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Cholos broke out in attack at San Dieguito High, but why?

A different kind of homecoming

"These kids are so full of hate, for everything. They hate me, they hate you, they hate white, they hate black, they hate each other." - Image by David Covey
"These kids are so full of hate, for everything. They hate me, they hate you, they hate white, they hate black, they hate each other."

We rode the number-three district school bus, my brother and I, from our Del Mar Heights neighborhood up to Encinitas, and San Dieguito High, each morning. We were spirited and energetic, acceptable in Spanish and geometry, but considerably more interested in the extracurricular. He played defensive back for the Mustang football squad and ended up as student-body president; I ran crosscountry and track and spent two years working on the yearbook. Sadie Hawkins day. Friday-night trips to away games, yearbook signing — we were enchanted with school.

San Dieguito High School. In 1975 each person did pretty much as he or she pleased. The principal, Leonard Morris, often ate his sack lunch at a patio bench and played his harmonica.

Mine was the class of 1975, and I often reflect upon the affection I developed for the school with cool ocean breezes and Spanish-style buildings, pine trees and verdant lawns. What impressed me most about San Dieguito High was its informal, nonrestrictive atmosphere. School tradition, such as it was, you could take or leave with no social repercussions. Beyond certain basic requirements, each person did pretty much as he or she pleased. The principal, Leonard Morris, often ate his sack lunch at a patio bench and played his harmonica; he was an approachable, friendly administrator. The school's registration catalogue contained an array of unorthodox course listings not found at most high schools. Among its students, the campus enjoyed an easygoing, progressive reputation.

Cholo writing in bathrooms and on open walls is one of the greatest sources of racial agitation to white students.

So in mid-February, when I read news reports of how ten or twelve Latinos had carried out a commando-style raid at San Dieguito, indiscriminately attacking students with tire irons, broken bottles, and makeshift clubs, I simply could not believe it. I wanted to phone the newspaper and let them know they must have had the wrong school. Of course we had fights in high school, but they were rare and almost never racially motivated.

Revenge was rumored the day following the melee, and a large crowd of Anglos, according to some students, gathered in the parking lot.

Nevertheless, a short, vicious attack did occur February 15, 1979, at about 2:30 p.m. in the parking lot northwest of the school’s gym. (By this time the campus was nearly empty of San Dieguito students; most who remained were attending Sunset, the alternative-education school located on campus.) The incident reportedly began when a carload of Mexican-Americans first harassed and then attacked a San Dieguito sophomore and his dog, and shattered the windshield of his truck. Another carload arrived, and the angry Chicanos proceeded down toward the gym and weight room, pursuing Anglos and assaulting whomever they could catch. A tenth-grade girl suffered broken ribs when she was hit with a bar; Encinitas Coast Dispatch sports editor Phil Urbina was kicked and beaten as the group returned from the raid. Urbina and two others later said they had momentarily feared for their lives.

Janice Giffin: “You should have a class where they’re all mixed together."

It is difficult to accurately determine what sparked the Thursday-afternoon attack. Most agree it was linked to individual fights between Anglos and Latinos earlier in the week. One account suggested that the violent spree actually grew out of a fight between two Mexican-Americans. Weeks following the incident, a few Latinos said the surprise attack had been carried out because the Anglos had too often scheduled a fight and then failed to show, setting up the Mexican-Americans for confrontations with school officials and sheriff’s officers, and resulting in bad publicity.

Revenge was rumored the day following the melee, and a large crowd of Anglos, according to some students, gathered in the parking lot in the afternoon, waiting to do battle. But there were no incidents. The campus was swarming with school administrators and sheriff's deputies, and for a time a sheriff's helicopter hovered overhead. Violence did erupt briefly that Friday, when an Anglo sophomore injured in the Wednesday attack, in the company of a few friends with baseball bats, terrorized some Chicano students near the cafeteria. His companions were intercepted by officers from the alternative-education school once trouble began, and he and a Mexican-American were subdued and arrested shortly thereafter, following a brief fight. At least five juveniles and two adults were arrested in connection with that week’s violence.

In the aftermath, for at least its next four issues, the Encinitas Coast-Dispatch ran follow-up front-page stories; newspapers from throughout the county sent reporters to the school; and the media in general began watching the school closely. Some fearful parents kept their children at home for a few days following the February 15 incident. Many of the students, Anglo and Latino, who remained in school that week felt uneasy, insecure. Six weeks after the fight, one white female student commented that the problem of racial tension had 'mellowed out quite a bit. But I'm still scared of them for some weird reason. ”

During my junior high and high school years, I became acquainted with only one Mexican-American community in the San Dieguito area — that of Eden Gardens, a densely populated but relatively small Latino neighborhood resting next to Interstate 5 in Solana Beach. Most Anglos know the community only by the few Mexican restaurants there that draw outsiders. High school students from Eden Gardens at one time attended San Dieguito, but are now sent to the new school in Del Mar, Torrey Pines High. The only significantly large Latino community now served by San Dieguito High is an area known as Tortilla Flats, a settlement of about 1600 people in Leucadia, located east of Interstate 5 between Leucadia Boulevard and Puebla Street. Established decades ago, when San Dieguito was little more than a rural area with some construction along the beach, the enclave is a community highly populated by Mexican immigrants. Children are abundant, estimated at about four to a family, and many of the men work in the flower greenhouses that rim the community. It is a community of close friendships and family ties, one with a highly effective communication grapevine, according to Heidee Arceo, a representative of the North County Centro in San Marcos, a social service agency. Outside of Tortilla Flats, pockets of Mexican-American residents are found in Cardiff or along Highway 101 in Leucadia, and other Latino families are scattered throughout the coastal communities. But the percentage of Mexican-Americans in the San Dieguito area populace, traditionally about fifteen percent, is falling. The rising cost of renting or owning property has forced many Latino families to seek homes elsewhere. The percentage of Mexican-Americans at San Dieguito High reportedly dropped from 13.9 to 11.3 percent during the last year.

Arceo said the Mexican-American neighborhoods in North County tend to have a strong sense of community: much of the unity stems from a need for security and from an inability or unwillingness to blend with the surrounding white society. The family structure found in such neighborhoods is often deeply rooted in Latin custom. Many of the parents in Tortilla Flats, Arceo said, speak only Spanish and expect their children to adhere strictly to Latin family tradition. Latino youths from such areas, according to Arceo, "really have hard conflicts within themselves," realizing they must mix with the Anglo society while trying to retain pride in family and ethnic heritage. She said the end result is often disillusionment and a severe crisis of identity.

