Ethnic/Racial Insensitivity Revisted. Again.

I received a call yesterday urging me to tune  into KBBF at 7pm, to listen to some students, and their parents, from Maria Carrillo High School complain about a recent rally.  I listened to the girls and their parents, speaking both Spanish and English, talk about what transpired at their school.

The leadership class presented a short skit that apparently showed undocumented workers being harassed and arrested by border patrol agents.  At some point a green card is offered to the agent, which he rips to shreds.  After the skit, a few girls dressed as maids come and sweep up the pieces of paper.  The skit was either named or performed by “The Refried Beans.”

I was outraged.

But wait.  There’s more.

A group of students asked to speak to the principal about their concerns.  According to them, he was dismissive, and said he wasn’t responsible for what happened, and that it was “freedom of speech.”  A mother (a white woman who has an adopted Latina daughter) also spoke to him and received the same line:  he wasn’t responsible and it was freedom of speech. She quoted him California Ed Code that prohibits racist acts sponsored by a school.  His response, according to her, was that freedom of speech takes precedence over Ed Code.

As the girls told their story, I was very proud of their courage and determination to bring the incident to light and to try and make the school understand their truth.  I called in to thank them and to encourage people to write to the board and superintendent.

I wasn’t aware of it, but the girls and their moms also appeared on the radio show that followed, which was mostly in English. The Mexican mother who spoke in Spanish nearly brought me to tears. She  said “…parents shouldn’t be intimidated… Day after day we get up and go to work, no one gifts us anything.  We are proudly in this country, producing with our work…We shouldn’t permit our children and raza to continue to be humiliated in this way. We are human beings…”

The local paper has also covered the story.

Here’s a short video of the skit. It’s hard to glean much from the short clip, if you don’t know the background story.

As the one mother alluded, there are sections in the California Ed Code which address schools and racism.

  • Education Code section 51500 prohibits teachers and school districts from instructing or sponsoring any activity which reflects adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, heredity, national origin, or ancestry.
  • Education Code sections 51501 and 60044 prohibit the State Board of Education and local school boards from adopting any instructional material for use in schools which contains any matter reflecting adversely upon persons because of their race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, handicap, or occupation.
  • Education Code section 56000et seq. mandates the provision of free appropriate public education, including special education facilities and classes, to persons with exceptional needs.
  • Education Code 66252 California’s postsecondary educational institutions have an affirmative obligation to combat racism, sexism, harassment and other forms of bias, and a responsibility to provide equal educational opportunity.

To reduce Mexicans to stereotypes of undocumented workers and maids is highly offensive. To let this skit go forward was a bad move by the teacher and the administration. Listening to students cheer it on (in the video) was maddening and heartbreaking. To know that Latino students participated or supported the play was also heartbreaking. Not only do we need to educate our youth (and adults) about what’s racist and not acceptable, we need to educate our students of color how this struggle is theirs, and the power they have to work against prejudice and racism.

Which is why I stand in awe of the girls who pursued this because they knew it was wrong. I want to thank them for the courage and commitment to being heard, and to call out what offended them.

For those, including our own Latino youth, who view the skit as “no big deal,” prejudice, stereotypes and racism exist because we let them.  Our silence gives our consent. If you can’t stand up for human beings when they are denigrated and humiliated because of their ethnicity, if you turn your head and and dismiss it out of hand, you are part of the problem.

And guess what?  If you engage in racist behavior, or behavior that promotes and condones negative stereotypes, that makes you a racist. PERIOD.

This is the official statement from Santa Rosa City Schools:

Name: Jason Lea
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources
We are deeply concerned by the recent student performance at Maria Carrillo High School and are actively examining the situation to determine appropriate action. Reported to portray messages of intolerance and disrespectful racial themes, the activity, and all student activities, must comply with the District’s expectations of respectful behavior in school related activities.
The Santa Rosa City School District does not condone intolerance or bias of any type. The circumstances surrounding the skit in question are being investigated, including the approval process and impact. District personnel are working with school personnel to identify the teachable messages and to strengthen our approval process for all student-led activities.

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About socolaura

Mom, educator, opinionated, passionate, smart, witty, wise Latina. Waiting for my moment of zen.
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8 Responses to Ethnic/Racial Insensitivity Revisted. Again.

  1. Sandra Rimkeit says:

    Thank Laura for the blog. Call Maria Carillo and make a complaint as a community member. Let’s back these students up!. (707) 528-5790 press 6 for administration office I already did it! FLOOD THE SCHOOL WITH CALLS! Podemos llamar a la escuela como miembros de la comunidad. Llamar 528-5790 oprima #6 para dejar un mensaje para la administacion. Hay que apoyar los estudiantes!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi,

    I’m a student at MCHS and would like to clear up some of the many misconceptions that have been flying around concerning this event. What happened on Friday was the annual Lip Sync Rally, in which students form groups and choose music to dance and lip sync to, and then showcase their performance to the entire student body. The leadership class oversees the rally–as in, they hold auditions and decide on the final lineup of groups to perform. They aren’t “skits” made up by the leadership class but rather musical numbers thought up and performed by any group of Carrillo students that want to.

