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Latina councilmember's Zoom chat about racism interrupted by people laughing over her accent

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While discussing racial disparities amid the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, a Latina councilmember in Maryland was interrupted by two people — as they giggled and mocked her accent. 

During a virtual meeting Tuesday, Nancy Navarro, a member of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, spoke passionately about the county's coronavirus vaccine rollout, which she said is failing people of color. According to CDC data, Maryland ranks near the bottom when it comes to getting vaccines in people's arms.

"For me personally, I've always had this interesting dilemma in my years of public service, which has been this bizarre disconnect in terms of who we are in Montgomery County," Navarro, the first Latina and the only woman serving on the council, said. "We're still perceived as a totally, we're like some other hologram of a county that doesn't look anything like who we actually are." 

One-third of the county's residents are foreign-born, and over 40% speak a language other than English at home, according to census data.

As Navarro spoke, there was some chatter and laughter in the background — two people who apparently thought they were muted were talking about Navarro's accent. 

"I love how her accent comes out and pronounces words like she thinks they're pronounced," one person said, specifically calling out the way Navarro pronounced the words "represent" and "hologram."

Chuckling, another responded, "I heard 'hologram,' and I was like, 'That's kind of interesting.'"

"So cute," the first replied, still laughing.

Nancy Navarro, president of the Montgomery County Council, listens during a hearing in Rockville, Maryland., on January 15, 2019. Cheryl Diaz Meyer for The Washington Post via Getty Images

"What happened to me on Tuesday was not an isolated incident, it fits a pattern of microaggressions and racist acts that wittingly and unwittingly make the workplace, and by extension, our community spaces hostile spaces for people of color," Navarro told CBS News on Friday. 

The commenters were employees of Montgomery Community Media (MCM), which helps the council manage its Zoom meetings. 

"Make no mistake, these dysfunctions are deeply ingrained in our county and in our country, racism has become a public health crisis," Navarro added. "What hurt was that these employees are part of our team, charged with working daily with a diverse team of Council members and staff on initiatives that require a sensitivity to and respect for racial and ethnic differences. 

Navarro said that she has not gotten an apology from her two colleagues. 

"I have not received a formal apology from the workers directly and I am not expecting one, because this is not about me," she said. "Folks have used it as an opportunity to affirm my work in the community and that has been comforting. In a sense, this has been a teachable moment for our county. It was meant to happen, and the reactions tell me that something good can come out of this."

Nannette O. Hobson, the CEO of MCM, said in a letter to Navarro that the company is "deeply sorry" about the "unfortunate incident." 

"The behavior of the male MCM trainee involved is completely unacceptable and not reflective of our culture," Hobson wrote. "We are appropriately disgusted and disappointed."  

"Let me be clear, MCM does not condone nor tolerate such behavior by our employees," she added. "Appropriate measures have been taken." 

The county council called the incident "troubling and unacceptable," adding that it "stands in solidarity" with Navarro. 

"The entire Council is committed to racial equity and safe workplaces. Furthermore, our community expects that our Council and its employees and contractors are held to the highest standard," the county council said in a statement Wednesday. 

It said that an independent investigation of the incident is ongoing. 

"While the facts involved with this matter are being investigated, we will recommit ourselves to educating our workforce and fostering a culture that is absolutely respectful, free of bigotry and reflective of Montgomery County's values," it said. 

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