First lady Jill Biden didn’t have a particularly great Wednesday, considering she arrived in to give a speech to a simpatico union crowd in Delano, California, and left after a gaffe worthy of her husband and some on Twitter wondering if she spoke in front of a Nazi-inspired flag.
According to The New York Times, Biden traveled to a pop-up vaccination site for farmworkers to speak at an event hosted by the United Farm Workers union. The occasion was César Chávez Day — the birthday of the Hispanic labor organizer who founded the group that would eventually become the UFW.
This was originally touted as a success. The pull-quotes from publications like The Times were favorable.
“We depended on those who kept going to work every single day,” Biden told roughly 100 farmworkers and local politicians at the event.
“Without the farmworkers who kept harvesting our food, or the factory workers who packaged it, the grocery store clerks who stocked shelves, no one would have made it through this year.”
Immigration policy: “As president, Joe is fighting for people who often go unseen,” she said. “And that’s exactly the kind of immigration policy he’s working to build — one that treats children and families with dignity and creates fair pathways to citizenship, including for essential workers.”
Labor: “We are a union couple,” Biden told them.
What they didn’t report on were the problems. First, the slogan of the UFW is “Sí, Se Puede” — roughly translated as “Yes, We Can.” Next time, Jill, stick to the translation:
— Alexei Koseff (@akoseff) March 31, 2021
Just in case you didn’t know, “puede” is pronounced in a way that roughly rhymes with “payday.” That’s nowhere near it — and by the way, this is a middle-school Spanish word, usually a first-year one.
And then there’s that flag:
— 😷 Datos Digital (@datos_digital) April 2, 2021
Now, to be clear, there were very few people who actually said this was a Nazi flag. One among them was Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire, who claimed the black eagle in the white circle on a red background was, in fact, a Nazi symbol.
I don’t know if there are words to fully convey how hilarious it is that “Dr” Jill Biden butchered the Spanish language while giving a speech in front of a Nazi flag
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) April 1, 2021
Others pointed out the similarities between Nazi imagery and the flag.
Hey libs, was Jill Biden blowing a Nazi dogwhistle? pic.twitter.com/IC3PLSFZAI
— Jewish Deplorable (@TrumpJew2) March 31, 2021
As Forbes reported, the flag was actually the UFW union flag.
Even so, conservatives who took issue with it saw two problems. First, in 2020, USA Today published an infamous “fact-check” in which they examined whether “Trump campaign shirts feature imperial eagle, a Nazi symbol. Our ruling: True.”
The claim: Trump campaign shirts feature imperial eagle, a Nazi symbol
Our ruling: True https://t.co/3eCiYdgQvK
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) July 12, 2020
They would later amend this to an “inconclusive” ruling, noting the eagle was a longtime American symbol and there was no conclusive link to Nazism:
Update: The rating on this article has been changed to inconclusive. It was updated to reflect further reporting and analysis.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) July 15, 2020
Malaysia-based conservative commentator Ian Miles Chong, for instance, noted that — while the eagle was an established American symbol at the time of USA Today’s fact-check — it didn’t look as much like a Nazi symbol as the flag Biden was standing in front of:
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) March 31, 2021
According to the UFW’s trademark licensing FAQ, “Richard Chavez designed the UFW Eagle. Cesar told the story of the birth of the eagle. He asked Richard to design the flag, but Richard had problems making an eagle that he liked. Finally, he sketched one on a piece of brown wrapping paper. He then squared off the wing edges so that the eagle would be easier for union members to draw on the handmade red flags that would give courage to the farm workers with their own powerful symbol.”
“A symbol is an important thing. That is why we chose an Aztec eagle. It gives pride,” César Chávez was quoted as saying in the FAQ. “When people see it they know it means dignity.”
However, as Christian Datoc of the Daily Caller pointed out, that doesn’t make the issue moot, particularly given the shoddy USA Today “fact-check.” (Which, in fairness, isn’t uncommon for them; USA Today makes Snopes look like the pinnacle of objectivity):
I know it’s the United Farm Workers flag, and she’s spoke at a Cesar Chavez event… but people are stupid and the internet is forever
— Christian Datoc (@TocRadio) April 1, 2021
and before you blah blah blah blah “why didn’t you say this about Trump?” … see below
Bottom line: just stop doing this. It’s not that hardhttps://t.co/r3rt0zpdAs
— Christian Datoc (@TocRadio) April 1, 2021
And then there were these:
Imagine if Melania Trump stood in front of that flag https://t.co/8dejimehwY
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) April 1, 2021
Melania Trump, fluent in multiple languages, would not have butchered the Spanish but if she had stood in front of a flag like this there would have been hundreds of stories calling her a Nazi and digging into her ancestry. Probably trigger another impeachment https://t.co/LBag8AqBjH
— Miranda Devine (@mirandadevine) April 1, 2021
So no, it’s not a Nazi flag or anything close, particularly if you consider the radical views of the UFW. Whether it was inspired by the Nazi flag, however, is a different issue entirely.
From Smithsonian Magazine, November of 2013: “The story of the black eagle, the movement’s symbol, exemplifies Chavez’s skill as a tactician. He researched emblems, including cigarette boxes and Nazi flags, and concluded that the most potent color combination was red, black and white. He picked the eagle and directed his brother to draw the bird so simply that anyone could easily replicate the symbol.” (Emphasis ours.)
But no, not a Nazi symbol, just a flag reportedly influenced by the Nazis (and Marlboro packaging, too).
We’ve all kind of pushed “Sí, se pwodway,” and the problematic look of the UFW flag out of the news cycle, but it stayed there long enough to make a dent and blunt Jill Biden’s message. If only she’d learned how to pronounce “puede.”
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