A leader of the Texas House of Representatives referred to children who moved to Texas after Hurricane Katrina using a term viewed by many as a deeply offensive ethic slur. In an exchange first publicized by Progress Texas, Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R) referred to the children as “coonass” at a hearing on the fiscal impact of migrants crossing the border into Texas.
During a discussion on what resources would be needed in schools to accommodate migrant children, Bonnen, Speaker Pro Tempore of the House, recalled Texas’ experience educating children who moved from Louisiana. “I want to be clear,” he said. “A Katrina child is far different. We can make jokes and pick on Louisiana and it’s fun and all that, but it’s a hell of a lot different bringing a kid over from Louisiana than a child who’s just made a treacherous journey from South America. … We had to have a teacher who could do coonass and English, but here we have to do Spanish and English, maybe, and there’s a higher marker.”
Watch the exchange:
The term “coonass” refers to people of Cajun descent. It is considered an offensive slur by many Cajuns, and Dictionary.com describes it as a “vulgar slang term” that is “used with disparaging intent and is perceived as insulting.” The Louisiana Legislature formally condemned the use of the word in 1981. In 2007, University of Alabama football head coach Nick Saban used the word while telling an anecdote, and prompted national news coverage that led to a public apology.
Bonnen’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas, pointed to Bonnen’s casual use of the term as the latest indication that Republican attempts at minority outreach and inclusiveness are sabotaged by the party’s own members.
“When Republicans use slurs so casually, it proves they are still clueless as to what inclusion means,” he said. “An elected official should have the judgment to know that terms like this are unacceptable, especially when directed towards kids.”
Bonnen is Speaker Pro Tempore of the House, meaning he fills in for the Speaker in his absence. While Bonnen’s slur was directed at victims of Hurricane Katrina, he has proposed xenophobic bills on immigration, too. Among the anti-immigrant bills he has filed are one to make English the official language of Texas, and another to make records of individuals dubbed “illegal immigrants” available in a database to the public.