You got a problem?
The problem is you!
—Sex Pistols, Problem
Ladies and Gentlemen, Common Sense has left the building.
As a young lawyer, I learned very quickly that in a letter from opposing counsel, nothing good comes after “Rusty, . . .” Similarly, when during my drive home last Thursday I caught Mark Levin’s opening monologue, and the first thing out of his mouth after introducing himself was “A federal judge has ruled . . .” I knew we were in trouble.
Levin went on to report on a ruling from U.S. Chief District Judge James Ware—an appointee of the first Bush administration, the same folks that gave us David Souter (uhhh, thankyouverymuch)—in which Judge Ware dismissed a suit filed on behalf of students at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, California (about 10 miles southeast of San Jose). It seems that these students chose to wear t-shirts bearing images of the American flag on May 5, 2010 (a/k/a “Cinco de Mayo”). Citing fears for their safety, school officials told the students they had to turn their shirts inside-out—in other words, hide the American flag—or be sent home.
Judge Ware ruled that the students’ First Amendment rights were not violated by the school’s actions, and that the school was entitled to take action where students were in danger or there was a risk of disruptions to actual learning. In his ruling, he noted that the students wearing American flags were at risk, but those wearing Mexican flags colors were not, and that “[a]ll students whose safety was in jeopardy were treated equally.” So, if I understand correctly, when loyal Americans are put in danger on U.S. soil during the celebration of a foreign pseudo-holiday, it’s the loyal Americans that we’re going to punish.
¿Que la chinga?
My problem here isn't really with Judge Ware. You'll find I'm not a fan of an all-encompassing First Amendment. It was never intended to mean anyone can say anything anywhere in any way that they want (you listening, 99%?). On a legal level, Ware's decision is probably correct--note, his decision is NOT that students can't wear American flag t-shirts; it's that the school is permitted to enforce a dress restriction in the name of safety and order. My problem is with the idiocy at the school that got us to this point.
Let’s get something straight up front. If you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, that’s fine. I don’t care. But let’s understand what Cinco de Mayo is, because I’ll bet you dollars to donuts most of you don’t know, and in fact I’ll bet you 8 in 10 of the students actually celebrating it at Live Oak High School—where a full 20% of the student body as a whole can’t speak English—will get it wrong.
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) is not Mexican Independence Day similar to our 4th of July; that would be September 16, for those who are interested. Rather, Cinco de Mayo commemorates a Mexican militia victory over invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It was a relatively insignificant battle in a war the Mexicans ultimately lost, so the celebration is kind of like if the Sioux Nations threw a huge kegger on June 26 to celebrate defeating Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn (maybe they do that, I have no idea). And here’s the dirty little secret: outside of Puebla itself, “Cinco de Mayo” isn’t really celebrated in Mexico at all. Celebration of the event is really a U.S. phenomenon, and its rise in popularity in the last couple of decades has actually been driven mostly by beer importers as a means of increasing sales. Call it an opportunity to share Mexican culture if you want, but don’t call it a major Mexican holiday, because it isn’t.
But here’s where it really stinks. If Cinco de Mayo is really intended as a communications point and culture-sharing opportunity—as its proponents like to say it is—why were students wearing American flags in danger? The entire premise of Judge Ware’s ruling is that the school is entitled to take action to protect students who are in danger, and to prevent the disruption of learning. But who’s putting students at risk? Who’s threatening to disrupt classes? Judge Ware specifically noted that there was no evidence that kids wearing Mexican flags were at any risk at all. While he meant this observation to bolster the case that the school’s decision to get rid of the American flags wasn’t discriminatory, it speaks volumes about what’s wrong here:
The kids wearing the American flags weren’t the problem.
Clearly the problem at Live Oak High is that those students choosing to celebrate Cinco de Mayo were taking it and themselves a little too seriously and were threatening or inflicting some kind of violent retribution on those they saw as disrespecting them. So why is it that the solution here wasn’t to, I don’t know, toss out the kids threatening or engaging in the violence? Have we become such politically-correct pussies that we’ll punish innocent Americans before we’ll risk the charge of racism that would inevitably result from taking action against those who actually perpetrate the violence?
I get it that America is The Great Melting Pot. We’re all immigrants (you might make an exception for my Cherokee forbears, but that’s a different article). And I’m OK if you want to celebrate some of your culture and heritage from the old country. But notice you don’t see similar behavior coming from St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Or Oktoberfest. Or Chinese New Year.
The problem arises when we cross the line from preserving culture to aggressive foreign nationalism. A few generations ago, people immigrated to this country because they wanted to be Americans. Yes, they continued to speak the old language at home. Yes, they set up shops that sold their ethnic food, and they continued with some of the old traditions. But they also worked to assimilate and actually become Americans. They learned English. They flew the American flag outside their homes and businesses. They might have been Americans of German, or Irish, or Mexican descent, but they were Americans.
What we see now, however, is an increasing number who don’t come here to be Americans; they want to be Mexicans (or Chinese, or Pakistanis, or what have you) living in the U.S. You may not see much of this depending on where you live; I am inundated with it in Texas. My local grocer has to post signs reading “Se aceptan WIC” (we accept food stamps) because too many make no attempt to learn English. Homes, businesses, and vehicles are adorned with the flags of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and the like—which would be fine, except they are never paired with the American flag. When the Mexican national soccer team plays the U.S. team in Houston, it is far and away a “home game” for El Tricolor. There is little or no effort to assimilate, because these people simply have no interest in actually being Americans, and this is the attitude that breeds the issue with violence over Cinco de Mayo. Celebration of this minor non-holiday ceases to be simply a culture-sharing opportunity and instead becomes a sticking point of Mexican national pride, and at that point you’ve taken it too far.
If you’re of Mexican heritage and you want to celebrate May 5 as a way of preserving some of that heritage, great; let’s break out the mariachis and have a few cervezas. But if you can’t do it without starting a fight because someone else is wearing an American flag, I submit you need to take it somewhere else because the problem is you.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This marks the 50th installment of Chasing Jefferson. Thanks to those of you who have kept up and been so encouraging.