Demeaning Latin-Themed Events Canceled in Anaheim School

“Seniores” and “Señoritas” events held at the Canyon High School in Anaheim, California to mark the senior activity week each July have been canceled after an internal investigation found them to be demeaning towards Latinos and their culture. In previous years, the events involved students dressing up as gang members and ‘banditos’ and were carried out with full approval from school administrators. The cancellation came about after an investigation by the Orange Unified School District based on two complaints from former students.

Aileen M. Sterling, who headed up the investigation and drafted the conclusions, said that there was a lack of oversight by school leaders who should have never allowed the activity to go forward. Even if students were provided with strict rules and regulations on what was and was not allowed, there was still a strong probability that the results could be hurtful and discriminatory.

The district was following up on a complaint filed by former student Jared Garcia-Kessler, who said that he took his concerns to one of the school’s teachers in 2011. He decided to escalate them to the district once he realized that the event was held again the subsequent year.

“Enough was enough,” Garcia-Kessler told The Times on Wednesday evening. “I was hurt.”

In his complaint, Garcia-Kessler told officials that pictures of the event were featured in the school yearbook and posted on Facebook.

About half of the Canyon student body is white, with Latinos making up another 16%. Nearly 90% of the school’s staff are white.

In addition to doing away with the event, the district also found that the school’s administrators will benefit from undergoing diversity and sensitivity training. From now on the school will also be required to offer an ethnic studies class and schedule an International Week activity sometime during the 2012-13 school year.

In the most recent event in June, two boys dressed as a gardener and the woman pushing the baby stroller. Other students dressed as U.S. Border Patrol agents and “gang members with bandannas and tear drops,” the investigation found. Some students wore large sombreros and fake mustaches.

School administrators, who had failed to tell students how to dress for the event, “reacted immediately” and confiscated props and ordered students to remove bandannas and tear drops — tattoos often associated with Latino gang members — according to Sterling’s investigation.

The “Seniores” and “Señoritas” event controversy comes on the heels of several demonstrations held in what some view as racially-based abuse of power by the Anaheim Police Department. A recent shooting of two Latino men by police officers gave rise to accusations that the department law enforcement policies are geared to oppress the city’s Latino minority.