New America Media, Op-ed, Eric Cruz
Editor’s Note: On May 5, which is the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo, several white students at Vintage High School in Napa burned a Mexican flag. The youth were suspended, but the incident revealed mounting racial tensions at Napa schools. Youth participants at Leadership Academy Youth Leaders in Action (LAYLA), who attend Napa high schools, were asked their thoughts on the incident. The following is by a Eric Cruz, 17, a junior at Napa High School and a LAYLA youth organizer.
NAPA, Ca -- On May 5, 2010, Vintage High School students burned the Mexican Flag in protest of the Cinco de Mayo celebration. They will never realize their crime. They do not realize the importance of the flag. The flag is not even supposed to touch the ground!
When I first found out about this I was furious. You can tell me it’s just a flag, but it’s not just a flag. When I see that flag I see my grandmother cooking for the family. I see my grandfather coming home from work. I see my mother’s smile and my dad’s concern. I see home. I see the colors of my Virgencita de Gudalupe, the colors of my skin and the colors of my love. They have disrespected my beliefs and the beliefs of millions of people. And when you take my beliefs away, I see you spitting on my face. This incident fills me with hate.
As a young Latino kid, you see the white kid going down the slide, but you don’t understand it. As you grow a little older, you realize you only see that kid in the playground but not in your classes, and he is with others like him and not you. And as you grow a little more you start to see the world with a whole new perspective not because you want to but because you have to. This country and Napa are split between the colored and the white.
You can argue and say it is because we choose to be separate. But it is not a matter of choice. We are forced to stay with our own kind. It gives us safety, common ground and familiar faces. I stick to my own kind because they know what it is to live my life, from el grito de dolores (the cry for independence) to el grito of my own mother shouting to go eat, they know what it is like. They know the struggles I live and the conflicts I face because they, too, go through the same stress that a lot of colored folks go through.
Benito Juarez, the first full-blooded indigenous national to serve as a president of Mexico said, “Among individuals, as among nations, peace is the respect of others' rights.” His quote speaks truth even now as flags are being burned. Peace is respect for others and what they care about. So if there is no respect, does that mean there is no peace? When someone disrespects my culture and my colors, do I have to break that peace? Or did they already break it by disrespecting?
I am filled with an urge for revenge, but can you blame me? If this would of happened in a high school in the city of Los Angeles, Chicago or even Napa High where the population of Mexicans and Chicanos is at its greatest, this event would have come to a different conclusion. One of the girls involved in the incident said, “ I don’t want people to see us as a bad group.” But I believe it is too late for that.
I don’t want an apology, I don’t want to reason. I don’t want tobrainstorm ideas to prevent this from happening again. I want them to know it is not going to happen again. They cannot feel like they got away with this and feel satisfied with a suspension. Personally, I feel that the punishment did not fit the crime. I know peers who have been expelled from school for vandalism in the bathrooms, which I feel is a lighter crime than burning a flag. I know of a kid who burned a trashcan and was sent to jail. Is the administration saying a trashcan is worth more than a national symbol? Among individuals, as among nations, peace is the respect for others' rights. Now, respect our colors or that peace will shatter.