Recall that back in 2010, a California high school banned students from wearing American flag-themed clothing on Cinco de Mayo. Yesterday, the resulting lawsuit found its way to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, but the problem warrants a different kind of attention from us all.
Live Oak High School administrators cited safety concerns, saying they feared trouble between students wearing the US flag-themed shirts and Mexican or Mexican-American students on Cinco de Mayo (which marks the 1862 Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla). The affected students and their parents charge that this was a violation of First Amendment rights, and especially offensive because these were American students in an American school being told that the American flag was banned for the day.
I think that this case signifies bigger problems, and all of the parents, the kids, the school, the town, the state and even the nation should be pondering the larger picture and contemplating a way ahead.
First, what is wrong with the student population when a T-shirt might be feared as a cause of violence (perhaps school uniforms are in order)?
Next, how is it that we have students in our schools who might not tolerate the US flag? And why is it that we respond by accommodating this intolerance?
And then, when did it become acceptable… even desirable… to give precedence to foreign holidays, flags, sports teams or whatever? It’s one thing to feel some affiliation with your roots or home country. It’s quite another to subordinate, denigrate, or marginalize the US while you are in the US, benefiting from US institutions, living among US citizens who love their country. Whoever loves another country better, needs to ditch the US and go there.
The underlying problem that led to this lawsuit is not a freedom of speech issue. It is a question of whether we have an integrated, cohesive nation, or one divided along ethic or cultural lines, intolerant and contentious.
America is a land of immigrants. It is built on the backs of people who came here seeking freedom from poverty, from tyranny, from war, from famine. Every new wave of immigrants (and they hail from all corners of the globe) brought friction, but in the end… even if it took several generations… they assimilated American culture, and American culture assimilated theirs. We glory in a language spiced with words and concepts from everywhere; we enjoy foods from around the world; we have celebrations and spectacles from all over, and some uniquely American: parades for Chinese New Year, for St. Patrick’s Day, for Mardi Gras, for Thanksgiving. We are rich, rich.
But we are not a “Melting Pot.” Contrary to that old myth, we’re more like a salad, or a nice sancocho stew. Big chunks of tasty stuff mixed in with other tasty stuff, each identifiable with its own appeal, but making up a delectable whole that’s better than any one part. That’s America. Or it should be, anyway. Everyone should be able to maintain their cultural background to some extent without fear of reprisals, but at the same time, we must integrate with and tolerate each other, or we simply won’t be a nation. The Hispanic and Latino cultures have been with us since before we were a nation; there is just no good reason that we shouldn’t be getting along better than this.
What the Live Oak High School case signifies – on all sides – is a dangerous and intolerant mindset, more resembling some neurotic diner’s plate, where the foods are not allowed to touch at all. And that is the first step toward Balkanization.