PEARL HARBOR - A woman confronted a U.S. Air Force member outside of a Starbucks, telling her she "shouldn't be speaking Spanish" and that it was "distasteful" to do so in her uniform.
Xiara Mercado, an airman first class stationed in Pearl Harbor, said she was speaking Spanish while she was on the phone waiting for her drink inside Starbucks on July 17. When she went outside, a woman confronted her and told her not to speak Spanish.
"You shouldn't be speaking Spanish, that's not what the uniform represents…it's distasteful," the woman said, according to Mercado.
Mercado posted about the confrontation on her Facebook page, stating she went on to ask the woman what she meant by the "distasteful" comment.
"You speaking another language that does not represent America and that uniform you are wearing – that's distasteful," the woman said.
Mercado said she was taken aback and took a moment to gather her thoughts before responding.
"I'm sorry ma'am, the only distasteful thing here is that you are clueless to your discrimination, please educate yourself. Have a nice day," she told the woman.
The unnamed woman then told Mercado she didn't understand how Mercado was "allowed to wear that uniform." Mercado responded, saying, "I wear it proudly."
"I was more sad than mad, but above all I am disgusted," she said in her post. "If you don't see what is wrong with my story, you are part of the problem #thisisamerica."
The Facebook post of her interaction went viral. Mercado said she's received many positive messages and comments from people admiring her restraint, which drown out the more negative and hateful responses where she's been called "weak" or told she's breaking military regulations.
But this isn't the first time Mercado has dealt with prejudice.
Mercado, who is Puerto Rican, has been living in the states for the last seven years. Before she joined the Air Force, she said a man at a Michigan McDonald's once told her to speak "American" because she was "in America." That time she chose to ignore the man's remark.
Mercado said she's also received messages from at least 100 people, including other members of the military, who have shared their own experiences of discrimination.
"My advice to people is to take a moment to process your thoughts and emotions," she said. "It's really easy to feel rage and lose it with these situations. We should not be run over, but we should not fight hate with hate. I believe we can educate and confront someone or a situation with tactfulness. It is hard to respect someone that is disrespecting you, but it is doable."
This story was reported from Los Angeles.