As a response to the February 15 fight, school district officials established the Task Force on Campus Violence, a group headed by district superintendent William Berrier and composed of parents, a sheriff's department representative, school staff members and teachers, and a few students. Dr. John Browne, a county department of education specialist, was brought in to monitor open discussions. The task force meetings attracted angry Anglo parents who saw racial trouble at San Dieguito as an uncontrollable threat to their children. An extreme example of this viewpoint was the testimony of Connie Frankowiak, a Leucadia resident with a son in a local junior high, who vented her wrath on the task force for being too "nice" in dealing with the situation. 'This task force thinks it's going to reason with them [Latino youths]," she told a reporter after stalking out of a meeting of the group. ' ‘They need to feel some of that old-fashioned fear, and angry citizens can be very frightening, you know.’* Mexican-American parents, on the other hand, have played little part in the task force meetings. According to Arceo, because they are unsure of their rights, they have remained largely silent. "In Mexico, they have no rights," she said. There has been miserably little participation in the task force process by those in question — Anglo and Latino students. Many of the students I spoke with seemed preoccupied and generally uninterested in attending task force gatherings.

The task force has provided an outlet for anger and a channel for communication between parents and school staff, and has helped to stimulate a series of staff training sessions on the techniques of teaching minority students. But despite its positive points, the group has retained its official and administrative air, and remains at a distance from the more personal needs of many individuals at San Dieguito.

In the form of a Student Relations Committee, the students have had their own means of dealing with race-related troubles. The two-year-old group has hung posters and distributed memos to classes which urged the elimination of racial animosity. Recently, the committee sponsored a "bury prejudice" assembly, which included a symbolic casket-and-flower ceremony. The Student Relations Committee also created a subgroup, the Emergency Committee, a handful of Latino and Anglo students who attempt to defuse tense racial situations before they become violent. I was told the Emergency Committee has dealt effectively with some potentially explosive situations and that its disciplinary recommendations generally have been followed by school administrators. One official said San Dieguito is probably doing more to quell racial unrest than any other high school in the county.

Leonard Morris, who guided the formation of the Student Relations Committee and many of its current activities, stressed that the work of community or student groups is not necessarily an admission that a serious situation exists. (Morris, the principal while I was at San Dieguito. now serves as vice-principal. He voluntarily stepped down during an administrative upheaval two years ago.) There have been no significant racial incidents at the high school since mid-February, and campus administrators say there’s no reason to believe the campus won’t remain peaceful. Morris claims that nothing has changed about San Dieguito, that it's as easygoing as it ever was.

He is angry over the appearance of news stories about San Dieguito for weeks after the February 15 incident. The extensive coverage, he feels, has given the school an unwarranted violent image. He calls it yellow journalism. "We are not a violent campus. We are not," he said. "I've been on a violent campus and I know what it’s like. But I’m afraid that if they keep playing it up, we will become violent, a self-fulfilling prophecy." Morris’s feelings in that respect were echoed by nearly everyone I spoke to on campus, from a female student who told me to "get lost" if I was a reporter, to athletic director Craig Bell, who quipped, "This thing would be like an elementary school compared to a San Diego city school.” But others, such as history teacher Linda Kelly, see things from a different perspective. Yes, the violence has subsided, she said, but the roots of that violence — prejudice — have not been fully dealt with Instead of students and faculty acknowledging a need for self-examination, she said the whole thing may blow over and leave everyone with their long-held levels of “acceptable prejudice. “ “There are a number of people who are very comfortable with their prejudices . . . I hear the most incredible things.” As a symbol of the danger of prejudice, Kelly hung in a glass display case grisly pictures from World War II Nazi extermination camps. She recalled the comment of a passing student: “Gee, do you think we can do that to the Mexicans?”

The familiar faces and scenes I encountered while walking around San Dieguito aroused some particularly nostalgic sensations. The same custodian I often greeted after leaving Spanish class was still emptying the same trashcan. Center court, the social gathering spot, had never looked better — new yellow-and-white blossoms laced the flowerbeds surrounding the grass lawn, and some beautiful student-painted murals on the walls still remain. I passed by a windowless outside wall of the cafeteria which had had its clean yellow surface marred by large letters formed with black spray paint, a good example of the infamous “Cholo writing.” used by Latino youths as an obstinate expression of group pride or territorial warning. A custodian had begun the process of repainting the wall. Craig Bell, the school's athletic director and head football coach, wandered by with a few white athletes and said to the custodian, “Why bother? It'll be up there again at ten o'clock tonight. ” Cholo writing in bathrooms and on open walls is one of the greatest sources of racial agitation to white students. The block-style writing often merely represents signatures and is used primarily as a sign to other Latino groups, but it is ugly nevertheless and Anglos respond on the walls with inscriptions like “Beaners suck.” Which often leads to more Cholo writing. School custodians wage a never-ending paint battle against graffiti. Completing the job, the custodian paused to mention that, sadly, conflicts remain between Anglo and Latino students which are difficult to define, much less resolve.

“Cholos” is a classification commonly applied to Mexican-American youths who display an intense pride in their Latin heritage and assemble into bands that reinforce such sentiments. They are physically characterized by their clothing — khaki pants, T-shirts, colorful head bandanas. At San Dieguito they represent what is often viewed as a violent and antisocial Mexican-American group, and I soon realized that the high school's racial issue largely revolves around them.

One teacher referred to the Cholos as the “most alienated” group on campus. Members of the white student subgroups—surfers, jocks and “socials” — all stay clear of them. Even many other Chicanos will have nothing to do with the Cholos, calling them simply “Mexicans.” The Cholos, on the other hand, seem to take pride in such a label. The division between their group and other Mexican-Americans seems to be based upon the break between students who cling to the Latin culture of their parents and those who tend to blend with the predominant white culture. Some of the Cholos have only recently moved to the area from Mexico (there are exceptions—some have lived in the Encinitas area all their lives), and a few from their group speak only Spanish. At San Dieguito, few Cholos are enrolled in the regular school session; most of them (there are probably less than thirty in all), either as a result of choice or due to an administrative referral, end up in the alternative-education school which meets in the afternoons. The February 15 raid at San Dieguito was carried out, at least partially, by members of this Cholo group.

In the tenth grade I spent a good deal of time at the baseball diamond which overlooks the cafeteria, trying out for junior varsity baseball. It is there, in the bleachers beside the backstop, that the Cholos often gather to listen to a radio or talk. I was told by other Mexican-American students that an Anglo walking alone up by that backstop might get “messed up." The reception I received when I slowly approached the bleachers, where about eight members of the group were sitting, was altogether different. Wary of me initially, they began to speak freely after a few moments. The conversation gradually warmed up and those who spoke only Spanish responded through their bilingual friends. For close to an hour we talked, and I left with a sample of each of their signatures in Cholo writing.

It was some weeks later that I found the chance to speak with Aristeo Lara, one whose face I remembered from the small Cholo group at the backstop. He sat on the fringes then, listening, with little to say. It took some time before we were able to converse easily in our second meeting. In his khaki pants and loose sweatshirt, he sat casually in the grass outside a classroom. Aristeo is soft-spoken, or so it seemed to me as he slowly released his words, his voice tinged with a Latin accent. He was not shy or reserved. Rather, he seemed some what cool, self-contained, unhurried.

