What are we to make of the five students who were temporarily suspended by the administration at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill for purportedly seeking to provoke—by the wearing of various American flag insignia, no less—Mexican-American students who were at the time celebrating, with some Mexican flags, Cinco de Mayo Day?
Or, in the words of aggrieved student Annicia Nunez, as picked up by the news services, “I think they should apologize ’cause it is a Mexican heritage day. We don’t deserve to get disrespected like that. We wouldn’t do that on Fourth of July.”
Let us deconstruct this episode to discover, if we can, the proverbial “teachable moment” of this collective farce.
I. First, the five male students. Were the flag-wearers “provoking” Mexican-American participants in Cinco de Quatro Mayo festivities? Sort of, but more likely it seems that they were perhaps chiding the idea of Mexican ethnic chauvinism, and doing so in a particularly ironic fashion by appearing in American patriot gear par excellence. They certainly did not wear symbolism traditionally associated with any sort of “white” chauvinism (two of the students were part “Hispanic”). It is not as if students were brandishing the stars and bars, or militia regalia. Rather, it seems that the boys rightly suspected that the American flag might cause discomfort to some of the Cinco de Mayo celebrants, and that such discomfort would in turn reveal the ambiguity, if not the ridiculousness (cf. the asinine reaction of Ms. Nunez), of an overarching ethnic ideology. (Can a Ms. Nunez imagine the surreal antithesis: a high school south of the border punishes some of its students for wearing Mexican flags on the Fourth of July as Mexican nationals of American ancestry parade the American flag?)
We should remember that the present generation (born after 1990) does not know first hand of the civil rights movement, Cesar Chavez, or any of the protest/reform controversies of a half-century ago that sought to adjudicate oppression, grievance, and compensation. (Just as I once did not know much in high school of the Roaring Twenties fifty years earlier). They grasp only that among mostly middle class suburbanites, Hispanic surnames, and in some cases particular ethnic profiles—not demonstrable racial prejudice or even legitimate ongoing collective grievances—earn affirmative action consideration for everything from federal jobs to college admissions. And this new generation (one that will be paying our debts off despite a “normal” 10% unemployment rate) suspects further that someone like the assistant principal, Miguel Rodriguez, who sent the flag-wearing boys to the office, cannot tell them why, for example, a third-generation Mexican-American student would be entitled to special consideration, but a first generation Punjabi-American or Lebanese-American would not. Surely affirmative action is not based on comparable distance from being “white,” ongoing racial prejudice, or claims of past unfairness. In other words, I fear we will see more Live Oak “moments” as those of the Obama (who once called for more “oppression studies”) generation cannot quite figure out the labyrinth of a now fossilized “diversity” spoils industry that allots preferences and rewards contrary to the entire spirit of the original civil rights movement—by accentuating rather than deemphasizing racial and ethnic difference.
II. Then we come next to Mr. Rodriguez, the assistant principal. It is said that he meant well, by citing presumed provocateurs to avoid unnecessary tension. But I don’t quite accept that (I think more likely he did the math: lots of Mexican-flag/regalia waving/wearing students, few American flag/regalia waving/wearing students; presto, go after the smaller, safer number). A competent credentialed administrator should have some rudimentary knowledge of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the role of a school official in protecting the rights of free expression. And failing that, he should wonder what has gone so wrong to reach a point where the wearing of an American flag—even if were meant to be provocative—really should be provocative? To whom and why? In other words, what is the larger culture at Live Oak that suggests that the sight of an American flag—even at an ethnic day celebration—could possibly be considered inflammatory to an American student body? Reports circulated that MEChA, for example, has an affiliation on campus. If true, one need only to read its charter to grasp that it is a racialist organization akin to all supremacist cadres that traffic in racial/ethnic triumphalism. Bottom line? Mr. Rodriquez should discourage MEChA, encourage the wearing of the American flag, and start reading the U.S. Constitution. (A footnote here: apparently no one has reminded the students that thousands of Mexican-Americans, in heroic fashion, have fought and died for the United States from Okinawa to Fallujah, and that they did so at least in part because they knew well that to be a minority in America was far preferable to remaining among the majority in Mexico.)