Allentown Black and Latino communities work toward unity after on-air racism row

Discussion about Black tourists in Puerto Rico first spurred outrage, then encouraged learning.

  • Anthony Orozco

(Allentown) — In May, a popular Spanish radio host in Allentown spurred a rift between the Latino and Black communities after he condemned Black tourists in Puerto Rico.

Black leaders in the Lehigh Valley said they hoped to come to an understanding with the radio personality. But after a private meeting with Martinez and two public apologies from him, Black leaders said they are uncertain if they were truly heard.

And as a community works to move forward, the incident is an example of how political, racial and ethnic tribalism can drive wedges between communities.

witf · Allentown Black and Latino communities work toward unity after on-air racism row

Victor Martinez is CEO and president of La Mega Allentown 101.7 FM, 92.9 FM in Reading, and hosts the Relajo De La Mañana morning show, which airs live and video streams over Facebook Live to thousands of viewers and listeners in and around the 222 Corridor.

After a trip to Puerto Rico, Martinez returned to his morning show on May 24 to air grievances with how he saw tourists behaving on the island — particularly Black tourists.


“Listen, I know I’m going to sound super racist with what I’m going to say, but I’m going to say it anyway,” Martinez said before sharing.

Martinez detailed how he saw Black tourists openly smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol in the streets and generally “disrespecting [his] island.” He disparaged the appearances of the Black women and said his experience had confirmed news reports and social media posts about unruly tourists on the island.

Co-hosts “Diamond Boy” Luis Torres and Alfa Lopez added commentary, some of which was based on stories in Puerto Rico about tourists destroying the rooms they stay in.

When talking about the women dancing lewdly in the street, Torres joked that there will be a new protest called “Black Ass Matters.”

Within hours, the show received blowback online, most notably from the Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley. One commenter wrote: “Disgusting. As a Latina I’m ashamed especially because we are black! So to say that about our own people is horrific.”

The next day, Martinez dedicated nearly three hours of his show defending his comments. He showed videos of what he said were Black tourists — many of them women — dancing in the street, fighting and disrobing in public.

Martinez said he would hold a “Puerto Rican Lives Matter” march, that Puerto Rican listeners would call any sponsors that are urged to stop working with La Mega, and that he was not scared of Black Lives Matter like other people are.

One sponsor, Phillipsburg-Easton Honda in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, confirmed it pulled sponsorship due to Martinez’s comments.

Martinez stated that he and his co-host are Afro-Latino. He asserted he was not racist for condemning the tourists’ behavior.

“At no point did I say all Blacks, all African Americans, I didn’t generalize,” Martinez said on air. “Did we say they were acting like animals, absolutely. Because they are behaving like animals. … When our people do it, we call them out too.”

Political resentments laid bare

His comments underscored scars from a tough-fought campaign season in which group identities were front and center.

During the program the day after he first made comments about Black tourists, Martinez went after Latinos who were critical, calling them “wanna be” Latinos. He also said his Latino critics were just supporters of the mayoral primary campaign of Allentown City Councilwoman Ce-Ce Gerlach, a Black woman.

Martinez had loudly supported City Council President Julio Guridy, in hopes to help him become the city’s first Latino mayor. He had also railed against Gerlach before the election, airing out accusations that she endangered and failed to report abuse of a minor. The Lehigh County District Attorney recently filed misdemeanor charges against Gerlach, which Gerlach’s lawyer has characterized as a “political hit-job.”

Anthony Orozco / WITF

Democrat mayoral candidate and Allentown City Council president Julio Guridy campaigns in a rowhome in the city.

Both Guridy and Gerlach lost the primary.

Martinez targeted Enid Santiago, who posted on Facebook that the morning show was dividing the community.

Santiago is a former candidate for state representative who narrowly lost to State Rep. Peter Schweyer in the 2020 primary.

Martinez is a founder of the Alianza, a political action group that supports Latino candidates.

In his May 25 on-air rant, Martinez said he gave Santiago thousands of dollars worth of free airtime on his station. Martinez alleged that Santiago was in frequent contact with him before the primary, pushing him to disparage Schweyer for being White and “not caring about the Latinos.”

