Mayor promises to form committee to create guidelines for future parades after some floats sparked outrage and were called hateful and demeaning by residents and leaders like the chairman of the Delaware Hispanic Commission. See a video and photos from the meeting with this story.

More than 200 people filled the Middletown Town Hall Monday night as part of a protest of the Hummers Parade on New Year’s Day.

While the parade usually pokes fun at politicians, celebrities and current events, the protest focused on the hateful signs and demeaning depiction of immigrants such as the float of a border detention center with people in cages. Some signs in the parade used profanity toward immigrants. Other signs had statements like “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”

Delaware Hispanic Commission Chairman Javier G. Torrijos said, “We can’t tolerate these types of parades that are extremely racist in nature against immigrants and members of groups who are the target of expressions of hatred, discrimination, oppression and exclusion, not just in Delaware but across the country.”

He said, "Individuals who think that this is a joking matter fail to recognize the great harm and impact it has on an immigrant community that is already living in fear, isolation and combating discrimination."

Torrijos read from his letter to the mayor and council, asking town leaders for a public apology, information about the town’s permitting process that allowed the parade entries that included hateful signs and demeaning portrayals, and information about how the town plans to prevent these types of displays in the future. He also encouraged town leaders “to work with experts to develop and adopt a plan to increase cultural competency in the community through education.”

Mayor promises changes

Mayor Ken Branner said he doesn’t “condone, support or encourage” the hateful, demeaning actions displayed in the 2019 Hummers Parade.

“The Hummers Parade started as friends visiting friends,” Branner said, to cheer up a friend who was sick. He said as the informal gathering grew larger each year, the town authorized traffic control for the safety of parade participants and drivers.

The parade is not sponsored by the Town of Middletown.

“The parade is for anyone who just shows up. There is no review of entries,” Branner said.

The tradition has been for the parade to be a light-hearted community event, poking fun at politicians, celebrities and current events.

“For the past 46 years, it was just that. In its 47th year, that all changed,” said Branner. “It was totally inappropriate. This is now going to be addressed.”

Branner said he and the six council members will each appoint one person to a committee that will create guidelines for the parade.

“No permit will be issued for the 2020 Hummers Parade until after guidelines have been accepted and approved by the committee,” Branner said.

Protesters talk about how parade made them feel

Torrijos and the other people who spoke at the meeting in protest of the parade thanked Branner for his statements addressing their concerns, but they said they want to make sure the mayor and council follow through on the plan.

One of the speakers, Maggie DeLisi, said she has lived in Middletown for 27 years and enjoyed being part of the community, but this year’s parade made her feel like an outsider.

“I always felt like one of you, but in this parade my children were asking, ‘Mom, mom, why are there babies in a cage,” referring the Hummers Parade float depicting a detention center at the Mexican border.

She said she and fellow Hispanic-American residents have been proud to serve the town.

“We work hard in the fields, in the restaurants. See who’s cooking your dinner. See who’s washing your dishes,” she said. “We are believing in justice. We want to be your neighbors. Please don’t put up barriers because of race or religion.”

Kerri Evelyn Harris, who ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Delaware in 2018, talked about how this year’s Hummers Parade portrayed Middletown in a negative light in Delaware and across the country, as news of the demeaning depiction of immigrants spread through social media and state publications to national publications and television.

She also said, “It’s not the first time something like this has happened” in the parade.

"Middletown is up and coming. We need to show the many beautiful things the community is doing,” she said. But this year’s parade left “people hurting inside as one community made a mockery of another community.”

Harris said residents need to have a tough and difficult conversation about discrimination, and all sides need to listen to each other and not try to threaten or shout down each other.

“Making others feel attacked is not going to mend fences,” she said.

India Colon, who serves in the military, said the depiction of immigrants in the parade “broke my spirit…as someone who lives here, was born here and who fought for you.”

She said she appreciates the mayor’s promise to form a committee to create parade guidelines, but “follow-through is difficult.” She encouraged the mayor and council to enact their plans and to make sure the committee reflects diversity.

She also said she has turned in permit requests to the Middletown Police Department and the Delaware Department of Transportation for the first “We Are Love” Parade in Middletown Jan. 1, 2020.

Scott Saunders, a Middletown police officer since 2007, said he was speaking at the protest not as a police officer but as the president of the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend chapter of the NAACP.

However, he wanted the mayor and council to know how the parade affects the police department, too.

“It’s tough. When you see some of the hatred on floats in the parade, it makes it more difficult for police-community relations,” Saunders said. “I applaud you for being willing to do something about it.”