Rep. Loretta Sanchez Lead intv
Congresswoman makes ethnically touchy gesture
01:25 - Source: KCRA

Story highlights

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez raised her hand to her lips in a "war cry" gesture

Many consider it to be offensive to Native Americans

CNN  — 

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez has apologized for an ethnically touchy gaffe that was caught on cell phone video.

The Democrat, who is running to replace California’s retiring Sen. Barabara Boxer, would otherwise seem like a paragon of diversity. But when she let out a stereotypical Native American “war cry” over the weekend, it marred that image and sent her running.

Literally – away from a reporter trying to chase her down for comment on the gaffe that many found racially offensive. But late Sunday, she spoke about the slip-up.

Native Americans know she’s watching out for them, she said at a Democratic Party convention in Anaheim, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. “And they know what many of you don’t know — that like so many Mexican Americans, I am proudly Native American on my mother’s side,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez apologized Sunday at the state convention, saying “in this crazy and exciting rush of meetings yesterday, I said something offensive and for that, I sincerely apologize,” according to video from CNN affiliate KCAL KCBS.

Sanchez was ad-libbing at a California Democratic party convention in Anaheim, when she made a stereotypical Native American “war cry.”

Raising her hand to her lips, she let out about two seconds of it.

“I’m going to his office, thinkin’ that I’m gonna go meet with woo-woo-woo-woo, right? ‘Cause he said ‘Indian American,’” she said, using the gesture to try to discern between Indian Americans – with ancestry from India’s subcontinent – and Native Americans.

Audience discomfort

Many in the audience at the Indian American caucus reacted with silence.

Uduak-Joe Ntuk was recording Sanchez’s stump on his cell phone camera and shared the video with CNN affiliate KCRA. Many in the room found the gesture offensive, Ntuk said, including him.

“I was shocked and appalled that she would make the disparaging comments about Native Americans that way,” he said. “It’s just very undemocratic.”

CNN is trying to contact Sanchez for comment on her gesture.

A reporter told Sanchez’s opponent, Kamala Harris, also a Democrat, about the gesture. “I don’t know what to say to that,” she laughed, “except that…that’s shocking. That’s shocking.”

Ethnic diversity

It might feel less so, coming from a politician with a different background and thrust. Sanchez is a career politician who has served in Congress since 1997, and is no stranger to public speaking.

And she highlights diversity in her carrier and in her concerns on her Facebook page, Twitter feed and website.

She is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and speaks Spanish during campaign appearances. She has criticized the plight of Vietnamese dissidents, participated in marches commemorating the Armenian genocide, demanded equal pay for equal work for women.

On her website, Sanchez encourages immigrants applying for legal status to contact her office, if they need help.

Big on homeland security

But she is also a strong proponent of conservative aspects of the immigration issue and at times displays a stricter side.

She is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Homeland Security, and she says immigration reform must be viewed “through the lens of national security.”

“To that end, she strongly supports full funding of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), a cost-effective measure designed to identify and remove criminal aliens in the United States,” according to her House of Representatives website.

SCAAP is a program to expedite the expulsion of undocumented immigrants who get in trouble with the law. It also helps fund local law enforcement agencies involved in apprehending and processing them.

Sanchez’s district is in Orange County, which has a reputation for being conservative.

Politically incorrect moments

The “war cry” was not her first brush with political incorrectness, according to reports in California’s press.

In 2010, she let loose on Spanish-language TV that the Vietnamese community was teaming up with Republicans to take her congressional seat. She called her opponent, Republican Van Tran, “very anti-immigrant and very anti-Hispanic,” the Sacramento Bee reported.

Tran called the comments racist.

A decade earlier, Sanchez arranged for a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion, and fellow Democrats were displeased with the potentially sexist scenery.

After Saturday’s gaffe, the congresswoman sprinted past a reporter asking her if she wanted to take back the “war cry” gesture. Waving her hands in the air, she cried, “We don’t have time today. Sorry.”

Then she ducked into a nearby building.