By Ben Nielsen
A participant in Utah State University’s Mr. USU pageant has been accused of making racist remarks during the talent section of the contest on Monday.
Nicholas Tanner Cortez, who represented the engineering program at Utah State as “Mr. Engineering,” performed a skit called “How To Survive in Mexico.”
Introducing himself as “a white guy,” Cortez, who served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico City from 2011 to 2013, took the stage dressed in a poncho and sombrero, then stood before the audience giving tips on what to wear while visiting dangerous areas in Mexico, how to roll Rs while speaking and how to pronounce phrases in Spanish.
At one point in the skit, Cortez invited a friend onto the stage, who was dressed in a Mexican wrestling outfit.
“I found him outside of Home Depot,” Cortez said as the wrestler jumped on stage. “So I floated him a couple of pesos to help me out.”
For some in the audience, Mr. Engineering crossed the line.
Karen Caballero, a member of the USU Latino Student Union, said she and her friends were offended at how stereotypical the performance was.
“Towards the end I wasn’t even paying attention,” she said. “I was just like ‘I’m done.'”
“I was notified that the skit was dragging on too long and offending people,” said Sawyer Hemsley, who organized the event for the Utah State University Student Association. “So I got up to the front and signaled him to get off, which he did.”
Word of Cortez’s performance was spreading on social media before he was even off the stage.
“On Twitter, people were comparing him to Donald Trump and other people who have done racial things. They were calling him names and belittling him,” Hemsley said.
That, Hemsley said, amounted to cyber bullying, “and I’m really disappointed in that.”
Yik Yak, a social media app where any person can post anonymous comments about local happenings, was filled with remarks on Cortez’s skit.
“Mr. Engineering was cringeworthy,” one user wrote.
“Hi. I’m Mr. Engineering and my talent is being racist,” another added.
Hemsley said the posts on social media blew matters out of proportion.
Cortez said his intention was not to offend anyone.
“I love the Hispanic culture and I love speaking Spanish,” he said. “The idea was to give real, helpful information in a funny and sarcastic way.”
Cortez said he asked his friend, Andre Nielsen from Chihuahua, Mexico, about the skit beforehand.
“Andre thought it was hilarious,” he said. “He even came up with more ideas.”
Hemsley said if the talents had been screened beforehand, they would have asked Cortez to change it.
“A flaw on our part was that we should have monitored each talent,” he said.
Disclosure: Ben Nielsen is a student of Utah State University. Andre Nielsen is his cousin.