Aristeo labels himself a loner. He identifies with San Dieguito’s Cholos, but avoids fully attaching himself to any Chicano group on campus. He is content to spend a great deal of time alone. Aristeo is the only son in the family of a flower worker from Guanajuato, Mexico, who came to the United States a number of years ago to find work in the greenhouses of Salinas and Encinitas. Paul Ecke, one of North County’s top flower producers, reportedly helped the elder Lara seven years ago with the arrangements necessary for emigrating his family from Tijuana, where they had received support for a few years from the toil of the father. The family now lives in Cardiff, and, after sixteen years with the business, the elder Lara is still a dedicated Ecke worker. “There are some greenhouses, and he takes care of them," Aristeo said simply. “He makes the plants grow, stuff like that.”

Being at San Dieguito this year has been an adjustment of sorts for Aristeo, a tenth grader. After attending school in the Encinitas area for five years, he was encouraged by his mother prior to his eighth-grade year to travel to Guadalajara, Mexico, to live with family friends and attend school there. “Because of all the problems everybody is having right now [with racial tension and gang activity] my mother didn't want me to end up like that." Aristeo schooled for two years in Guadalajara and would probably have remained longer had there not been difficulties in the transferal of academic credits. “Here you can make a better living, but there there aren't as many problems, " he recalls. “I used to go to school and nobody picked on me. You know, there’s no prejudice down there. I never fight here, but sometimes I do have problems with the Anglos. ”

Aristeo respects the view of his parents, who have taught him to hold no grudges and to respond positively to the Anglo majority. He made it clear, however, that if need be he would turn to fighting. “When I fight. I fight because of a reason, not just because of pride. I have pride, but of course they have to get me real mad. You remember that big fight right there?" he asked in apparent reference to that of February 15. “I was right in the middle and I didn't get into it. I didn't fight because I didn’t know why they were fighting. ”

But because “every Cholo has pride in his barrio, fighting has traditionally been more prevalent between rival Latino groups than between white and brown youths. “We are prejudiced against ourselves." Aristeo said. “Chula Vista. Escondido, Oceanside, Carlsbad — everybody's mad at Encinitas. I guess Encinitas is number one.or something. Encinitas always goes out and fights out everybody.” It is a sad fact that Latino groups continue to clash with each other, Aristeo said, but he sees no simple resolution to such territorial disputes. Fights between opposing Latino gangs have been a persistent problem in the North County area (I recall an I intense rivalry between Eden Gardens and Tortilla Flats, which I hear has since dissolved), but it has never been a concern of much of the white community. Rarely would a middle-class family see or hear of it. It is when violence erupts between Latino and white youths that fighting acquires news value; it suddenly becomes visible, threatening.

“I try to talk to my friends and tell them to get along with the Anglos, and sometimes we try. But they don’t, then we don’t . . . and I don’t think that will ever go away, prejudice.” Aristeo claims that to him a person’s skin color is unimportant, but there are serious risks inherent in any attempt to bridge the gap between races. ”Me being a Mexican, and going up to an Anglo, it’s kind of hard,” he said quietly. “I’m not ashamed, you know, but I feel weird when I’m talking to them and I don’t pronounce words right. Sometimes they laugh at me, and I don’t like anybody laughing at me, because when they’re in Spanish class and they pronounce words bad, I don’t laugh at them.”

Aristeo’s daily dress, usually khaki pants and a T-shirt, is intended more for comfort than an expression of Cholo pride, he says. But occasionally, while walking across campus, his attire will draw jeers of “beaner” from a distant cluster of Anglo students. His voice quickens when he recalls a meeting with members of the Student Relations Committee in which an attempt was made to resolve a racial conflict before it led to a brawl. The meeting was going fine, Aristeo recalls, until someone said “beaner,” Aristeo and friends angrily left the meeting. “Sometimes when an American calls us beaner, that goes for every Mexican. So when our hatred comes out, it goes for every American. ” Aristeo has acquired about eight Anglo friends now, casual acquaintances, and has sought to put aside many of the bitter feelings he once had toward Anglos. “I don’t like to say this, but I used to hate Americans, everybody, because Mexico lost the war. You know, in the 1800s, when we lost all this land. I liked Mexican history a lot.” He now records As in U.S. history.

Tall and with shoulder-length blond hair, another tenth-grade student leaned over the front of his desk toward me. It was midmorning and he was the last left from a bilingual English class which had been released with the rest of the school to attend an assembly. “My dad, he’s all for the Mexicans,” said Chris Gish. “He says they’re great people, couldn’t be a nicer bunch of guys, because, you know, they’re all employed by him . . . they’re hard workers. They do work that I wouldn’t do, nine hours a day, six days a week. They work a lot and they know that they’re making money, good money.” Chris is the son of an Encinitas flower grower who owns about forty acres, ships out carnations to various parts of the country, and employs twenty or more workers much like the father of Aristeo Lara. The five-member Gish family resides just up the street from San Dieguito; they moved to Encinitas some years ago from La Jolla. Although Chris is attempting to perform at an academic level acceptable to parental standards, his true interest lies in surfing. Sliding down the face of a powerful wave has for him become an addiction.

Aside from a loose friendship with a truck driver named Alfredo, who “drives the (flower) boxes down to the bus place — he gives me a ride to the beach and stuff,” Chris doesn't mix much with his dad’s Hispanic workers. “I don't get real chummy with them,” he said. He hasn't been taught to look down upon Latinos, but with the more affluent upbringing he’s known, keeping the Mexicans at a distance has seemed natural. Chris says he sees the Mexican workers as “pretty much lower class,” but then pauses to add. “At this point in my life, they’re probably superior to me. In education they’re probably not, but they’re hard workers. They’re dedicated people.”

Chris believes the racial mix at San Dieguito resembles what one would find distributed throughout the community. It’s just that when thousands of students converge on the same few acres, the differences are easy to see. San Dieguito merely serves as a showcase: “You look and there are all the blond hairs, the surfers. You look over here and there are all the dark clothes, the Mexicans. You look down there at all the guys with the San Dieguito Mustang shirts, the football players. You can see the definite groups. If everyone was just talking out on the street, you couldn’t see it.”

The violence has passed, but a significant residue of racial animosity remains. “You kind of feel distant, like you're competing for something, and I don’t know what it is. I've tried to think, you know, why, but I'm never able to. It's kind of a deep question.” Chris mused that prejudice might simply be an aspect of human nature. Never has he ventured to call a Latino student within earshot a “beaner.” “I don’t want to get my ass kicked. I’m not a very good fighter, and I wouldn't say that to someone anyway.” In fact, Chris has come to believe that friendship with a Mexican-American might be possible. But then, conversely, there could be a social stigma. “If I start hanging around with the Mexicans, then my friends are going, ‘What’s he doing?’ and I know that would affect me. Even though it shouldn’t, my peer group does affect me.”

