Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 11, 2010

Live Oak incident exposes hypocrites, ideologues and opportunists

I’m compelled to start this week’s column with an appeal to the current events gods: Please space column-worthy events more evenly across the calendar! With a fast-approaching election demanding column space, it was cruel to create the Santa Clara Valley Water District redistricting brouhaha that apparently features two bamboozled mayors and the Gavilan College Educational Foundation misallocation of funds, but adding the Live Oak High School flag-wearing controversy was overkill.

Two Flags and One Umbrella from the Flickr photostream of victoriabernal

Despite stiff competition for scarce column space, as a Live Oak parent and a Morgan Hill resident, I must address the incident that’s thrust my community into the national spotlight.

I’ve dealt with Miguel Rodriguez, the assistant principal who inadvertently triggered the uproar, and found him to be an effective, caring, hardworking administrator who puts his students’ needs first. He’s been the target of much vitriol that is wholly undeserved.

Rodriguez was operating in, at best for his critics, a legal gray area. In 2007’s Frederick v. Morse case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that an Alaska principal did not violate a student’s free speech rights when she confiscated a banner that he was holding across the street from the school and suspended him. It was a decision that many conservatives applauded.

Moreover, schools routinely ban gang colors for safety reasons; Rodriguez’s actions on Cinco De Mayo to prevent safety problems follow the same logic as banning gang colors. Officials must act in loco parentis (in the place of parents) while students are in school. What would Rodriguez’s critics say if he ignored the provocation and a fight or worse resulted? Talk about a no-win situation.

Coming on the heels of Arizona’s controversial new “papers please” law — which violates the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures and breaks the promise that in this country, you’re innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around — I understand why the Live Oak incident garnered so much attention.

But understanding it doesn’t mean I like it. Particularly distasteful are the many folks who’ve shown themselves to me to be hypocrites, ideologues and opportunists:

• Anyone whining about the free speech rights of the flag-wearing students being violated but unconcerned about gang color bans and the Morse v. Frederick decision: Unless you oppose just as vociferously schools’ gang color bans and the Frederick v. Morse decision, you’re a hypocrite, ideologue and opportunist. The greater the delta between your concern about the Live Oak incident and your concern about gang color bans and the Frederick v. Morse decision, the better the labels fit. If you’re fine with gang color bans and that Supreme Court decision and you held a sign at a tea party rally proclaiming May 5, 2010, as the day the First Amendment died at Live Oak High School, you’re the grand poobah of hypocritices, ideologues and opportunists.

Anyone on American soil whining that they should only see only Mexican flags on Cinco De Mayo: There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage, but if you’re denying Americans the same right — on Cinco De Mayo or any day — you’re a hypocrite. Worse for the cause of immigration reform, you’re playing into the hands of the xenophobes who support Arizona’s “papers please” law. If you also joined Thursday’s school walkout to protest those who wore American flags on American soil, you earned the ideologue and opportunist monikers to boot.

Anyone whining about the display of a Mexican flag on Cinco De Mayo or any day: Unless you whine just as loudly about the display of ethnic pride on Saint Patrick’s Day or Columbus Day, for example, you’re a hypocrite. Unless you passionately protest displays of the Confederate flag, which represents a defeated secessionist, racist, and treasonous enemy, you’re a hypocrite. If you also wrote hate-filled email messages or placed nasty phone calls to school officials or the like, you earned the ideologue and opportunist monikers to boot.

I’m glad that many Live Oak students held a peace rally on Friday. They’re clearly wiser than most of the adults who’ve latched onto this incident. My daughter and her friends cannot believe how overblown it became.

America is a nation of immigrants where pride in your ethnic heritage and patriotism are not mutually exclusive. I’m appalled that so many people forgot that in their pathetic, cynical and desperate scrambles to grab the media spotlight and to score political points from this incident, regardless of how it damages the school or the community. I’m heartened, at least, that many Live Oak students understand that.



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