Some Canyon High School students came to school dressed as U.S. Border Patrol agents, "arresting" other classmates who came to school dressed as undocumented immigrants, the Los Angeles Times
Other students came to school dressed as gang members: sporting gold teeth, bandanas, and tear drop tattoos.
Two male students came to school dressed as gardeners while one female student, well, took a different route: she came to school dressed as a pregnant teen –– pushing a baby stroller.
The students you've just read about weren't cast members playing a part in a school play, rather they were high school students playing roles of how they viewed members of a population that to undocumented students of Mexican, Hispanic and Latino descent, aren't roles they can change in and out of at the end of the day, because it is their life, their reality.
"Schools should be safe havens for [undocumented classmates]," Jared Garcia-Kessler, 19, who graduated last year told The Times. "Instead, they see kids dressed up as INS and Border Patrol agents, while their biggest fear is being deported. They did not feel safe and that’s not fair.”
The event, called "Señores and Señoritas" day, which was approved by Canyon High administrators, has been held during Canyon High's Senior Spirit Week since June 2009. According to Orange County's local newspaper, OC Weekly
, each day has a specific theme. For example, in June 2012, themes included "Avenge the Seniors" and "Senior Citizens," The Weekly said.
But the event bothered Garcia-Kessler so much, that in 2011, Garcia-Kessler told The Orange County Register
he complained to a teacher saying, "I don't think this is too good of an idea."
The teacher, a favorite of his, responded with some advice: “get a better sense of humor,”
"It's very offensive," Garcia-Kessler, told KTLA
. "It's demeaning to my culture and I didn't find it funny or fair that the school would do this."
He didn't let it go.
Hurtful and demeaning messages about Mexican culture
The Orange Unified School District launched a summer long internal investigation that began in June 2012 when Garcia-Kessler filed a formal complaint after learning "Señores and Señoritas Day" was held again on June 6.
He wasn't alone. Another former student who Pasadena Star News
did not name, also filed a formal complaint about the event.
In recent years, about 55% of the students at Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills were white and about 16% were Latino, according to a Times database of California schools. The faculty was 87% white and about 8% Latino.
When taken as a whole, the city's population of 336,000 is 53 percent Hispanic, 28 percent white and 15 percent Asian.
When the investigation ended, the school district sided with the former students. Aileen M. Sterling, executive director of secondary education for the district, summarized her inquiry in an Aug.10 letter. "I conclude there was a lack of oversight/supervision and that the school administration should not have allowed this activity," she began.
"Even if strict guidelines were provided," Sterling said, "the result would still lead to hurtful and demeaning messages about the Mexican culture and to the students of the Mexican, Hispanic and Latino descent."
She continued: "It is contrary to a positive school climate and it divides students of diverse backgrounds rather than pull them together with acceptance and understanding."
"We are serious in our intent to provide effective action so that this will not recur," she wrote.
In fact, The Los Angeles Times reported that besides permanently eliminating "Señiores and Señoritas Day," the district will require:
• Canyon High's administrators to participate in sensitivity training
• The principal to include in an upcoming parent newsletter an article regarding the inappropriateness of the June event
• The school to implement "International Week," an activity to focus on the appreciation of different cultures, including discussions in history classes
• School administration to add a vetting process whereby each activity is reviewed to determine what might go wrong or whom it might offend
On Thursday, Garcia-Kessler said he was satisfied with the investigation. "I feel like they were transparent with their findings," the Santiago Canyon College business student told The Times.
But Canyon High School student Derek Buendia disagrees. Buendia told CBS Los Angeles
that he dressed up for “Senores and Senoras” day and didn't want it canceled.
“I’m Mexican American, and I didn’t take offense to it, you know – I thought it was hilarious. I thought it was really funny and it was just, honestly, just a joke," Buendia said. "It was just good clean fun."
Junior Andy Hernandez agrees. He told the Orange County Register that couldn't understand why someone would complain.
"They need to get a sense of humor," Hernandez said. "There's much worse things to worry about."
Garcia-Kessler also said that he doesn't think the students are racist or were trying to be malicious."Kids are immature, you know, kids are going to be kids," he said.
The web site laist
saw it differently: "Of course, ... the kids weren't being racist (kind of like how people who once dressed in blackface weren't racist -- just having fun!)."
The Latino Rebels
, a media company focusing on US Latino issues, just asked a simple question: how much have we really progressed?
We'd love to hear what do you think? What do you think about Jared's reaction to the event compared to other Mexican American students who thought it was funny? Let's us know in the comments section below.