A flare of ethnic tensions - and push for change - at Alhambra High

Election posters at Alhambra High | photo by Victoria Gavia1Election posters at Alhambra High | photo by Victoria Gavia

The night before the first day of elementary school, office aides would post classroom assignments on the bulletin boards in front of the cafeteria. Parents would hover around the lists and determine whether their kids were in the “smart” class or not. The students who made it to those classes rarely had the last name of Lopez or Gonzalez; it was almost always an Asian name.

We are one Latina and three Asian students — about to graduate from Alhambra High — who landed in the gifted classes early in our education. Growing up in Alhambra, the ethnic divide didn't hit us like a lightning bolt epiphany, but rather sunk in year after year. It was the giant pink elephant in the room. In our 12 years in the public school system, administrators and teachers rarely addressed it. We were no better — it just seemed like a can of worms. In our last year at Alhambra High, however, we have noticed a change. First ethnic tensions flared and then students, teachers and administrators responded.

If you were to look up our school on Wikipedia, you'd find the most striking section is one in bold titled "Recent Problems." It refers to a controversial article in The Moor Newspaper (where we are now all on staff) titled "Latinos Lag Behind in Academics." The article which appeared when we were in the seventh grade, triggered a furious response, which even the Los Angeles Times covered. The writer faced violent threats and angry students, teachers, and administrators took offense.

The article touched on a problem, the achievement gap between Asian and Latino students, but it ended up being divisive rather than constructive. One of the places where the ongoing divide was very clear during our years at Alhambra High was in student leadership. A certain type of student runs for office — the kid in the AP classes who stays after school for club meetings and wants to get into a good college (a student like us). Usually at our school that student is Asian.

This year's 15 elected representatives to student government were all Asian, even though our school is nearly half Latino and half Asian. Last fall Anthony Perez, a former student body president, asked in the Alhambra Source why so few other Latino students were in leadership positions. He didn't find any clear answers, but other students responded to his question.

City of Alhambra High School Enrollment Data by EthnicityEarlier this year, eight challengers, all of them Latino, ran under the slogan “United Through Our Diversity.” Their good intentions appeared to have backfired. Students accused them of running on a race-based platform as opposed to as individuals, and each new candidate lost to an Asian incumbent.

Despite the negative nature of the campaign, one positive outcome is that it spurred discussion about race as an issue in our school. The video below is one such effort; Alhambra High School’s Leadership Development Interethnic Relations club explored the issue. Their club stated one main goal: to empower those who feel like “underdogs” and work to encourage them to join activities and take more of a prominent role on campus. 

As members of The Moor Newspaper staff, we also participated in an effort to address the divide. In a recent issue, every section of the publication touched upon topics ranging from diversity on campus to interaction in athletic programs. For all the coverage, however, we could not pinpoint the reason for the lack of participation in student government.

One positive sign we observed is that in response to this controversial election, school administrators tried to increase awareness about leadership elections to students who usually don't engage. In the most recent Spring election, AHS held multiple "easily-accessible" voting booths, publicizing descriptions of leadership spots, and even holding speeches during lunch for certain positions.

These efforts were enacted with the best intentions. Last Tuesday, the results for next year's Executive Board were posted with the winners of each position circled — 24 were Asian and one was Latino.

More Articles

Comments

Post a comment

The solution is simple really. We need a Latino/Asian/Irish student to run for office. It may take a while but I will do my civic duty to try and make one.

Tommy Wilson-O'Brien

This article is totally racist… I see no mention of African American, White or any other ethnic group other than Asian or Latino… it’s like if you’re not Asian or Latino in Alhambra HS, you’re invisible!! Great job working on the racial divide… Whites or Blacks don’t count!!

Tommy Wilson-O’Brien

Dan Bednarski

Tommy,

Perhaps if you were better informed you would not come off as such an ignorant ass. You owe the authors an apology.

From the Alhambra Unified School District, Alhambra High School Accountability Report Card Reported for School Year 2009-10

Student Enrollment 
Group Percent 
African American 1.28%
American Indian or Alaska Native .16%
Asian  46.55%
Filipino  1.67%
Hispanic or Latino  46.04%
Pacific Islander  .26%
White (not Hispanic)  4.01%
Multiple or No Response  .03%

Total Number of Students: 3,115

In the end, I do not think the article is racist.

The Asian and Latino student groups clearly are the two largest groups at Alhambra High. As such, it is reasonable that any article about Alhambra High would focus on those two racial/ethnic groups and leave out others.

As an aside, keep an eye on the 2010 Census numbers as they become available. Its data will be posted to the American FactFinder. It is quite likely you will see that the demographic shift that occurred over the past ten years will show that whites in Alhambra generally are older and presumably their children would already be out of school. We're starting to move back in but it is very likely our children are not yet old enough for Alhambra High. :-)

BTW: Google Search is your friend. In the future, you should do a bit of research before spouting off.

Tommy Wilson-O'Brien

Ignorant ass?? I just said the truth... there WAS NO MENTION of ANY other ethnic groups beside Asian or Hispanic!! You're lucky somebody doesn't spank your disrespectful ASS!! I was not the only one who thought it was Racist... and nobody called them names.

I Guess I was also an ass when I was serving in Vietnam?? I know exactly the ethnic divide in Alhambra HS... that was never the issue... the fact it only mentioned the two main ethnic groups was the issue and THAT was racist.

