Last week, Americans of all nationalities celebrated Cinco de Mayo; some, like me, acknowledged the day by partaking of margaritas and carne asada.
Others, like the Mexican students at Live Oak high school in Northern California, observe the day by wearing the Mexican colors of red, white, and green. In a gesture meant to display American pride, five Live Oak students--Daniel Galli, Austin Carvalho, Matt Dariano, Dominic Maciel, and Clayton Howard--decided to wear American flag t-shirts and bandannas. After receiving complaints from some Mexican students, Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez asked the boys to turn their shirts inside out. The boys refused, were threatened with suspension, and were asked to leave the campus.
I am old enough to recall a time when wearing the American flag on a piece of clothing was seen as disrespectful to Americans. Even images of the flag worn as fashion were viewed as a vulgar desecration of a cherished symbol. But times have changed.
Over the years, attitudes have not only relaxed, but they have completed a 180 degree turn. The flag has become an oft-used element in fashion design, and wearing the flag is now considered a display of patriotism. An image burned into my memory is one of the actress Halle Berry wearing a form-fitting gown comprised of small American flags. Disrespectful or not, if that image doesn’t make you stand up and salute, nothing will.
Yes, times have certainly changed. I doubt that anyone ever imagined a time in this country when American children would be criticized for wearing the American flag not because it offended traditional American sensitivities, but because it was seen as disrespectful to Mexicans.
Principal Rodriguez said that the request was made in an effort to prevent fights from breaking out. What remains unclear is why wearing an American flag on one’s shirt would provoke violence--even amongst testosterone-filled teen boys. Daniel Galli and his buddies were minding their own business. If it is the opinion of the principal that just the sight of an American flag on Cinco de Mayo will produce conniption fits among Mexican children, it seems clear to me that he does not have a very high opinion of the Latino students that attend the school.
If it is an educator’s job to promote critical thinking among his students then the administrators at Live Oak failed miserably. Here was a “teaching moment;” here was a real opportunity for Rodriguez and Principal Nick Boden to provide a lesson in patience, priorities, and the true meaning of tolerance. But multi-culturalism has turned people into thin skinned grievance junkies—babies that cry at every cross-look or unkind word and must be coddled lest they toss themselves on the floor and begin kicking and screaming. So, rather than suggest to the aggrieved students that they ignore the red, white, and blue t-shirts, enjoy their day, and get back to class, Rodriguez and Boden indulged the multi-cultural temper tantrum, which ironically, played into the worst stereotypes of Mexican people. "You had better take those shirts off. You know these Mexicans; they will pull their knives at the drop of a hat!"
Responding to the ongoing drama at Live Oak, a young Latina declared that wearing the American flag on Cinco de Mayo was akin to Mexicans wearing the Mexican flag on the Fourth of July. The essential point that this young woman misses is that should she be strolling the streets of Mexico City on July Fourth her donning of the Mexican flag would indeed not raise many eyebrows. We are, as it happens, not in the country of Mexico; rather we reside in the United States of America.
Among many Americans, there is a growing sense that immigrants to this country have no interest in becoming Americans. Illegal immigrants are largely seen as people who disrespect our laws, our language, and our traditions. More significantly, they are viewed as taking advantage of everything this nation has to offer and yet refusing to assimilate into our American culture. The political class says that these fears are unfounded, and the elite label such thoughts as bigoted. And yet we are treated to stories like this one, wherein American children are sent home from school for wearing an image of the American flag. Should we believe the political elites? Or our lying eyes?