December 1, 2005

Latino Student Activism Group Faces Repeated Challenges

Monday May 16th 2005, 9:41 am
Filed under: Free Speech

In Mt. Vernon, WA, where 30 percent of high school students are Latino, one student group has faced a broad and unusual set of challenges. According to the Skagit Valley Herald, school officials have provided constant roadbloacks to the students’ activities.

An incident last month arose over two posters the Latino students put on the wall of the school cafeteria.

One was a framed charcoal print of Che Guevara, the Argentinian Marxist who helped Fidel Castro come to power in Cuba. The other was of Emiliano Zapata, the turn-of-the-century Mexican revolutionary.

The students said their purpose was to advertise a farmworkers’ solidarity march on May 1, although the posters didn’t include any information about the political leaders.

Two school officials and another staffer saw the posters and complained to Vice-Principal Juan Espinoza, the only Latino administrator. He asked the students to take the posters down.

“Che and military types just don’t do it at the high school level,” Espinoza explained to other administrators in an e-mail. He told the students that Che Guevara was a communist and “un-American.”


Another incident brought the club into conflict with its faculty adviser — the matter of the tulip petals. Every year, during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, student clubs compete to create designs with tulip petals. The MEChA club has won the competition the past several years.

But this year, MEChA objected to the contest. Members of the club had been participating with the Skagit Valley College chapter of MEChA in taking food and clothing to migrant farmworker camps.

After seeing the workers’ living conditions, the students said they felt it would be disrespectful to use tulips planted by the workers in a design project.

So Enrique Lopez, a high school senior who is president of the club, sent the club adviser, Margaret Flink, an e-mail.

“Mrs. Flink, this is Enrique. i am writing to inform you that we, MEChistas, have decided to not take part in the Tulip Festival, at least not by actually having a tulip display because of how the workers are ignored.”

Flink, a bilingual science teacher who had been the adviser since late fall, suggested they compromise and use the petals to recreate a Diego Rivera painting.

“We were confused,” Lopez said. “They didn’t want Che because he’s a communist, but then they want us to do a Diego Rivera painting with the tulips, but Diego Rivera was a communist, too.”

In another incident, the president of a college chapter of MEChA was asked not to have contact with the group and was barred from the high school campus. Notice of his banishment was delivered to his home by the police.

Delivering food and clothing to migrant farmworkers: Revolutionary? Would junior Junior Leaguers have been treated the same way?

Story in the Skagit Valley Herald.

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