Peggy Velasquez has worked at San Marcos High School for one year where she serves in a multiple of roles: as Intervention Center Supervisor, Advisor for Mujercitas, Community Interpreter, and head of Campus Beautification.
Velasquez is a Santa Barbara native who grew up reading the News-Press, which always played a big part in her family’s daily life. She remembers how the highlight of her Sundays was finding comics in the paper while her mom found coupons as the family ate breakfast together. As an adult, she thought it was important to expose her students to the News-Press so that they could learn how to critically analyze current events.
When Velasquez saw the Santa Barbara News-Press headline for the first time last January, she felt personally betrayed.
In a dispute with PODER and other community organizers over the paper’s use of the word “illegal,” the Santa Barbara News Press has maintained its right to free speech even when it violates recognized AP standards for reporting on Latino affairs.
According to Velasquez, bullying at San Marcos High School had been a slight problem but not a major one, and that it mainly pertained to gender and sexual orientation. However, after the January 3 News-Press headline, bullying at SMHS has increasingly pertained to race, she says.
Since the News-Press published the term “illegals” on a front page article about California’s new AB60 law, racial slurs have been increasingly “tossed around” the high school campus, says Velasquez.
Students do not know how to react when fellow students call them “illegals.” They don’t know if they should report it, if they should retaliate, or just let it go. They feel hurt, disrespected, and bullied, but part of them thinks it must be okay to suffer such abuse because the News-Press is an influential figure of authority in their community. If the Santa Barbara News-Press uses racial slurs for Latinos, the students begin to believe that they deserve to be labeled like this.
Even as her students have come to her with reports of racial bullying associated with the News-Press headline, they are afraid to speak up. Some students have also expressed fear that Velasquez could lose her job for speaking up.
The situation has only gotten worse. Velasquez reports she was mortified to come to her classroom one morning to discover that her office placard reading “Intervention Center” had been overwritten to read “Illegals Center.
Velasquez explains how seeing the News-Press use a racial slur so openly was like being in an abusive relationship because she had loved the paper for so long. But she finally reached a tipping point and Velasquez has cancelled her classroom’s subscription to the News-Press because she does not want to continue to expose her students to its use of hate speech. Velasquez hopes that her colleagues at the high school will do the same.
In PODER’s opinion, the News-Press is making the problem of racism in Santa Barbara much worse in a clear and direct way. The self-censorship, internalized racism, and feelings of being disposable, which the youth and staff at San Marcos High School are experiencing, are not uncommon experiences for racial minorities in Santa Barbara.
This is so much deeper than name-calling. Words are not just words. Words define an attitude. And attitudes give rise to actions. Hateful, racist words make the way for hateful, racist actions (i.e. the recent racist vandalism at SMHS).
Our youth are the ones experiencing the brunt of this; not only the students who are victims of racism, but also the students who are learning that it’s okay to perpetuate racism.
Velasquez would like to be able to use the News-Press in her classroom again. But she feels she cannot do that until this wrong has been made right. She believes the News-Press can make it right.
”They have this amazing power to influence so many in the community,” she said. “Why use this power to hurt our Latino youth?”
So far, the Santa Barbara News-Press has made clear that it does not care how its words and actions impact people, even young teenagers. But we would like to give the News-Press a second chance to apologize and redeem itself in our community. PODER stands in solidarity with all the students at San Marcos High School as we call on the News-Press to apologize to them and end its use of harmful racist language.