I asked Chris to describe San Dieguito High if its racial situation were to reach what would be in his mind the ideal. “My classes would be out in the water; everybody would be surfers,” he answered with little hesitation. “I wouldn’t have to bother with disliking the Mexicans or the blacks. All surfers and no minority. I’d say, ‘I don’t like that guy,’ and I wouldn't have to worry about what skin he has. . . . Yeah, you know, like Hitler ... the Aryan race — everybody with blond hair and blue eyes. That's not the way to do it, but I mean, if you want to get along perfectly, it seems it would be a lot easier that way.”

Changing perspectives again, Chris said that he is actually interested in a more conciliatory approach to Mexican-Americans. But the internal transformation necessary was likened by Chris to tearing out roots. “It takes a long time, like with a big tree. You’ve got to let the water soak, and then you’ve got to pull it out with a truck. It takes a long time.”

Janice Giffin is a twenty-nine-year-old bilingual education teacher at San Dieguito. She graduated from San Dieguito in 1967 and has since spent time living in Oregon, Italy, and in Australia, where she spent four years at a Catholic girls’ school teaching immigrant students from a variety of countries. Her experience with a multicultural education program there has led to the ambitious ideas she has now for San Dieguito's bilingual program. (With four courses, the program fills a need but remains in an embryonic state.)

A systematic segregation of brown and white students is in operation at San Dieguito, as it is in most high schools, according to Giffin. She labels it “streaming” and explains that it is found in classes such as “English fundamentals” or “mentally gifted minors.” Dividing students up into basic, standard, and advanced classifications and putting them in separate classrooms, she contends, seriously inhibits the exposure of Anglo and Latino students to one another. Many of the Mexican-American students, due to weaker academic training in prior years, language difficulties, or other factors, congregate in the lower academic classifications. She says many of the white students who excel academically have few Latinos sitting next to them in class. “By the same token, kids in my lower-streamed classes suffer from a lack of perception, too.” She believes the practice of streaming could be dumped without inhibiting the learning rate of the more advanced students. A white student commented similarly: “You should have a class where they’re all mixed together, but they've got their own individual ways that they can work.... If one guy is smarter, he can work faster.”

Giffin says “improving the efficiency of this school” is the only benefit of streaming. To create a thoroughly integrated academic setting, she admits, would require a reorganization of the educational system and additional funding for bilingual aides and teachers, a prospect that at present seems unlikely. For the time being, Giffin is satisfied that San Dieguito's bilingual program is a good start. District Supervisor Berrier, on the other hand, says the concept of streaming is news to him and that there is no institutional practice of segregating white and brown students at San Dieguito. Chicano students involved with the bilingual program are placed in largely segregated classes, he said, but added that those Mexican-American students with no language difficulty are well represented in all academic classifications.

Whereas Latinos make up about eleven percent of the student body at San Dieguito, only five percent of the teachers employed at the campus are Mexican-American, and a few teachers and students feel strongly that Latino students need teacher role models within their own ethnic group. They would like to see the Mexican-American community place pressure on the school district to revise its hiring policies. The alternative-education school principal, Richard McCracken, sees things differently. He says Latino students need teachers who display concern and sensitivity, not necessarily the same skin color. The alternative school, he argues, employs no Mexican-American teachers and yet remains popular among Latino students. “It’s an issue of one human to another,” he says. One San Dieguito official noted that qualified Latino teachers are extremely difficult to find; in the past, openings were publicized but the district received barely enough applications from Mexican-Americans to warrant interviews.

About two years ago, a number of parents, concerned with what they perceived to be a decline in discipline on campus, including poor class attendance and an apparent lack of commitment to a winning football program, pressured the school district into making changes on the San Dieguito campus. The result has been a new conservatism within the school’s administration, a conservatism many teachers resent and which some link directly to the campus tensions that have produced racial violence. Among the more visible changes were a new administration (Bill Hershey took the place of Morris as principal), monitors hired to watch for vandalism and to question those students not in class, and football victory (San Dieguito finished the season with an 8-1 record this past fall). Not so obvious was the teachers’ loss of influence in shaping academic policy. During the Morris administration, teachers say they were considered the “experts.” Now, however, they simply accept orders from the top. Superintendent Berrier acknowledged that the administrative policies have become more restrictive, but added that with the maintenance of an “open” campus (students can leave campus during school hours) and the continued absence of a severe dress code, not all the changes brought by the Sixties have been reversed. Some members of the faculty, though, maintain that the school’s new restrictions have only created new trouble. “There’s sort of an assumption that students aren’t going to behave. In the past there was more of a stress on individual responsibility,” said Kelly, the history teacher. She added, “I don’t know if the [racial] fights are sort of a reaction to the tightening up, but I would suspect that they are.”

Vice-principal Roy Risner, thirty-four years old. a big-shouldered man with curly hair and a graying mustache, is representative of the school administration’s more conservative approach. As an elementary school principal in Livermore, California (thirty miles from Oakland), Risner was approached by San Dieguito principal Hershey and asked to come to Encinitas to fill a vice-principal's opening. Risner said it was his “style“ that attracted Hershey. “They felt that the school needed to be tightened up,” he said. “It was too bad that when you came by here at a given time you had three or four hundred kids lying out in the yard smoking, that are hanging around. . . . They wanted people to come in that would be a little tougher.” What makes Risner a primary character in this San Dieguito story is the dismal state of his relationship with many Latino students. One teacher I spoke with termed “bullshit” assertions that the vice-principal treats the Latinos more harshly than he does white students. But of the fifteen or so Mexican-American students I spoke with, all were adamant in their belief that Risner holds a grudge against Chicanos. They see him as one who is continually stopping and questioning Latinos in the halls, one who is more apt to crack down than attempt to reason with a student. The most serious charge made by Mexican-Americans concerning Risner is that through his recommendations as vice-principal he has sought to channel Latino students away from the regular San Dieguito school session and into the alternative education school. It is within the vice-principal’s authority to recommend that a student be sent to the alternative school, for disciplinary or academic reasons. Risner says he has never misused that authority, and apparently none of the Latino students referred to Sunset school have appealed the decision to the principal or school board. Risner says he understands the Mexican-American point of view, that he once attended a southern Texas school in which seventy-five percent of the student population was Chicano. He claims he has a good relationship with most of the Latino students he comes in contact with, but “there are some that are very militant and that think that every action you take against them is because they’re Mexican.”

Members of the Cholo group I spoke with want to see Risner transferred to some other school. Risner, in turn, says that among the Cholos there are “incorrigibles” that “we’ll never touch, and that don’t want to be touched, and they’re going to continue to create our problems. . . . These kids are so full of hate, for everything. They hate me, they hate you, they hate white, they hate black, they hate each other. You know, you’re not going to help them.” I didn’t sense hate when I talked with the Cholo group, and I can’t accept the label of “incorrigible.” Risner says it’s because I’m young.