Dan, next time, get your point across without name calling... have a wonderful day!!

Dan Bednarski

Tommy, I apologize for insinuating you are an ass. I should not have used that word. And I apologize for offending your sensibilities.
That said, your comment did come off as very ignorant. And your intentions come off as less-than-altruistic (take your pick of words for that).
You are the only one in the comments section calling this article racist. Other claims of racism were directed at an L.A. Times article. Moreover, you failed to acknowledge that you know the racial makeup of the school and address them in your assertions. Instead, you threw out the R-bomb.
Racism is a very strong term that should not be thrown around lightly. If you unreasonably toss out claims of racism, expect to be challenged. I'd say the same thing if you were Asian, African American, Latino, or from any other group.
I'll say it again, this article is not racist. It is not racist for the authors to fail to mention very small minorities in this article when discussing disproportional representation by one major ethnic group in student leadership positions. One ethnic group makes up 46% of the student body population but has 96% of the seats (24) in student leadership. Meanwhile, the other group making up 46% of the student body population has only 4% of the seats (1) in student government. The difference is quite striking and worth exploring without mentioning other ethnic groups.
I'll let the facts (stats in my last comment) speak for themselves. 93% of students at the school are either Asian or Latino, while barely 5% are White or African American. Sure, 5% is nothing to sneeze at but it is also not a significant number. Proportionally, it is enough for one seat on student leadership but only if the White and African American students vote in a block for one candidate.
Again, the article is not racist. You owe the authors an apology.

Tommy Wilson-O'Brien

"offending your sensibilities." You don't know squat about me and your opinions matter not to me... YOU are exactly where the problem starts from, thinking you know what's going on in MY community... as far as I'm concerned, you're an outsider... I read your blog and you do the same thing there. I am a homeowner in Alhambra, this is my home and you're just passing through.

Racism is a strong term... and I deal with it on a daily basis in Alhambra, so don't you dare tell me I'm ignorant... you don't walk the world in my shoes. Any parrot can spout out stats they found on the internet Whoop-de-do, Dan... you know how to use Google and now you fancy yourself a well informed pillar in the community... not the case. Where I come from(Brooklyn, NY) if you talked down your noise like you talked to me you would get spanked!!

Dan, your take on things seems very one-sided... you must be in the Tea Party. When you come back from Asia... at least that's what it said on your blog you were doing... check back in and join our community, buy a house, pay taxes and we'll banter all you like... good luck on your new gig.

www.offcenterla.com

Dan Bednarski

You still owe the authors an apology.

I think you should go visit Alhambra High School.

I was part of that article by the LA Times. I was also a senior at the time the article was published and wrote a letter to the editor. It might have been true, but the problem wasn't whether or not it was true; The problem was the way it was presented. It may sound trivial, but the way information is presented makes a big difference. Since the article was published, I became interested in journalism and have since received by A.A. and a certificate in journalism, and am attending Arizona State in the Fall for my B.A. I've given the article to many of my colleagues and we all agreed that it was one of the most racist articles that we've read. Regardless of whether or not it was true. And it seems that the situation hasn't gotten any better. I think that if the statistics came from a less accusing place, maybe the outcome would have been different. It seems that the racial situation just keeps getting worse and the tension is beginning to snow ball. My question, though, is why the advisor felt it was appropriate to publish the article in the first place? I don't believe anyone ever asked that question. i guess we'll never know.

I remember that article.
I was a senior at AHS when it was first published.
I didn't really think it was all that offensive. It was just kind of true. I can't really explain why it's true, but just that it does highlight the attitudes of the students.
I'm not asian. So i can't speak for the asian community.
I'm of hispanic, or latin, descent, but i still can't speak for the whole latino community either.
All i can speak of is myself and my friends at the time we were in h.s.
And the truth of it was that we just didn't care. Nobody wanted to be in student government. Not because we couldn't but because we just didn't care about it. If anything, most of my friends were only concerned with getting high school over with already. i wasn't as indifferent to high school as some of my friends, for i've always enjoyed the h.s. years, but i too could care less at the time about joining the student government or AP classes or any of that stuff.
Personally, it's not that i didn't want to "achieve" in life, but i just wasn't interested in "overachieving", like so many of these AP kids seem to do. There's more to life than that.
If a kid, be it any race, wants to go into that field of school politics then god bless him! But not everybody wants to be in politics, and not everybody wants to be in AP classes. And just because kids aren't in AP classes doesn't make them any less significant or intelligent than those kids that are. THAT is where the real problem lies. By labeling students that aren't involved in school politics or enrolled in AP classes as "DUMB", you are only going to worsen not only the problem but the self-esteem of the kids as well. STOP COMPARING KIDS BASED ON THEIR RACES, ON THEIR ABILITIES, ON THEIR STATUS. Just let the damn kids be who an what they feel is best for them. Fuck.

I took AP and "normal" classes, and there was a world of difference. My normal classes were filled with a bunch of idiot that didn't give a crap about school and wanted to cheat off the person next to them on homework and test ie they didn't do any of it. My AP classes, no one wanted to do the work, but everyone still did it. Its been years since I left but apparently things haven't changed at all.

I read the last sentence and giggled.

Welcome to reality, kids. Just wait til you go to a job interviews don't get hired because you're short/fat/ugly.

#itgetsbetter, but #notthatmuch

Post new comment

Anonymous comments are moderated. Login or register to post unmoderated comments.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.