They Recorded the Words but They Can’t Hear Them

I was at a board meeting when I heard the principal of the local high school talk up his experience in leadership. Most of his sentences were punctuated with the words, “when I got my doctorate” or “ I worked for 19 years as a principal” and then “back when I was working on my doctorate.”

His endless phrasing left me with the distinct impression that: 1) He had a doctorate in Education. 2) He valued his experience as a buffer between himself and any criticism.

Nowhere in his endless stump speech did he talk of being a parent or a father or show any kind of empathy for what families in our valley are struggling with. I only know from looking him up that he has children and that his wife lives at the other end of the state. Nowhere in his stump speech did he explain what he meant—and what I got as a Chicana was that my family was excluded.

Nevermind his weak grasp of basic anthropological concepts of ethnicity (hello White America your culture is also an ethnicity however dominant it may be).
That’s why it seemed to baffle him that I called him out for his racism. In private he’d told me, a Latina reporter, he was used to ‘working with Latinos’ because he was principal of a school that was full of ‘them.’ In public he extolled to a packed audience how he knew exactly how to discipline and change school behavior because he had come from a “100% ethnic” school. The context of his comments was in a section of the meeting addressing bullying and violence. No one in the nearly all white audience caught his remark for what it was—but that’s why it’s necessary to have a Latina present in the first place.
I reported him to his district. I am being told they have ‘recorded’ the meeting on tape and that they played the tape over and over and cannot find his racist remarks. I can’t even…I want to say um. Yes. Of course you can’t find your remarks.

They are there hidden in plain sight under a mosquito netting of white privilege and dominant culture. You are not equipped with that particular lens to see. If you did? You’d know why so many people are leaving your school for the charter. If you did? You’d notice that the Native American parents aren’t rushing to your meetings either. If you did? You’d understand that that sort of allocating of public school space into a space where brown kids get stereotyped is precisely why I can’t in good consciousness send my kids to your school. My kids deserve better than you making them the ‘other’ to be dealt with.

I am waiting for an apology that has not come.

Meanwhile my kids are growing and I don’t have time for his privilege to catch up with us.

I’m just coming back from a writers’ conference. My 11 year old daughter made the trip with me. She’s a voracious reader. I ask her—the audience of YA books—what she wants to read. She wants more books like Michelle Serros’ Honey Blonde Chica series. She wants to just once read a book with a brown girl that’s not about slavery or achieving one’s rights or immigration or poverty. She’s read those books. She’s okay with them. But like every other American girl in the country, she wants to read herself into adventures and into stories that aren’t just about the basic struggles of a racist and classist society, but of adventure and fun. Out of the mouths of babes.

And that’s what that principal is missing—he’s missing the opportunity to see our children as children—without the patronizing tone of judgment, of dominance.

About Margaret Elysia Garcia

Margaret Elysia Garcia is the author of short story ebook collection Sad Girls and Other Stories, and the audiobook Mary of the Chance Encounters, and the co-founder and lead playwright of Las Pachucas, theatrical troupe. She teaches creative writing and theatre in a California state prison.
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