Saturday, May 08, 2010

E. Pluribus Unum

On the Fifth of May a lot of silly things happened.   I've been wondering how to comment.  First, the facts.  Cinco de Mayo - In Mexico the day is celebrated only in one place, Puebla.  It took place because the Mexican President at the time Benito Juarez had stopped making payments on debt owed to its creditors.  France sent troops to enforce payment and a vastly outnumbered army led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Segun beat the French.   Zaragoza is commemorated on the 500 Peso note.  So his victory is important in Mexican history - simply not as important as September 16 - Mexican Independence Day.   The holiday seems to be important in the US and in Puebla.

The High School in Morgan Hill - A group of students in Morgan Hill, which is a Bay Area suburb, chose to wear clothing with American flags including one kid who wore shorts that portrayed the flag.   The school administration called the boys in (one of whom has Mexican heritage) and said they could wear the clothing on any other day (presumably even September 16) but not on this day.   The boys refused to comply and were sent home.  One school official called the boy's behavior "incendiary."  The School District issued a statement which said "In an attempt to foster a spirit of cultural awareness and maintain a safe and supportive school environment, the Live Oak High School administration took certain actions earlier today. The district does not concur with the Live Oak High School administration's interpretation of either board or district policy related to these actions."   On the seventh a group of Mexican American students marched with Mexican flags protesting the actions of the boys.  Presumably the school administrator did not believe that march was incendiary.   News Stories of the first incident can be found in the Morgan Hill Times.  The story about the later protest can be found here.  One of the most interesting statements in the news coverage of from on Laura Ponce, a student, who said "it's our day, the only day we can show our spirit."  I am willing to bet that Ms. Ponce does not know the history of Cinco de Mayo and may not even know the date that Mexicans celebrate their independence.

The role of E. Pluribus Unum  (Out of Many One) - It became the motto of the United States when a Swiss Immigrant requested it.   In this case the yahoo administrator at Live Oak did not seem to understand that living up to our motto it is a) ok for students of Mexican heritage to celebrate a minor historical event like Cinco de Mayo but b) it should also be acceptable for other students to celebrate their American heritage.

One footnote - evidently the Live Oak administrator who caused this flap subscribes to the Al Gore interpretation of our motto.  In 1994 Gore said "We can build a collective civic space large enough for all our separate identities, that we can be e pluribus unum -- out of one, many."   Ah, duh Al, you got it backwards, like most of what you think.

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