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"These kids are so full of hate, for everything. They hate me, they hate you, they hate white, they hate black, they hate each other." - Image by David Covey
"These kids are so full of hate, for everything. They hate me, they hate you, they hate white, they hate black, they hate each other."

We rode the number-three district school bus, my brother and I, from our Del Mar Heights neighborhood up to Encinitas, and San Dieguito High, each morning. We were spirited and energetic, acceptable in Spanish and geometry, but considerably more interested in the extracurricular. He played defensive back for the Mustang football squad and ended up as student-body president; I ran crosscountry and track and spent two years working on the yearbook. Sadie Hawkins day. Friday-night trips to away games, yearbook signing — we were enchanted with school.

San Dieguito High School. In 1975 each person did pretty much as he or she pleased. The principal, Leonard Morris, often ate his sack lunch at a patio bench and played his harmonica.

Mine was the class of 1975, and I often reflect upon the affection I developed for the school with cool ocean breezes and Spanish-style buildings, pine trees and verdant lawns. What impressed me most about San Dieguito High was its informal, nonrestrictive atmosphere. School tradition, such as it was, you could take or leave with no social repercussions. Beyond certain basic requirements, each person did pretty much as he or she pleased. The principal, Leonard Morris, often ate his sack lunch at a patio bench and played his harmonica; he was an approachable, friendly administrator. The school's registration catalogue contained an array of unorthodox course listings not found at most high schools. Among its students, the campus enjoyed an easygoing, progressive reputation.

Cholo writing in bathrooms and on open walls is one of the greatest sources of racial agitation to white students.

So in mid-February, when I read news reports of how ten or twelve Latinos had carried out a commando-style raid at San Dieguito, indiscriminately attacking students with tire irons, broken bottles, and makeshift clubs, I simply could not believe it. I wanted to phone the newspaper and let them know they must have had the wrong school. Of course we had fights in high school, but they were rare and almost never racially motivated.

Revenge was rumored the day following the melee, and a large crowd of Anglos, according to some students, gathered in the parking lot.

Nevertheless, a short, vicious attack did occur February 15, 1979, at about 2:30 p.m. in the parking lot northwest of the school’s gym. (By this time the campus was nearly empty of San Dieguito students; most who remained were attending Sunset, the alternative-education school located on campus.) The incident reportedly began when a carload of Mexican-Americans first harassed and then attacked a San Dieguito sophomore and his dog, and shattered the windshield of his truck. Another carload arrived, and the angry Chicanos proceeded down toward the gym and weight room, pursuing Anglos and assaulting whomever they could catch. A tenth-grade girl suffered broken ribs when she was hit with a bar; Encinitas Coast Dispatch sports editor Phil Urbina was kicked and beaten as the group returned from the raid. Urbina and two others later said they had momentarily feared for their lives.

Janice Giffin: “You should have a class where they’re all mixed together."

It is difficult to accurately determine what sparked the Thursday-afternoon attack. Most agree it was linked to individual fights between Anglos and Latinos earlier in the week. One account suggested that the violent spree actually grew out of a fight between two Mexican-Americans. Weeks following the incident, a few Latinos said the surprise attack had been carried out because the Anglos had too often scheduled a fight and then failed to show, setting up the Mexican-Americans for confrontations with school officials and sheriff’s officers, and resulting in bad publicity.

Revenge was rumored the day following the melee, and a large crowd of Anglos, according to some students, gathered in the parking lot in the afternoon, waiting to do battle. But there were no incidents. The campus was swarming with school administrators and sheriff's deputies, and for a time a sheriff's helicopter hovered overhead. Violence did erupt briefly that Friday, when an Anglo sophomore injured in the Wednesday attack, in the company of a few friends with baseball bats, terrorized some Chicano students near the cafeteria. His companions were intercepted by officers from the alternative-education school once trouble began, and he and a Mexican-American were subdued and arrested shortly thereafter, following a brief fight. At least five juveniles and two adults were arrested in connection with that week’s violence.

In the aftermath, for at least its next four issues, the Encinitas Coast-Dispatch ran follow-up front-page stories; newspapers from throughout the county sent reporters to the school; and the media in general began watching the school closely. Some fearful parents kept their children at home for a few days following the February 15 incident. Many of the students, Anglo and Latino, who remained in school that week felt uneasy, insecure. Six weeks after the fight, one white female student commented that the problem of racial tension had 'mellowed out quite a bit. But I'm still scared of them for some weird reason. ”

During my junior high and high school years, I became acquainted with only one Mexican-American community in the San Dieguito area — that of Eden Gardens, a densely populated but relatively small Latino neighborhood resting next to Interstate 5 in Solana Beach. Most Anglos know the community only by the few Mexican restaurants there that draw outsiders. High school students from Eden Gardens at one time attended San Dieguito, but are now sent to the new school in Del Mar, Torrey Pines High. The only significantly large Latino community now served by San Dieguito High is an area known as Tortilla Flats, a settlement of about 1600 people in Leucadia, located east of Interstate 5 between Leucadia Boulevard and Puebla Street. Established decades ago, when San Dieguito was little more than a rural area with some construction along the beach, the enclave is a community highly populated by Mexican immigrants. Children are abundant, estimated at about four to a family, and many of the men work in the flower greenhouses that rim the community. It is a community of close friendships and family ties, one with a highly effective communication grapevine, according to Heidee Arceo, a representative of the North County Centro in San Marcos, a social service agency. Outside of Tortilla Flats, pockets of Mexican-American residents are found in Cardiff or along Highway 101 in Leucadia, and other Latino families are scattered throughout the coastal communities. But the percentage of Mexican-Americans in the San Dieguito area populace, traditionally about fifteen percent, is falling. The rising cost of renting or owning property has forced many Latino families to seek homes elsewhere. The percentage of Mexican-Americans at San Dieguito High reportedly dropped from 13.9 to 11.3 percent during the last year.

Arceo said the Mexican-American neighborhoods in North County tend to have a strong sense of community: much of the unity stems from a need for security and from an inability or unwillingness to blend with the surrounding white society. The family structure found in such neighborhoods is often deeply rooted in Latin custom. Many of the parents in Tortilla Flats, Arceo said, speak only Spanish and expect their children to adhere strictly to Latin family tradition. Latino youths from such areas, according to Arceo, "really have hard conflicts within themselves," realizing they must mix with the Anglo society while trying to retain pride in family and ethnic heritage. She said the end result is often disillusionment and a severe crisis of identity.

