Was Sergio Romo’s ‘I Just Look Illegal’ T-shirt Self Mockery or Strong Pushback on Racial Profiling

Sergio Romo

Yesterday millions of people all over the world saw SF Giants pitcher Sergio Romo sporting a t-shirt that some thought was making a satirical in your face statement about racial profiling and being deemed ‘illegal‘. The shirt which read ‘I Just look Illegal‘, definitely raised eyebrows and got folks talking.

Some say Romo’s provocative t-shirt was a way of reminding people that in a day and time when many who are of Mexican descent are demonized, stereotyped and in the political and social cross hairs of those holding xenophobic outlooks, that they are in fact more often than not fellow citizens. Not only are they fellow citizens, but many have roots and family ties that run deeper to this land called America, then those doing the profiling. On various social media sites, there was many who gave props to Romo.

But many more found the shirt to be profoundly offensive and a big step backwards especially for those who have fought tirelessly to get folks to stop using the term ‘illegal’ when describing people who are undocumented..Whether it was intended or not many felt what Romo did was self mockery where he gave folks outside of immigrant communities that are frequently targeted, a license to further embrace a nasty stereotype..The concern is many who are now buying these t-shirts which are now selling off the shelves after yesterday’s widely watched parade are not getting the political context or the intended satire.

A recent article in the popular blog Think Mexican breaks down the concern many are feeling. One excerpt reads as follows;

…..Unfortunately, it was a very poor choice that sends the wrong message and validates racism and ignorance.

What does the phrase “I JUST LOOK ILLEGAL” really mean?

It’s based on the premise that there are people who are “illegal,” and thus people who “look illegal,” a term intended to dehumanize migrant workers in the United States, specifically those who make up the majority of this group, Mexicans.

By stating that one “just looks illegal,” the implicit message is that it’s okay criminalize people based on their appearance, as long as we distinguish between those who are “illegal” and those who only appear to be based on heritage and phenotype……..

The other message being sent with this shirt is that of racial self-mockery. Sergio seems to want to say: I’m Mexican, but I’m a jokester; I’m not a threat.

As we all well know, in the United States, Mexican Americans have been routinely stopped, arrested, and even deported under Barack Obama’s aggressive quota-based system of immigration enforcement. In the case of Raúl Castro, you can be a former US ambassador and governor of Arizona and still be detained by the US Border Patrol. And not just once, but several times.

Another excerpt is….

Imagine an African American wearing a shirt saying: “I JUST LOOK LIKE A MONKEY,” or a gay man wearing one that reads: “I JUST LOOK LIKE A CHILD MOLESTER.” The idea alone is absurd, as it should be. But the fact is, is that both were at one time popular slurs used to dehumanize gays and blacks, respectively.

You can read the rest of the article by clicking the link below


Although not fully addressed in the article, is the two edge sword when pop culture icons and professional athletes use their celebrity to make political statements. It can be a great thing if you are in agreement with the statement. Celebrities are instrumental in shaping opinions and bringing attention to key issues.

The flipside is they can in an instance move the crowd in another direction. This is especially true if that celebrity embraces a word or phrase that folks find problematic. In the case of Romo, does he wearing this shirt overshadow the campaign to not call folks ‘illegal’? How does any of this shake out when many express  frustration and even anger when athletes and celebrities remain silent and apolitical? Was Romo being subversive?

Anyway peep the article and share your thoughts..

10 comments on “Was Sergio Romo’s ‘I Just Look Illegal’ T-shirt Self Mockery or Strong Pushback on Racial Profiling

  1. I don’t find it offensive. I think it makes the statement that whenever we see people of a certain descent or nationality, we have the tendency to put them in categories or boxes…assuming that they are something when we have no idea of who or what they really are. People really get offended by the truth when it SMACKS THEM IN THE FACE!

    To the person who believes it is absurd, I can only assume that you would just like for us all to be accepted and get along in this big old United States of America wouldn’t you O_o ??? Well it aint gonna happen! Not in this life time or your children’s, and I think it is imperative to call people out on what they think quietly and say in the privacy of their own homes. All Mexicans aren’t illegal, all blacks aren’t thugs, are whites aren’t perfect~ although they are privileged as hell just for being white AND WE ARE CATERGORIZED FOR NOT BEING WHITE…So why can’t we talk about it???

    Good for him for having the courage to say what others are thinking but afraid that it will bring problems to their doorstep! He has a platform in his position as a professional athlete, and with that shirt~ he is utilizing his POWER to the fullest! KUDOS!!!!

  2. Sergio Romo’s ‘illegal’ shirt & the debate revolving around, for or against it, brings to light the fact that the latino community is still divided.

    It also brings to light what a lot of people, including Latinos, already know but haven’t really acknowledged collectively…that even within Latino communities/circles, not all latinos think the same or feel the same way about certain issues (or terms).
    And not all Latinos see themselves as Raza, Chicano, Mexican American, etc.

    Call it cultural or generational differences or whatever. It is what it is.

    What one person or generation finds empowering is entirely up to them. at some point tho (like yesterday) if the latino community really wants to make progress, differences will need to be set aside for a common goal.

    that said, the Latino population in the US has grown beyond labels or being called illegal, hispanic, undocumented, immigrant, or even Latino, much like any other group, demographic, race or ethnicity (Asians, Muslims, lgbt, etc).

    More and more US born generations, and not just latinos, are seeing themselves for what they really are. Themselves. Human.

  3. Are we sure this had to do with immigration/citizenship? Could it also not have been an ironic poke at his skinny build vs. PED-enlarged alternatives? Or perhaps a joke about his disheveled appearance in a city where such types are often engaged in, you know, illegal activities? How about we ask Sergio, rather than speculate? (BTW, any of the above “statements” would make sense to me!)

  4. nevergiveup54 !
    Hey,I understand,I see it,I feel it,I live it ! I am American ! Proud of my Mexican heritage i am brown skin,living in Tucson Arizona ! Sergio Romo ! Though i am a Dodger Fan, I am happy Giants won the world series, I don’t feel offended,about the t-shirt,cos i understand !

  5. The thinkmexican analogies are off. It isn’t always necessarily easy tell if someone is gay based on appearance, and it’s not the name-calling of “monkey,” it’s the accusation of “criminal.” Romo’s shirt is about judging lawfulness based on appearance or race. The shooting of Trayvon Martin reminded us how that works. After Martin was shot, prominent people had their pictures taken wearing hoodies. Romo is doing the same thing. Go, Romo.

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