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June 19, 2021

Blond pinata, letter stir controversy

HOLLISTER
– Anzar High School district officials are organizing a meeting
with parents and community members after complaints about a pinata
were inflamed by a teacher’s unapproved letter discussing
stereotypes.
HOLLISTER – Anzar High School district officials are organizing a meeting with parents and community members after complaints about a pinata were inflamed by a teacher’s unapproved letter discussing stereotypes.

The document came the day after a Cinco de Mayo celebration held by the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán Club (MEChA) at lunch time. MEChA Advisor Jaime Montoya bought a hot pink piñata with yellow streamers that students and staff said looked like a blonde girl.

“I feel really bad that people are taking this the wrong way,” he said. “When I was purchasing the piñata, I honestly had no idea it was going to cause such a reaction.”

Although Montoya’s choice of piñata led to complaints, it was his reaction to those who were offended that stirred up an even stronger response.

Montoya, frustrated with the reaction to the piñata, wrote a document titled “The Polemic Pinata,” and distributed it among the quad at lunch time without permission from the school. The document, which he calls a “stream of consciousness,” asks a series of questions. It offers no apology to those who were offended by the pinata, and instead it asks questions like, “Do you think people who are white and/or blond are smarter or more special than other individuals?” and “Don’t you think that maybe you were disturbed by the American stereotype of the dumb blond and something inside yourselves is really bothering you?”

Junior Elizabeth Westwood was one of the students who thought the piñata looked like a blonde girl, and also was given the letter. She said the letter was the most upsetting part of the situation.

“I’m utterly offended that he had enough nerve to tell me I’m offended because I have a self-image problem,” she said. “That wasn’t it. I was offended because I was watching something that looked like me being beat down.”

Montoya said, he was hoping to clarify stereotypes for the girls who were offended, and he wasn’t trying to upset anyone.

“What I was hoping to do with this letter is get these girls to think, think about the unconscious stereotypes they have in their minds because everyone in society has them,” he said.

Race is a delicate issue that people have pre-conceived notions about, Montoya said.

“I couldn’t talk to every single one of them individually, so I wrote the letter to them,” he said.

During lunch on Thursday, Principal Charlene McKowen was drafting a letter of her own to be sent home informing parents to contact her if they had concerns about the pinata when she was handed a copy of Montoya’s document. She said the letter was not appropriate, and it shouldn’t have been given out to the students at all.

“I found it to be appalling,” she said. “This wasn’t sanctioned by the school, and it goes against board policy to hand out anything at school without permission from the superintendent or a designated person.”

The school and the district declined to say if there will be any repercussions for Montoya, but McKowen said the distribution of the document was a violation of Education Code 51520, which prohibits personnel from soliciting any political, promotional, controversial or other non-instructional materials unless approved by the superintendent or designee.

Aromas-San Juan School District Superintendent Jackie Munoz said communication is important, and the district and the school will do everything they can to hear everyone’s concerns.

“We’re making every effort to talk with people and make this something we can all learn from,” she said. “This is a teachable moment when feelings and emotion can come up in a classroom and be talked about.”

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