As a response to the February 15 fight, school district officials established the Task Force on Campus Violence, a group headed by district superintendent William Berrier and composed of parents, a sheriff's department representative, school staff members and teachers, and a few students. Dr. John Browne, a county department of education specialist, was brought in to monitor open discussions. The task force meetings attracted angry Anglo parents who saw racial trouble at San Dieguito as an uncontrollable threat to their children. An extreme example of this viewpoint was the testimony of Connie Frankowiak, a Leucadia resident with a son in a local junior high, who vented her wrath on the task force for being too "nice" in dealing with the situation. 'This task force thinks it's going to reason with them [Latino youths]," she told a reporter after stalking out of a meeting of the group. ' ‘They need to feel some of that old-fashioned fear, and angry citizens can be very frightening, you know.’* Mexican-American parents, on the other hand, have played little part in the task force meetings. According to Arceo, because they are unsure of their rights, they have remained largely silent. "In Mexico, they have no rights," she said. There has been miserably little participation in the task force process by those in question — Anglo and Latino students. Many of the students I spoke with seemed preoccupied and generally uninterested in attending task force gatherings.

The task force has provided an outlet for anger and a channel for communication between parents and school staff, and has helped to stimulate a series of staff training sessions on the techniques of teaching minority students. But despite its positive points, the group has retained its official and administrative air, and remains at a distance from the more personal needs of many individuals at San Dieguito.

In the form of a Student Relations Committee, the students have had their own means of dealing with race-related troubles. The two-year-old group has hung posters and distributed memos to classes which urged the elimination of racial animosity. Recently, the committee sponsored a "bury prejudice" assembly, which included a symbolic casket-and-flower ceremony. The Student Relations Committee also created a subgroup, the Emergency Committee, a handful of Latino and Anglo students who attempt to defuse tense racial situations before they become violent. I was told the Emergency Committee has dealt effectively with some potentially explosive situations and that its disciplinary recommendations generally have been followed by school administrators. One official said San Dieguito is probably doing more to quell racial unrest than any other high school in the county.

Leonard Morris, who guided the formation of the Student Relations Committee and many of its current activities, stressed that the work of community or student groups is not necessarily an admission that a serious situation exists. (Morris, the principal while I was at San Dieguito. now serves as vice-principal. He voluntarily stepped down during an administrative upheaval two years ago.) There have been no significant racial incidents at the high school since mid-February, and campus administrators say there’s no reason to believe the campus won’t remain peaceful. Morris claims that nothing has changed about San Dieguito, that it's as easygoing as it ever was.

He is angry over the appearance of news stories about San Dieguito for weeks after the February 15 incident. The extensive coverage, he feels, has given the school an unwarranted violent image. He calls it yellow journalism. "We are not a violent campus. We are not," he said. "I've been on a violent campus and I know what it’s like. But I’m afraid that if they keep playing it up, we will become violent, a self-fulfilling prophecy." Morris’s feelings in that respect were echoed by nearly everyone I spoke to on campus, from a female student who told me to "get lost" if I was a reporter, to athletic director Craig Bell, who quipped, "This thing would be like an elementary school compared to a San Diego city school.” But others, such as history teacher Linda Kelly, see things from a different perspective. Yes, the violence has subsided, she said, but the roots of that violence — prejudice — have not been fully dealt with Instead of students and faculty acknowledging a need for self-examination, she said the whole thing may blow over and leave everyone with their long-held levels of “acceptable prejudice. “ “There are a number of people who are very comfortable with their prejudices . . . I hear the most incredible things.” As a symbol of the danger of prejudice, Kelly hung in a glass display case grisly pictures from World War II Nazi extermination camps. She recalled the comment of a passing student: “Gee, do you think we can do that to the Mexicans?”

The familiar faces and scenes I encountered while walking around San Dieguito aroused some particularly nostalgic sensations. The same custodian I often greeted after leaving Spanish class was still emptying the same trashcan. Center court, the social gathering spot, had never looked better — new yellow-and-white blossoms laced the flowerbeds surrounding the grass lawn, and some beautiful student-painted murals on the walls still remain. I passed by a windowless outside wall of the cafeteria which had had its clean yellow surface marred by large letters formed with black spray paint, a good example of the infamous “Cholo writing.” used by Latino youths as an obstinate expression of group pride or territorial warning. A custodian had begun the process of repainting the wall. Craig Bell, the school's athletic director and head football coach, wandered by with a few white athletes and said to the custodian, “Why bother? It'll be up there again at ten o'clock tonight. ” Cholo writing in bathrooms and on open walls is one of the greatest sources of racial agitation to white students. The block-style writing often merely represents signatures and is used primarily as a sign to other Latino groups, but it is ugly nevertheless and Anglos respond on the walls with inscriptions like “Beaners suck.” Which often leads to more Cholo writing. School custodians wage a never-ending paint battle against graffiti. Completing the job, the custodian paused to mention that, sadly, conflicts remain between Anglo and Latino students which are difficult to define, much less resolve.

“Cholos” is a classification commonly applied to Mexican-American youths who display an intense pride in their Latin heritage and assemble into bands that reinforce such sentiments. They are physically characterized by their clothing — khaki pants, T-shirts, colorful head bandanas. At San Dieguito they represent what is often viewed as a violent and antisocial Mexican-American group, and I soon realized that the high school's racial issue largely revolves around them.

One teacher referred to the Cholos as the “most alienated” group on campus. Members of the white student subgroups—surfers, jocks and “socials” — all stay clear of them. Even many other Chicanos will have nothing to do with the Cholos, calling them simply “Mexicans.” The Cholos, on the other hand, seem to take pride in such a label. The division between their group and other Mexican-Americans seems to be based upon the break between students who cling to the Latin culture of their parents and those who tend to blend with the predominant white culture. Some of the Cholos have only recently moved to the area from Mexico (there are exceptions—some have lived in the Encinitas area all their lives), and a few from their group speak only Spanish. At San Dieguito, few Cholos are enrolled in the regular school session; most of them (there are probably less than thirty in all), either as a result of choice or due to an administrative referral, end up in the alternative-education school which meets in the afternoons. The February 15 raid at San Dieguito was carried out, at least partially, by members of this Cholo group.

In the tenth grade I spent a good deal of time at the baseball diamond which overlooks the cafeteria, trying out for junior varsity baseball. It is there, in the bleachers beside the backstop, that the Cholos often gather to listen to a radio or talk. I was told by other Mexican-American students that an Anglo walking alone up by that backstop might get “messed up." The reception I received when I slowly approached the bleachers, where about eight members of the group were sitting, was altogether different. Wary of me initially, they began to speak freely after a few moments. The conversation gradually warmed up and those who spoke only Spanish responded through their bilingual friends. For close to an hour we talked, and I left with a sample of each of their signatures in Cholo writing.

It was some weeks later that I found the chance to speak with Aristeo Lara, one whose face I remembered from the small Cholo group at the backstop. He sat on the fringes then, listening, with little to say. It took some time before we were able to converse easily in our second meeting. In his khaki pants and loose sweatshirt, he sat casually in the grass outside a classroom. Aristeo is soft-spoken, or so it seemed to me as he slowly released his words, his voice tinged with a Latin accent. He was not shy or reserved. Rather, he seemed some what cool, self-contained, unhurried.