“Wait a minute, isn’t that dividing the community?” Martinez asked as a laugh track played under him. “Oh, but it was dividing the community when it was convenient for you … that wasn’t dividing the White and Brown community, right? All of a sudden now I am dividing Black and Brown people?”

Santiago was not immediately available for comment on Martinez’s claim.

While some viewers decried his comments, many others cheered him on.

Martinez took calls from the public and received support, though he ended two calls that he felt were going into offensive territory. In one of the calls, a viewer from Reading called for “the trash” to be taken off the island.

“This doesn’t just go away overnight. … There has to be action, something tangible, something that is meaningful and proactive.”
— Justan Parker Fields, founder of Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley

Meeting with leaders

Justan Parker Fields is the founder of Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley. Though he declined an invitation to go on Martinez’s show—which was more of a challenge from Martinez—he and other Black leaders agreed to meet with Martinez as racial tensions grew online.

Jose Rosado, Pennsylvania’s first Latino mayor, helped bring together a meeting between Martinez and Black leaders, according to Fields. Rosado, who is also a part of Alianza, did not respond to messages to be interviewed for this story.

Parker Fields said he went into the meeting with a mind on how to move forward.

“This doesn’t just go away overnight; accountability isn’t, you know, ‘I’m sorry,’ And then you know, we just move on,” Parker Fields said. “There has to be action, something tangible, something that is meaningful and proactive.”

Immediately after his meeting with Black leaders, Martinez recapped the meeting over Facebook live.

“If anyone, African American, Latino, whoever it is, was offended by it, hurt by it, I’m sorry,” Martinez said.

Martinez also shared details of the meeting on his radio show the next day.

“When she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Victor, I don’t think you’re a racist,’ I started crying,” Martinez said, speaking of Kumari Ghafoor Davis.

Ghafoor Davis is director of the Campaign for Racial and Ethnic Justice at the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.

“I explained that to him that he can’t be racist because he is a person of color,” Ghafoor Davis said. “I also said that you’re spewing anti-Blackness and colorism but never said just, ‘You’re not racist.’”

Ghafoor Davis said she felt like everyone came to a mutual understanding, but she said Martinez’s recap of the meeting made her question if that was truly the case.

Martinez and his co-host made on-air apologies that also mentioned that people took what they said the wrong way or that some things just don’t culturally translate.

“After you saw the apology, we’re like, ‘Okay, did he hear anything in the meeting?’” Ghafoor Davis said.

“The Black and Brown community should not be fighting; the reality is, white supremacy culture doesn’t want any of us here.”
— Kumari Ghafoor Davis, director of the Campaign for Racial and Ethnic Justice at the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley

Moving forward

Fields said there were discussions about bringing Black perspectives and voices to the show. But those plans are unclear, because Martinez declined to be interviewed for this story.

During Martinez’s rant, he said he will run a write-in campaign for Allentown City Council this fall.

Latinos make up more than half of the city’s population, and Martinez has been a champion of pushing Latinos to be heard in elections.

The row could affect his bid if he runs, especially given that many of the Black people closest to this incident feel like there is more work to be done.

Ghafoor Davis is wary about how ethnic unity can be weaponized, especially in the context of elections.

“I don’t think anything necessarily wrong with people rallying around a candidate and deciding that they’re going to put him in office,” Ghafoor Davis said. “Nothing wrong with that, but it’s when you start spewing hate this becomes an issue.”

Ghafoor Davis said there are plans in the works with some to hold community meetings with guest speakers to examine racial tensions between Latinos and Black people. The goal, she said, is to find reconciliation between communities and within individuals.

The conversation about anti-Blackness and lack of Black representation in the Latino community remains a relevant conversation in the region, in Puerto Rico and across the country.

Leaders and activists say accountability for people with prominent platforms is key, but so is healing–on all sides.

“We have to be mindful of what we say about each other,” Ghafoor Davis said. “The Black and Brown community should not be fighting; the reality is, white supremacy culture doesn’t want any of us here.”

Anthony Orozco is part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities.

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