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Second Lady of Pennsylvania, Gisele Barreto Fetterman Photo: AP
Second Lady of Pennsylvania, Gisele Barreto Fetterman Photo: AP

Confronted with hate, Pennsylvania's Second Lady responded with compassion

Gisele Barreto Fetterman was verbally attacked by a racist white woman outside of a local supermarket on Sunday, Oct. 11.

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The racist, divisive climate of 2020 reared its head again on Oct. 11. The second Lady of Pennsylvania, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, stepped out of her home that day to grab a couple of things at the local supermarket when she was met with racist verbal attacks from an older white woman as she went about her business. 

It happened at an ALDI in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA, when a shopper spotted Barreto Fetterman, and immediately started hurling racial slurs in her direction. In addition to calling her a thief, and not belonging in this country, she ended their confrontation in the parking lot with a racial slur.

The second lady is usually accompanied by the same security detail as her husband, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, except on October 11th. After the continued harassment inside the store, the woman followed Barreto Fetterman to her car where she was able to record and post a video to Twitter. 

The incident is not the first time Barreto Fetterman has dealt with racism, but she told Billy Penn that it was the first time an incident occured “in public and to my face,” adding she “was just really frozen, I probably started crying.”

In an interview with AL DIA back in 2019, Barreto Fetterman recounted her family’s journey from Brazil to the United States and her experience as an undocumented immigrant. She first arrived in the U.S. when she was seven years old along with her mother and brother. They left their home country and arrived as undocumented immigrants because of the violent circumstances in Brazil. 

The family first arrived in Queens, New York, and later settled in Harrison, New Jersey. The immigrant experience and the struggles she went through growing up, led her down a path of philanthropy — one she continues to be passionate about today.

It’s also taught her to respond to instances of hate with love and compassion.

Though she’s now been an American citizen for over a decade, Barreto Fetterman still has faced multiple challenges to her immigration status. In the same conversation from 2019, she shared how as Second Lady, she often gets hate mail about her status and recounted one instance where a visitor to her Free Store told her immigrants shouldn’t be in the U.S., but that she was “different.” 

Her response to ignorance was openness and forgiveness. 

“It’s coming from fear,” said Barreto Fetterman. “But if I’m willing to listen and he’s willing to share then we can get somewhere.”

What happened on Oct. 11 was an attack and portrayal of just how divided the country is in the moment, but Barreto Fetterman still found the right words to say. 

Despite her sharing her emotional response, the Second Lady found it in her to say she wants the woman to be “met with compassion.”

“She is not representative of my country, of my residence, or my state. I’m confident of that. But her views still exist in my community,” she said. “I don’t know if she raised kids or grandkids, but I have three young kids, and these ideas are gonna cross paths with them. We have to work to break these cycles of hatred in generations.”

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