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Latino activists condemn 'Seniores and Senoritas' day

August 23, 2012 | 10:50 pm

Sombs

As news spread Thursday of an investigation into "Seniores and Senoritas" day, held at an Anaheim Hills high school where students dressed up as immigration agents and gang members, Latino activists condemned the activity as "very, very demeaning."

The event, staged for at least three years at Canyon High School, was for soon-to-be graduates with the word "senior" in "seniores." Shocked, a former student met with school district officials in June to complain about the insensitivity of the event, leading them to open a probe, a copy of which The Times obtained this week.

The investigation led to suggestions that the event be eliminated, and Latino support groups quickly denounced the activity.

"I’m very surprised that teachers are people who let these kinds of things happen,” said Yvonne Gonzalez-Duncan, president of Anaheim’s chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

But the event was “not something that just happens overnight,” she said, citing constant disparity in a city known internationally for tourism. While developers get subsidies to build gleaming hotels, she said, the people who toil inside -- housekeepers and food servers -- see hours and benefits cut, leading to protests in recent years.

Those in power can try to “make it more fair,” she said. “They can try to listen.”

Given the gap, and with district officials now wanting to offer diversity training at Canyon High, Gonzalez-Duncan suggests “bringing folks from different cultures on campus to talk about their specific culture. Why not learn straight from them," rather than just books, she said.

Jared Garcia-Kessler, the student who first met with officials about the event, hopes that his peers learn a lesson. Canyon High symbolizes "a diverse campus," he said of his alma mater, "so for us to hold a day like this, I was beside myself."

Amin David, president emeritus of Los Amigos of Orange County, a cultural support group, agreed.

“I ask myself, ‘Is this the type of conversation these students are having in their homes?’

“And they’re in high school -- wow. The age of reason certainly should be a part of their being,” he said, adding that there's an urgency for more cultural education.

The outcry over the event comes on the heels of racial clashes in Anaheim, stemming from two recent police shootings of Latinos, and is indeed "poor timing," David said.

Officials need to pay more attention to working families "on the verge of collapse," he added. "We’re talking about allocation of resources. It speaks to the need for district elections" versus citywide voting, moving closer to fair representation.

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-- Anh Do in Orange County

Twitter: @newsterrier

Photo: One of the images that Jared Garcia-Kessler submitted in his complaint to officials. Credit: Jared Garcia-Kessler

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