    The group causing all the controversy was called “The Refried Dreams.” Not the Refried Beans. It is a tradition to come up with funny names for the groups (another group this year was called “Bed, Bath, and Beyonce.”) They were about six students, the majority of whom were Latino, who thought it would be fun to perform a bunch of songs in Spanish whilst wearing various Hispanic clothing. One of the students knew how to Salsa, so part of their performance was a sick salsa dance. While their decision to end the performance by having their friend come on with a whistle, and they all run off waving green cards, was a (short-sighted) way to have a memorable end to their performance. No green cards were ripped to shreds. The student who was grabbed by the immigration officer was the one white performer of the group–they were trying to make a satire. Sure, it was in bad taste, but their performance as a whole was a celebration of their Latino culture, and its a shame that their one bad idea is being taken out of context so viciously. The green card incident in question was a 15 second end to a 5 minute performance with Latino music and dancing.

    They did not have girls dressed as maids come in and sweep up the pieces of paper. Somebody may have passed a broom across the gym floor to sweep up the various paraphernalia from the performance (earlier groups had thrown glitter, etc) so that the next groups wouldn’t slip on anything.

    The reason this story sounds so outrageous and racist is because it is grossly overexaggerated. I totally agree with your sentiment–if something like you described had actually happened, I know that myself and the majority of Carrillo’s student body would be up in arms. However, what actually happened was incredibly far from what you are insinuating. The students who were in the Refried Dreams meant to make a performance celebrating their culture and are instead being ostracized by people who don’t have all the facts.

    • socolaura says:

      OK, so it wasn’t the leadership class. Green cards weren’t ripped up. Check.

      What I did see in the second better video that surfaced are kids dealing in stereotypes. Sombreros and ponchos? To dance to “Low Rider”? Pendletons shirts to dance to the “Gypsy Kings”? Green cards? Border patrol agent? That, as a whole, is not a “celebration of Latino culture.” Guess what? I don’t wear sombreros, ponchos, Pendleton shirts, am not nor ever have been a chola, and I don’t need a green card because I was born here.

      And who could possibly see this as a “celebration of Latino culture” when it’s a mishmash of activity and stereotypes? And the last part negates anything positive that might have been able to be taken away from their performance.

  3. Shelby says:

    Ms. Gonzalez,
    I am a senior at Maria Carrillo High School and I attended the rally you wrote about. First of all I would like to say that everyone is entitled to their opinion, however everyone is also entitled to the truth. Clearly you did not check any facts about the performance before writing this piece. The name of the group was the “Refried Dreams” and was not made up of leadership students. There were no maids cleaning up, and no green cards ripped. Did you even watch the video that you posted? Articles like this is what divides the community. As I said before everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion but writing fabricated versions of the incident will not help solve this controversy.

    • socolaura says:

      OK, so it wasn’t the leadership class. Green cards weren’t ripped up. Check.

      Students from your school, who were there, thought the group was the “Refried Beans,” maybe because it wasn’t enunciated well enough. Students from your school, who were there, were upset. Students from your school, who were there, didn’t see any redeeming qualities to the skit.

      What I did see in the video was a mishmash of Mexican stereotypes: sombreros, ponchos, Pendleton shirts (cholos), green cards, border patrol agents. That right there is enough to be bothered by.

      Why not have some black kids eat fried chicken and watermelon? It seems to me that would’ve fit right in.

      • Anonymous says:

        In regards to the Refried Dreams aspect, each group had a huge poster on each wall with their names spelled out in bold lettering. Hard to miss the true names of the groups unless you were really quickly jumping to conclusions. It is unfortunate that the group dealt in such stereotypes and had a tasteless end, but to continue this vitriolic hate is not right. It only serves to further inflame the controversy when we could have much more level headed discussion

  4. socolaura says:

    So, Gabe, “the group dealt in such stereotypes and had a tasteless end,” but to condemn it is vitriolic hate? Not only is that hyperbole, but what should be the reaction if not condemn it? Forget it? Pretend it never happened? Move on? Good thing you weren’t around to tell MLK to stop the “vitriolic hate.”

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m sorry. I wasn’t referring to you when I referenced the vitriolic hate that has been going on. I’m not sure if you are aware but people have voiced aggressive and very hateful thing toward the people who produced the performance, people who now feel very attacked and upset given that it was never their intention to upset people–merely to bring to light an issue they thought needed discussing.

      My point is that it is absolutely right that people who feel the need to speak up should do so, it’s just important to not unnecessarily attack the individuals who began this controversy. Level headed discussion would produce more progress. I really wasn’t referencing your blog so I apologize for implying that you spewed vitriolic hate, but many people definitely have.

      I kept my name anonymous for a reason–I don’t appreciate you using my email (which was required) to call out my name on this blog without my permission.

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