We’re defined moments. Those instinctive reactions to an extraordinary situation. And one of those moments happened on a Wednesday evening in mid-January, 2013.
A family of three, Eric, Kim and their five-year-old son Milo Castillo were dining at one of their favorite restaurants, Laurenzo’s Prime Rib in Houston. Little Milo, who I’m sure is an awesome 5-year old boy, happens to have Down Syndrome.
The Castillos are regulars at the restaurant, and since they haven’t been there for dinner in a few weeks, the wait staff came over to say, “hi” to their young friend, Milo, and asked about his recent birthday.
About 10 minutes after the Castillo’s arrived, a second family of regulars came in and sat in an adjacent booth. Minutes later, Milo’s mother, Kim, noticed that the family moved to another table, and then got up to leave the restaurant entirely.
That in itself it not a very remarkable story, but Kim later found out why they left.
The family asked to be moved away from Milo, most likely offended for having to sit near a child so different. Their waiter, Michael Garcia, obliged, realizing that they were regulars and wanted to diffuse a difficult situation.
In the new table with added distance, the father of the family continued to be annoyed that he could be sharing the same air as young Milo.
Then he said it. And he said it to the wrong waiter.
The father advised the waiter, “Special needs kids should be kept in special places.”
In the words of Popeye, Garcia probably thought, “That’s all I can stands – I can’t stands no more.” Garcia knew his job was on the line. He knew they were regulars. And he knew he ethically couldn’t let a bigoted comment like that go.
Garcia then looked at his customer and simply said, “I’m not going to be able to serve you, sir.” Angry, and hopefully humiliated, the family fled the restaurant, not before giving glances at Milo as they passed.
Through the power of social media, this story has since made national news from The Today Show to The New York Times. Perhaps inspiring others to take similar stands. Or maybe by making readers nationwide reconsider those who too often are considered invisible.
Milo might have no idea today of the whirlwind of discussion around the story. But sadly, Kim Castillo has since said that such discrimination is unfortunately too common.
It was one of those moments of decision for the waiter, Michael Garcia – action or inaction. A safe, but cowardly choice, or defending a five-year-old who couldn’t defend himself.
Michael Garcia took the opportunity to defend Milo. And when I find myself in a similar situation, I hope and pray I have the courage to do the same.