Aristeo labels himself a loner. He identifies with San Dieguito’s Cholos, but avoids fully attaching himself to any Chicano group on campus. He is content to spend a great deal of time alone. Aristeo is the only son in the family of a flower worker from Guanajuato, Mexico, who came to the United States a number of years ago to find work in the greenhouses of Salinas and Encinitas. Paul Ecke, one of North County’s top flower producers, reportedly helped the elder Lara seven years ago with the arrangements necessary for emigrating his family from Tijuana, where they had received support for a few years from the toil of the father. The family now lives in Cardiff, and, after sixteen years with the business, the elder Lara is still a dedicated Ecke worker. “There are some greenhouses, and he takes care of them," Aristeo said simply. “He makes the plants grow, stuff like that.”

Being at San Dieguito this year has been an adjustment of sorts for Aristeo, a tenth grader. After attending school in the Encinitas area for five years, he was encouraged by his mother prior to his eighth-grade year to travel to Guadalajara, Mexico, to live with family friends and attend school there. “Because of all the problems everybody is having right now [with racial tension and gang activity] my mother didn't want me to end up like that." Aristeo schooled for two years in Guadalajara and would probably have remained longer had there not been difficulties in the transferal of academic credits. “Here you can make a better living, but there there aren't as many problems, " he recalls. “I used to go to school and nobody picked on me. You know, there’s no prejudice down there. I never fight here, but sometimes I do have problems with the Anglos. ”

Aristeo respects the view of his parents, who have taught him to hold no grudges and to respond positively to the Anglo majority. He made it clear, however, that if need be he would turn to fighting. “When I fight. I fight because of a reason, not just because of pride. I have pride, but of course they have to get me real mad. You remember that big fight right there?" he asked in apparent reference to that of February 15. “I was right in the middle and I didn't get into it. I didn't fight because I didn’t know why they were fighting. ”

But because “every Cholo has pride in his barrio, fighting has traditionally been more prevalent between rival Latino groups than between white and brown youths. “We are prejudiced against ourselves." Aristeo said. “Chula Vista. Escondido, Oceanside, Carlsbad — everybody's mad at Encinitas. I guess Encinitas is number one.or something. Encinitas always goes out and fights out everybody.” It is a sad fact that Latino groups continue to clash with each other, Aristeo said, but he sees no simple resolution to such territorial disputes. Fights between opposing Latino gangs have been a persistent problem in the North County area (I recall an I intense rivalry between Eden Gardens and Tortilla Flats, which I hear has since dissolved), but it has never been a concern of much of the white community. Rarely would a middle-class family see or hear of it. It is when violence erupts between Latino and white youths that fighting acquires news value; it suddenly becomes visible, threatening.

“I try to talk to my friends and tell them to get along with the Anglos, and sometimes we try. But they don’t, then we don’t . . . and I don’t think that will ever go away, prejudice.” Aristeo claims that to him a person’s skin color is unimportant, but there are serious risks inherent in any attempt to bridge the gap between races. ”Me being a Mexican, and going up to an Anglo, it’s kind of hard,” he said quietly. “I’m not ashamed, you know, but I feel weird when I’m talking to them and I don’t pronounce words right. Sometimes they laugh at me, and I don’t like anybody laughing at me, because when they’re in Spanish class and they pronounce words bad, I don’t laugh at them.”

Aristeo’s daily dress, usually khaki pants and a T-shirt, is intended more for comfort than an expression of Cholo pride, he says. But occasionally, while walking across campus, his attire will draw jeers of “beaner” from a distant cluster of Anglo students. His voice quickens when he recalls a meeting with members of the Student Relations Committee in which an attempt was made to resolve a racial conflict before it led to a brawl. The meeting was going fine, Aristeo recalls, until someone said “beaner,” Aristeo and friends angrily left the meeting. “Sometimes when an American calls us beaner, that goes for every Mexican. So when our hatred comes out, it goes for every American. ” Aristeo has acquired about eight Anglo friends now, casual acquaintances, and has sought to put aside many of the bitter feelings he once had toward Anglos. “I don’t like to say this, but I used to hate Americans, everybody, because Mexico lost the war. You know, in the 1800s, when we lost all this land. I liked Mexican history a lot.” He now records As in U.S. history.

Tall and with shoulder-length blond hair, another tenth-grade student leaned over the front of his desk toward me. It was midmorning and he was the last left from a bilingual English class which had been released with the rest of the school to attend an assembly. “My dad, he’s all for the Mexicans,” said Chris Gish. “He says they’re great people, couldn’t be a nicer bunch of guys, because, you know, they’re all employed by him . . . they’re hard workers. They do work that I wouldn’t do, nine hours a day, six days a week. They work a lot and they know that they’re making money, good money.” Chris is the son of an Encinitas flower grower who owns about forty acres, ships out carnations to various parts of the country, and employs twenty or more workers much like the father of Aristeo Lara. The five-member Gish family resides just up the street from San Dieguito; they moved to Encinitas some years ago from La Jolla. Although Chris is attempting to perform at an academic level acceptable to parental standards, his true interest lies in surfing. Sliding down the face of a powerful wave has for him become an addiction.

Aside from a loose friendship with a truck driver named Alfredo, who “drives the (flower) boxes down to the bus place — he gives me a ride to the beach and stuff,” Chris doesn't mix much with his dad’s Hispanic workers. “I don't get real chummy with them,” he said. He hasn't been taught to look down upon Latinos, but with the more affluent upbringing he’s known, keeping the Mexicans at a distance has seemed natural. Chris says he sees the Mexican workers as “pretty much lower class,” but then pauses to add. “At this point in my life, they’re probably superior to me. In education they’re probably not, but they’re hard workers. They’re dedicated people.”

Chris believes the racial mix at San Dieguito resembles what one would find distributed throughout the community. It’s just that when thousands of students converge on the same few acres, the differences are easy to see. San Dieguito merely serves as a showcase: “You look and there are all the blond hairs, the surfers. You look over here and there are all the dark clothes, the Mexicans. You look down there at all the guys with the San Dieguito Mustang shirts, the football players. You can see the definite groups. If everyone was just talking out on the street, you couldn’t see it.”

The violence has passed, but a significant residue of racial animosity remains. “You kind of feel distant, like you're competing for something, and I don’t know what it is. I've tried to think, you know, why, but I'm never able to. It's kind of a deep question.” Chris mused that prejudice might simply be an aspect of human nature. Never has he ventured to call a Latino student within earshot a “beaner.” “I don’t want to get my ass kicked. I’m not a very good fighter, and I wouldn't say that to someone anyway.” In fact, Chris has come to believe that friendship with a Mexican-American might be possible. But then, conversely, there could be a social stigma. “If I start hanging around with the Mexicans, then my friends are going, ‘What’s he doing?’ and I know that would affect me. Even though it shouldn’t, my peer group does affect me.”

