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