By Alan Bean
To the surprise of no one, the students of Arlington were once again denied a May holiday honoring civil rights legend Cesar Chavez.
Last night’s meeting of the Arlington ISD school board reminded me of the climactic scene in To Kill a Mockingbird. An all-white jury convicts the black defendant even though the case against him has crumbled to dust. As the article below suggests, last night’s decision was a foregone conclusion.
Last year, the statements of support for a Chavez holiday, mine included, were polite and deferential. This year was different.
I used my five minutes to address the elephant in the room. The school board trustees are both politicians and public servants, I said. There is no political upside to voting to rename a generic “May holiday” in honor of Chavez. The majority of voters in Arlington have little interest in honoring a Latino icon, and many would staunchly oppose the move. This is, after all, one of the most conservative demographics in America.
On the other hand, 65% of the students (and therefore a solid majority of the parents) are people of color who would love to see Chavez honored. There is a disconnect between the political imperative to please the voters and the moral imperative to do what’s best for the children. The heart sides with the kids; the head craves political security.
LULAC representative (and Friends of Justice board member) Luis Castillo, made much the same point. Last year, Luis submitted an open records request that gave him access to all the emails sent to board members from the public during the two weeks prior to the annual hearing on the Chavez holiday issue. “I know the pressure you are under,” Mr. Castillo told the trustees. “People say things like, ‘If they want to honor Chavez, let them go back to Mexico.'”
Tragically, this attitude is driving the political process in Arlington.
Arlington school board rejects proposed holiday for Chavez
By Robert Cadwallader
ARLINGTON — Despite pleas from Hispanic and African-American leaders, the school board Thursday declined for the third consecutive year to create a school holiday honoring labor leader Cesar Chavez.
Trustee Gloria Pena, one of two Hispanics on the seven-member board, asked to replace the “May Holiday” on the Arlington school district’s calendar with a holiday honoring Chavez. But her motion failed to get a second, and the board quickly approved the 2012-13 calendar without a Chavez holiday.
The decision seemed all but predetermined at the Nov. 3 meeting, where Pena was the only trustee to speak up for the Chavez holiday during the board’s preliminary discussion on the calendar.
But more than a dozen people turned out Thursday to support the proposal, including several activists who told the board they would declare a Cesar Chavez holiday themselves and mount a public campaign to get area students and parents involved in the celebration.
“We are no longer seeking your permission to declare a Cesar Chavez holiday,” said Bridgett Davis, who ran unsuccessfully for the board last spring. “The city of Arlington as well as the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth will celebrate Cesar Chavez in May.”
The board didn’t discuss the proposal before the vote. But several trustees previously said they favored an in-school program recognizing Chavez in which students would spend a day studying the union leader and his cause, which centered on organizing and empowering migrant workers and others who lacked a political voice. That’s how the district recognizes Veterans Day, and some trustees have said creating a holiday for Chavez could be seen as a snub to veterans.
The district, where Hispanic students comprise more than 40 percent of enrollment, observed a Cinco de Mayo holiday until three years ago, when the board removed it at the request of Pena and others who questioned the need for a holiday recognizing something specifically Mexican.
They believe a Chavez holiday would be more representative of all Hispanics. Pena said she expected the Chavez holiday to immediately replace Cinco de Mayo, but the board repeatedly declined. Instead, the day off began appearing as “May Holiday” on school calendars. The speakers on Thursday noted that they weren’t asking for an additional holiday, just the renaming of the May Holiday, which some referred to as the “no-name holiday.” Richard Gonzales, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens Council No. 4916, noted the achievement gap between Hispanics and Anglos and said one of the ingredients in improving academics is to “embrace our cultural heroes.”
“Together we can close the gap,” Gonzales told the board. “By recognizing this hero, you show us mucho, mucho respect.”
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641