Trustees condemn water board official for anti-Muslim tweets

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SWC ASO President Mona Dibas confronts Otay Water District Board Member Hector Gastelum over racist, anti-Muslim tweets. About 30 protestors, about half of which were SWC students, supported Dibas, who called for Gastelum to apologize and resign. He refused. College trustees passed a resolution condemning Gastelum that called for him to resign. Photo by Natalie Mosqueda

College trustees passed a strongly-worded resolution calling for the resignation of Hector Gastelum following a series of hateful tweets by the Otay Water District director.

Gastelum angered thousands of South County residents and American Muslims across the nation for a long series of racially-charged tweets that crescendoed on Feb. 23.

“Let’s Pressure OUR Legislators to increase list of so-called #MuslimBan to prevent #SubHuman #Scum from #USA to #MAGA(Make America Great Again),” Gastelum tweeted.

Elected officials and demonstrators from throughout the region have demanded that Gastelum step down from his seat on the Otay Water Board. Besides the SWC board resolution, the Chula Vista City Council has called for Gastelum’s immediate resignation.

Gastelum insisted he will not leave the water board.

“I will not resign,” he said. “If they have an election, I will run again and I will win. I’ll win by a bigger margin.”

Gastelum taunted demonstrators and said that people who were offended by his tweets are overly sensitive.

“We tell toddlers, sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can’t hurt you,” he said. “It’s sad how people are just so hypersensitive to what words can do. I hate it. I call things as I see them.”

Trustee Roberto Alcantar was unmoved and called Gastelum an embarrassment.

“It’s disgusting to see someone like that representing the South Bay,” he said. “We are customers of that board, so we need to make a conscious decision as consumers who we are giving our dollars to. I find it unacceptable that someone like that is benefitting from our district.”

ASO President Mona Dibas, an American Muslim, has been an outspoken critic of Gastelum’s behavior and has organized Southwestern College students to speak at Otay Water District, city council and college board meetings.

“As a student, I don’t feel safe having him as a representative,” Dibas told the city council. “It’s because of actions like his that people like me are killed and hurt in the streets. We are attacked, we have our hijabs pulled and so we are asking you for his resignation as well.”

City Council Member Stephen Padilla told Dibas he condemned Gastelum’s “abhorrent” and “ignorant” tweets, and thanked her for her leadership.

“When we remain silent in the face of situations like this, we become complicit,” Padilla said. “Given his lack of desire to take responsibility for his actions, I join the other voices in the community asking him to step down.”

Otay Water District directors passed a resolution condemning discrimination following a raucous meeting packed with demonstrators and news media. Dibas was part of a lineup of citizens that included representatives from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice and the United Taxi Workers of San Diego, the majority of whose drivers are Muslim.

Dibas, like many Gastelum critics, saw the resolution as a symbolic gesture.

“I respect that this resolution is being taken into consideration, but I don’t see any consequences,” she said. “I do see that you say you won’t tolerate it, that you won’t accept it, but what if someone breaks that? What if someone reads that resolution and decides it is not important. What are the consequences for that?”

Gastelum later said his tweet was aimed only at Muslim terrorists.

“When I mentioned scum, I was very specific to the stuff that’s happening in Sweden,” he said. “I don’t want that element to come here and live out of our tax dollars. For every refugee that comes here, guess what, we have to pay their housing, we have to pay their insurance, education, everything. It’s very irresponsible.”

Melody Godinez, a Service Employees International Union board member, said public servants such as Gastelum have responsibilities to their community.

“What that man does is not promoting diversity and inclusion,” she said.

CAIR Executive Director Hanif Mohebi also spoke at the meeting. He said the resolution was a good first step towards safety for Muslims. Mohebi emphasized that the pattern of Gastelum’s tweets also demonstrated hatred toward minorities other than Muslims.

“We would really like an official statement from this board condemning this kind of act,” Mohebi said.

Other speakers said that Gastelum’s social media presence was baffling considering that he represents a diverse demographic.

Gastelum sidestepped the issue at the Otay Water Board meeting, but spoke of his personal encounters with violence in his native Tijuana and “gender equality.”

“I condemn treating women like second-hand citizens,” he said. “I condemn stoning them to death. I condemn throwing homosexuals from the roof.”

Gastelum’s only apology that evening was to the members of the water board for “their trouble,” which was also a backhand to the protesters.

“I want to apologize to the people of Otay Water,” he said. “Our press secretary, our general manager, our board of directors and everybody here. They did not deserve all of this.”

Gastelum later tweeted “How will #feminists celebrate International ‘you have double chores because of a useless #WomensMarch that accomplished nothing’ Day?”

His social media accounts have a history of similar hateful remarks, according to Godinez.

Dibas spoke at the March SWC board meeting and reminded trustees that the Chula Vista campus is in the center of Gastelum’s water board district.

“He refused to apologize and he refused to resign,” she said. “What I’m asking this governing board to do is stand up against this type of bigotry, to stand up against this speech.”

Gastelum said he was unrepentant and claimed he has friends who are Democrats and Persians who agree with his anti-Muslim statements. He said he has been encouraged by people that agree with him to continue his anti-Muslim tweets and public statements.

“I will always continue to be an activist and advocate for conservative American values,” he said. “I’ve always had a voice and when people elected me they gave me a megaphone.”

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