A political strategist behind a meme that sandwiched an image of a Florida Asian American circuit judge between photos of Chinese communist leaders Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping has been slammed as racist by community members.
The image of Orange County Circuit Judge Vincent Chiu, who is running for re-election, was also marked with a big red “X” and labeled “China’s judge” in one corner.
The meme was created by Xavier Villacis, a campaign consultant hired by Aldo Bartolone, who is running against Chiu for the 9th Circuit Court. While Villacis admitted to showing the meme in a podcast and posting it on Facebook, he denied publishing it as part of Bartolone’s campaign. “This is me, this is my own opinion, exercising my freedom of speech,” Villacis told FOX 35 Orlando.
Xavier Villacis. Image via FOX 35 Orlando
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Bartolone, who confirmed knowing nothing about the meme, called Villacis’ actions “reprehensible.” He said that after he learned about the meme, Villacis was fired.
“When I was made aware of that, he was terminated immediately. I demanded that he delete whatever it was that he had put out there,” Bartolone said in a recent panel, adding that Villacis should “sincerely apologize” to Chiu and his family.
However, Villacis insisted that he was not intending to attack Chiu or the larger Asian American community.
“The link of the picture is the Democrat Party and the Communist Chinese,” Villacis told WFTV, referencing the Orange County Democrats’ endorsement of Chiu in the non-partisan race. “My intentions were never to offend anyone. It is basically that the Democrat Party has ties with the Chinese government.” Several Asian American groups have since condemned Villacis’ stunt, such as the Greater Orlando Asian American Bar Association, the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Tampa Bay and the Jacksonville Asian American Bar Association, according to Florida Politics.
“Such racially charged images only serve to divide our community by spreading misinformation about Asian Americans and perpetuating stereotypes,” Wah Lum Kung Fu Temple of Orlando said in a statement.
Responding to the controversy, Chiu said he is upset by the attack but declared that it is “nothing new to people of color.”
“I am saddened that a paid staffer from my opponent’s campaign has engaged in such racialized attacks against me, especially in a judicial campaign,” Chiu said in a statement. “These attacks are nothing new to people of color and speak to how much work remains to be done in our society.”
The incumbent judge continued, “But the way our community stands together against such attacks speaks to how far we have come. I have no interest in playing the politics of division. Instead, I continue to commit to the work of serving everyone in our community and striving for justice and equity when our community votes to retain me as their Circuit Judge.”
Featured Image via Xavier Villacis