The Good, the Bad, and the Alisal Board of Trustees

December, 2012

The Good. Schools, yours and mine, are usually named after people with singular accomplishments. I attended Franklin-McKinley Elementary in San Jose. Respected names in American history. You may have attended schools named after Washington, Lincoln or Cesar Chavez (well, questionable connections at best, but who wants to see farm workers toiling for slave wages, so okay). Everett Alvarez, Jr., a Salinas native, was a U.S. Navy Commander shot down over North Vietnam and endured years of brutal incarceration at the Hanoi Hilton. That’s the kind of guy you name a school after.

The Bad. Now, read carefully. There are such things as Good and Bad in this world. Tamales at Christmas are good, going hungry is bad. Good people help you, bad people hurt you. Pretty simple but it does take minimal common sense to grasp. An obscure outlaw and convicted murderer from Monterey, Tiburcio Vasquez, was hanged for his crimes in 1875 before a large, appreciative crowd in San Jose. He was a serial sex offender who ran gangs, robbed and killed people. Those are bad things, even in Salinas, where gang bangers and shooters are “respected” by their loyal followers. One would think the last person to remember Vasquez would be the undertaker. He is recognized, however, by one Dr. Stelvin Locci, a teacher of Chicano Studies, who offered equivocating statements about whether or not Tiburcio was a bad person, a killer. It “all depends how you look at it,” followed by Locci’s claim that [he] “prefers to avoid offering his opinion.” Well, the good doctor has offered an opinion, leading one to wonder if Tiburcio was a murderous outlaw or just a “Robin Hood-like” figure as the doctor opines. Ah, a romantic, a freedom fighter, that explains everything. Tiburcio was a selfless, silver-tongued man of the people who loved the ladies and was sore that Mexico sold out to racist Alta California. Now he’d have to stop hijacking travelers and shooting innocent citizens. He’d even have to get a job and worry about stock options.

Which brings us to the Ugly, inexplicably unanimous decision by The Alisal Union School District Board of Trustees, consisting of Meredith Ibarra, Lilia Cortez-Garza, Jose Castaneda, Adella Lujan and Sara Garcia. According to their website, they are “dedicated to providing all the children of Alisal UESD a firm educational foundation to help them develop into responsible and successful adults.” Really? Responsible, as in idolizing condemned Wild West killers, or responsible as in ignoring history and creating make-believe role models out of any sewage that flows into their star-struck minds? When attempts were made to ask them why they would do something so thoughtless and stupid, they ran and hid like drive-by cowards.

Maybe I’m just too narrow-minded. Maybe we should name schools after other colorful killers, Manson Mercantile Academy and Dahmer Culinary School come immediately to mind. “It all depends how you look at it.”

Then there’s the matter of Salinas’ sterling image to the world outside of the Alisal. This is crazy, we’ve had the mayor and city council making speeches and hiring an expensive Midwestern public relations firm to convince people our town is not what it seems: a crime infested place run by gang bangers, druggies and kids with guns. Along comes the Alisal Gang of Five and throws it all away in one racist, emotionally blinded decision. Not only is Salinas infested with lawless reprobates, we’re so proud of the fact that we name schools after them. Whose side are they on?

Keep an eye on the next noble drive-by freedom fighter you see wearing orange stripes on the evening news. He probably shot some other kid to death on the way home from school, but he may have done it in the name of freedom from Gringo oppression, which he learned at Vasquez Elementary. Hey, your grandkids may even attend a school named after him some day.