as the Indian American community as we grapple with this and the other incidents.” The group also shared the video of “a hostile incident” in Fremont, California. “The fact that these episodes have happened in two entirely different communities raises red flags about patterns of aggression against Indian Americans.
“We at Indiaspora are committed to ensuring that our community is proactive in responding with concerted action against perpetrators of wanton aggression,” executive director Sanjeev Joshipura said. “The fact that these episodes have happened in two entirely different communities raises red flags about patterns of aggression against Indian Americans.”
A statement from Indian American Impact executive director Neil Makhija advised to not take lightly Upton’s “dangerous and violent sentiments towards the South Asian community.” While “the racist tirade” was caught on camera, he noted that the “shameless display of hate towards members of our community is alarming and, unfortunately, not uncommon.” Expressing gratitude that “the four victims of the attack were not severely physically harmed,” Makhija said “it’s imperative we begin to address the psychological effects of consistent attacks on minority communities.”
He continued: “While we’ve made substantial progress in the advancement of South Asian leadership in Texas, disturbing events like this distract from our work and endanger our citizens,” he noted. “We thank the Plano Police Department for properly investigating the incident as a hate crime, but we also demand bold action moving forward to avoid history from repeating itself once again.”
South Asians for America, a national grassroots organization dedicated to engaging, educating, and mobilizing the community across America, also issued a statement. National Director Neha Dewan expressed relief that the four women are safe from subsequent harm and that Upton was arrested the following afternoon by Plano police. “However, this alone does not mitigate the emotional and psychological trauma that hate crimes have on our community,” the statement notes. “As an organization, we have zero tolerance towards racism and acts of hate such as these against our community members,” it adds. “All of us at SAFA stand in community with human rights groups around the country, in combatting racism and xenophobia and calling out Anti Asian Hate nationwide.”
Meanwhile, the HinduPact, a Hindu policy research and advocacy initiative of the World Hindu Council of America, condemned the attack, calling it “growing hate and vitriol against a thriving and flourishing diaspora community that is proudly part of America’s civil society and fabric.”
Rakhi Israni, executive director, Legal, HinduPACT, said that long with “irrational hate being directed at Asian Americans in general, hate crimes against Hindu Americans and Indian Americans are on the rise nationwide.” Citing “the recent vicious incident” at a Taco Bell in Fremont, California, to the attack on the four Indian American women in Plano, Israni said “it is unfortunately becoming too common in our daily society to verbally or, even worse, physically assault another person because of their skin color, religion, or national origin. She urged law enforcement “in these cities to aggressively pursue these acts as hate crimes as a deterrent to others who choose to act on their irrational hatred for other people who differ from them in any way.”
Similarly, Ajay Shah, convenor of HinduPACT and American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD), speaking on behalf of AHAD said the incidents in Fremont and Plano “are a continuation of Indiaphobia, Hinduphobia and Asian hate in our society.”