I asked Chris to describe San Dieguito High if its racial situation were to reach what would be in his mind the ideal. “My classes would be out in the water; everybody would be surfers,” he answered with little hesitation. “I wouldn’t have to bother with disliking the Mexicans or the blacks. All surfers and no minority. I’d say, ‘I don’t like that guy,’ and I wouldn't have to worry about what skin he has. . . . Yeah, you know, like Hitler ... the Aryan race — everybody with blond hair and blue eyes. That's not the way to do it, but I mean, if you want to get along perfectly, it seems it would be a lot easier that way.”

Changing perspectives again, Chris said that he is actually interested in a more conciliatory approach to Mexican-Americans. But the internal transformation necessary was likened by Chris to tearing out roots. “It takes a long time, like with a big tree. You’ve got to let the water soak, and then you’ve got to pull it out with a truck. It takes a long time.”

Janice Giffin is a twenty-nine-year-old bilingual education teacher at San Dieguito. She graduated from San Dieguito in 1967 and has since spent time living in Oregon, Italy, and in Australia, where she spent four years at a Catholic girls’ school teaching immigrant students from a variety of countries. Her experience with a multicultural education program there has led to the ambitious ideas she has now for San Dieguito's bilingual program. (With four courses, the program fills a need but remains in an embryonic state.)

A systematic segregation of brown and white students is in operation at San Dieguito, as it is in most high schools, according to Giffin. She labels it “streaming” and explains that it is found in classes such as “English fundamentals” or “mentally gifted minors.” Dividing students up into basic, standard, and advanced classifications and putting them in separate classrooms, she contends, seriously inhibits the exposure of Anglo and Latino students to one another. Many of the Mexican-American students, due to weaker academic training in prior years, language difficulties, or other factors, congregate in the lower academic classifications. She says many of the white students who excel academically have few Latinos sitting next to them in class. “By the same token, kids in my lower-streamed classes suffer from a lack of perception, too.” She believes the practice of streaming could be dumped without inhibiting the learning rate of the more advanced students. A white student commented similarly: “You should have a class where they’re all mixed together, but they've got their own individual ways that they can work.... If one guy is smarter, he can work faster.”

Giffin says “improving the efficiency of this school” is the only benefit of streaming. To create a thoroughly integrated academic setting, she admits, would require a reorganization of the educational system and additional funding for bilingual aides and teachers, a prospect that at present seems unlikely. For the time being, Giffin is satisfied that San Dieguito's bilingual program is a good start. District Supervisor Berrier, on the other hand, says the concept of streaming is news to him and that there is no institutional practice of segregating white and brown students at San Dieguito. Chicano students involved with the bilingual program are placed in largely segregated classes, he said, but added that those Mexican-American students with no language difficulty are well represented in all academic classifications.

Whereas Latinos make up about eleven percent of the student body at San Dieguito, only five percent of the teachers employed at the campus are Mexican-American, and a few teachers and students feel strongly that Latino students need teacher role models within their own ethnic group. They would like to see the Mexican-American community place pressure on the school district to revise its hiring policies. The alternative-education school principal, Richard McCracken, sees things differently. He says Latino students need teachers who display concern and sensitivity, not necessarily the same skin color. The alternative school, he argues, employs no Mexican-American teachers and yet remains popular among Latino students. “It’s an issue of one human to another,” he says. One San Dieguito official noted that qualified Latino teachers are extremely difficult to find; in the past, openings were publicized but the district received barely enough applications from Mexican-Americans to warrant interviews.

About two years ago, a number of parents, concerned with what they perceived to be a decline in discipline on campus, including poor class attendance and an apparent lack of commitment to a winning football program, pressured the school district into making changes on the San Dieguito campus. The result has been a new conservatism within the school’s administration, a conservatism many teachers resent and which some link directly to the campus tensions that have produced racial violence. Among the more visible changes were a new administration (Bill Hershey took the place of Morris as principal), monitors hired to watch for vandalism and to question those students not in class, and football victory (San Dieguito finished the season with an 8-1 record this past fall). Not so obvious was the teachers’ loss of influence in shaping academic policy. During the Morris administration, teachers say they were considered the “experts.” Now, however, they simply accept orders from the top. Superintendent Berrier acknowledged that the administrative policies have become more restrictive, but added that with the maintenance of an “open” campus (students can leave campus during school hours) and the continued absence of a severe dress code, not all the changes brought by the Sixties have been reversed. Some members of the faculty, though, maintain that the school’s new restrictions have only created new trouble. “There’s sort of an assumption that students aren’t going to behave. In the past there was more of a stress on individual responsibility,” said Kelly, the history teacher. She added, “I don’t know if the [racial] fights are sort of a reaction to the tightening up, but I would suspect that they are.”

Vice-principal Roy Risner, thirty-four years old. a big-shouldered man with curly hair and a graying mustache, is representative of the school administration’s more conservative approach. As an elementary school principal in Livermore, California (thirty miles from Oakland), Risner was approached by San Dieguito principal Hershey and asked to come to Encinitas to fill a vice-principal's opening. Risner said it was his “style“ that attracted Hershey. “They felt that the school needed to be tightened up,” he said. “It was too bad that when you came by here at a given time you had three or four hundred kids lying out in the yard smoking, that are hanging around. . . . They wanted people to come in that would be a little tougher.” What makes Risner a primary character in this San Dieguito story is the dismal state of his relationship with many Latino students. One teacher I spoke with termed “bullshit” assertions that the vice-principal treats the Latinos more harshly than he does white students. But of the fifteen or so Mexican-American students I spoke with, all were adamant in their belief that Risner holds a grudge against Chicanos. They see him as one who is continually stopping and questioning Latinos in the halls, one who is more apt to crack down than attempt to reason with a student. The most serious charge made by Mexican-Americans concerning Risner is that through his recommendations as vice-principal he has sought to channel Latino students away from the regular San Dieguito school session and into the alternative education school. It is within the vice-principal’s authority to recommend that a student be sent to the alternative school, for disciplinary or academic reasons. Risner says he has never misused that authority, and apparently none of the Latino students referred to Sunset school have appealed the decision to the principal or school board. Risner says he understands the Mexican-American point of view, that he once attended a southern Texas school in which seventy-five percent of the student population was Chicano. He claims he has a good relationship with most of the Latino students he comes in contact with, but “there are some that are very militant and that think that every action you take against them is because they’re Mexican.”

Members of the Cholo group I spoke with want to see Risner transferred to some other school. Risner, in turn, says that among the Cholos there are “incorrigibles” that “we’ll never touch, and that don’t want to be touched, and they’re going to continue to create our problems. . . . These kids are so full of hate, for everything. They hate me, they hate you, they hate white, they hate black, they hate each other. You know, you’re not going to help them.” I didn’t sense hate when I talked with the Cholo group, and I can’t accept the label of “incorrigible.” Risner says it’s because I’m young.

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