Luke Serna, a 40-year-old resident of Coronado, has lived on the island since he was six months old. He graduated from Coronado High School in 1999, the same year as former Coronado High School Basketball Coach JD Laaperi. He graduated University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 2004, majoring in environmental studies. He is half Mexican, married, the father of two children, five and seven, and a works as an Associate Park & Recreation Specialist with the California Department of Parks & Recreation.
He’s also the man that brought four bags of tortillas to the Coronado High School basketball championship game against Orange Glen, igniting a racially-charged, worldwide debacle that resulted in fiery politically-charged debates, investigations by CUSD, CIF and local police, as well as death threats to some CHS basketball players and Orange Glen players.
I spoke with Serna on the phone for an interview, and here’s what he had to say.
June 24 update: Serna has asked the Coronado Times to update his Q&A with this statement:
“I realize the tortilla throwing has been perceived as racially insensitive. I do not condone racially insensitive behavior, and that was not my intent. I apologize to all who were hurt by this and hope it can be a teaching moment for us all to become more conscious.”
Q: The question that’s burning on everyone’s mind: why did you bring bags of tortillas to the Coronado High School Championship Game?
A. It was to help celebrate a team win. Plain and simple.
Q. Was it racially motivated?
A. Not at all.
Q. Did you have any type of experience in this type of tortilla throwing celebration or tradition in the past?
A. I had seen it, I was aware of it, but the games that I attended, they did not occur. But I was aware that it happened, at UCSB, it’s gone on at soccer games, and yeah, that was part of their celebration, bringing the tortillas. There was no ill-intent trying to sneak them in. It was about celebrating the win, and throwing them all up in celebration.
Q. Did you give them to the cheerleaders, and the basketball players and the fans? Who did you distribute the tortillas to?
A. I gave them to one of the bench players, and I gave them to the cheerleaders, and as I did this, I was very explicit in making sure they knew this was completely for celebratory purposes. This was never to be seen as having any racial intent whatsoever. The cheerleaders were concerned about if we could make sure the tortillas were cleaned up afterwards, and I said, oh yes, definitely. We should help out the custodial staff so they don’t have to deal with this mess. So after this event occurred, and I did notice that the tortillas had gotten tossed up, I picked up the tortillas that I saw and threw them away.
Q. Did Coach Laaperi know that you brought the tortillas?
A. Yes, I did inform him I was going to do this. I knew him in Santa Barbara, and he kind of chuckled but didn’t have any concern with it. He knew as well as me that it’s intent was to be celebratory.
Q. Did you have any working knowledge of the racial makeup of the Orange Glen High School, and the fact it was mainly Hispanic?
A. No. I had no knowledge of this. If it had been La Jolla High, or Bishops, or Mission Bay High, any other team, I still would have done this. So this connection between tortillas and the team…that was nowhere near my consciousness.
Q. When did you plan the tortillas? Where did you buy them?
A. Probably like the day before. I had some already on my counter, and I got a couple of other bags from Smart and Final. I bought three bags and had one bag at home. A total of four bags of tortillas, with 15 or 20 tortillas in each one.
Q. Do you usually attend CHS games?
A. Not usually, they were playing one of the best teams, and they were going into a regional tournament, and it was something I just couldn’t miss. I’m there! I wouldn’t want to miss.
Q. At any point, when you brought the tortillas, did you instruct the cheerleaders, the players, or the fans to throw them aggressively at the Orange Glen Team?
A. Never. Never.
Q. Can you understand the world is looking at this incident as being racially-motivated?
A. Oh yes. I can understand that. Obviously, in hind-sight, everything is 20/20. And knowing that there could be this crazy racial situation afterwards, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I didn’t really think about that until after the fact.
Q. Why didn’t you come forward before?
A. JD Laaperi – he didn’t really want it out there. He wanted to make more of a different stance on this, because he was worried about his coaching and his teaching position. We’ve been in regular contact. Talking about how to best make this known, I took a more, wanting to be transparent stance on this. He was the opposite and he wanted to keep things closer to the vest. I mean, this guy has been under some immense pressure, and I will be honest with you, I don’t think the school had his back whatsoever. They were looking for someone to nail this to.
Q. Were you questioned by the police?
A. Yes, that was the first time, when I talked to the officer with the blonde hair, she called me after the game and I was blown away when she called. She was the first one to mention race as having a part of this.
Q. Did they inform you that there there could be charges?
A. The police informed me that I could possibly be charged with inciting a riot. But I’m pretty sure that they are not going to pursue any charges, as far as I know.
Q. Is there anything you want to share right now, with the Coronado basketball team or the community right now? This thing has gone global. Some of our kids are getting death threats.
A. I am aware of threats against Wayne. I checked his twitter feed and saw a deleted tweet, which is usually not a good thing. Threats against CHS students are reprehensible and those making them need to apologize immediately. They need to stop grandstanding and come to the table to better understand the context of what happened so we can work cooperatively to make our community and region a more equal place.
I would say that I am more concerned with the folks that are coming in from out of the blue, who I would define as opportunists–racial opportunists. And you can take that to the bank. I think it’s time for us to start thinking about the term equality, more than about throwing around racial attacks, especially against people who have not been fully investigated. I mean, all of the people who decided to show up at this school board meeting, and go on these long rants. They are not part of this community at all. When our guys are trying to work through the issues, and they are only interested in coming out and making it worse. So unfortunately I place a lot of blame on those who decided to come here and inflame the situation.
Q. Is there anything you want to say to Orange Glen (players and community members)?
A. I am quite upset with specific people, like the head coach of the Orange Glen team. He’s seen the administration peg it all on JD, and he is taking that opportunity and running with it, so he can come out smelling like a daisy. I think he has a serious need to reconsider how unsportsmanlike he was at this game. He was involved in fanning the flames in conflict between the two teams. The Islanders came through with that three pointer in the end at overtime, and from my perspective, it was clear that coach was coming over and trying to start something. He had his team behind him. Luckily, the actual players on the Orange Glen team were very cordial. I don’t think they were looking to make it into a big issue. It was led primarily by the coach. I was trying to be a peacekeeper, and I headed to the top scorer Mickey, and I talked to him, I congratulated him on playing a great game.
The Orange Glen players need protection against being attacked as well. Again, it comes back to equality. I want them to feel safe and be able to move forward with their lives and pursue their interests. Even Coach Featherly, who I had concerns with, with some additional education about the pain that he incurred, should be lauded for leading a great basketball team. I would recommend he invite JD and myself to get together and go through the events of the night so we can at the end of the day shake hands and see each other as friends.
Q: How are you feeling right now?
It’s very confusing how this race issue has just been dog-piled on everyone. It’s a huge, overblown issue and I am pretty disappointed about that.
Q. Anything else?
A. I’m looking forward to everyone getting back to a calm state and to help everybody out.
Serna also wanted to share that he identifies strongly with the working class.
This is a developing story.