Cinco de Mayo, Si. Americano T-Shirts, No?


February 28, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013

American t-shirt ban

Talk about symbols that get people of all backgrounds fired up.

Next time you are tempted to show your (American Pride) colors make sure you don’t do it when your fellow American citizens are celebrating a holiday from another country. Apparently, just seeing the US Flag will enflame these folks to the point of violence.

But then again, maybe that was the point of wearing the t-shirts in the first place.

Let me try and explain.

Recently, a Federal Judge of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said “Si” (yes) upholding an order by school administrators to Live Oak High School (San Jose, California area) students to turn their American Flag T-shirts inside out. They could also choose to take the offensive t-shirts off altogether.


The high school was marking the Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May), a Mexican heritage holiday by celebrating it on school grounds. This day you may recall, is more than just half-off margaritas and nacho supremes at your local Cantina. This day marks the Battle of Puebla (El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla) on May 5th, 1862 when Mexican troops defeated the powerful French Army led by Napoleon III. This day however, is not to be confused with the actual Mexican Independence Day or the Grito de Dolores of September 16, 1810 which marked the start of the fight for independence.

cinco de mayo battle

Long before the day came to mean half priced nachos.

But here in Gringo-land, we tend to look at Cinco de Mayo as at the very least, a celebration of Mexican heritage and independence despite sort of blending historical events a bit. Hey, it’s not the first time we’ve blended such historical events.

But why ban kids from wearing American T-shirts on this day?

Seems that at the Live Oak HS there have been previous violent exchanges between predominantly white or Caucasian students and predominantly Latino or students of Mexican heritage on Cinco de Mayo.

And such a ban is not without precedence or US Supreme Court contemplation and review.

In 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, school administrators banned students from wearing black armbands in a silent protest of the war. The school argued it was to prevent possible violence and disruption to the educational mission. Lawyers for the students argued that it was an impermissible violation of their free speech.

The majority in this case sided with the kids. Judge Abe Fortas reminded everyone that “”It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The dissent argued that disruptive symbolic speech was not constitutionally protected and that this (Tinker v Des Moines 1969) decision basically would allow kids to disobey attempts by schools to “keep their minds on their schoolwork.”

Which about 45 years later brings us back to a similar though not exact situation. This time with different judicial reasoning.

In Tinker, the court didn’t see the threat of violence as “real,” and was reluctant to permit the school to pre-empt speech on a “mere concern.”

So, why did the federal court of appeals uphold the school’s action to force kids to turn their American Flag T-shirts inside out on Cinco de Mayo day?

Well, Judge M. Margaret McKeown ruled that the “threat of a potentially violent disturbance was real” based on past violence between Latino and White students on this day at this school.

Still, let’s not lose sight of what this case and issue is about at its core. You have apparently American students of various backgrounds at an American school in an American city celebrating a holiday paying tribute to the heritage of a foreign nation (Mexico). And to ensure that the public displays of pride and tribute by students to that nation (Mexico) are not interrupted or censored in any way we are forbidding other American students from showing their national pride by wearing American colors on that very day.

So, just what is the message we are sending to all our kids?

Is it that we value the right of Americans to pay tribute to foreign national pride greater than the right of other Americans to show their own pride in their own nation?

Is this a case of minority rights over majority rule?

Or is this just a simple case of not yet adult students unable to peacefully co-exist on Cinco de Mayo because of their choice of wardrobe? I suppose that would not be much different than school bans on gang colors because of what such colors symbolize or mean to the students involved.

Look, I don’t want violence in our schools. I fully appreciate the priority of safety in our schools. If kids aren’t safe then you sure can’t focus on education when you are just trying to prevent violence.

But I am having some difficulty wrapping my arms around the notion that any American who actually wants to be here on American soil and not a foreign nation would be so enflamed by seeing the American flag they would be moved to violence against the one wearing those “colors.”

In any setting. On any day.

Even the 5th of May.

But, like they say our nation is a continuing experiment. Maybe the real message we should be sending is we need to learn how to celebrate the full range of viewpoints and pride and diversity in our nation. It is after all one of our nation’s true strengths. I’ll appreciate your day to celebrate from whence you came, you appreciate the fact that the flag represents such diversity. And we’ll choose to get along.

I’d like to think I’d feel the exact same way if a kid chose to wear a Viva Mexico T-shirt on the 4th of July. I guess I’ll know for sure only if that were to happen.

But I understand it was probably a whole lot easier and expeditious to ban the US Flag and everyone lives to learn another day.

But my understanding doesn’t mean I have to like it.

At least we can all agree that Nachos and Margaritas are great on any day. Do they represent the full panoply of Mexican heritage? Of course not. But great achievements sometimes have to start with small victories.

nachos and margaritas

The key to world peace?

Viva America.

Viva Respect for Everyone. On every day.



17 thoughts on “Cinco de Mayo, Si. Americano T-Shirts, No?

  1. Davon M says:

    I feel like the common day american is just finding a way to just piss somebody off. Why would you want to wear an american flag shirt or even the colors symbolizing america on the day we are suppose to be celebrating another cultures heritage. You don’t see other heritages running around in there flags on the fourth of July when its meant to celebrate Americas heritage. Im a mixed breed of black and Hispanic born in the states. Being of both heritages and my family mostly being here there entire life that we do not disrespect either heritage. Even though we are in a different time period and things have changed for the “better” so to say, it is like nothing has changed with the mindset of the average day american.

    • Davon—-well put. I certainly know some folks who wear patriotic clothing year round but the timing here does seem motivated to elicit a response from those celebrating Cinco De Mayo. I still feel we should all have grown to the point though where diverse folks should be able to get along without needing to ban American flag t-shirts or Viva Mexico t-shirts or “Albanians Rule” t-shirts….but obviously, we are not there yet.

  2. Wade M says:

    From my perspective, I have always been a “rule follower” and maybe that reflects the way that I was brought up. It was a matter of respecting authority especially as a K-12 student. So if the rule was to turn the T shirt inside-out, I would have followed that directive or probably not worn the American flag shirt on that day anyway. I have always avoided conflict and have taken pride in being a “peacemaker”. I agree with Davon’s comment that some people had rather piss somebody off and I just cannot see that as a productive in making this a better world.

  3. Ben F says:

    I think it’s possible that the wearing of American based apparel was designed to garner a response. However, the entire situation is another example of the melting pot no longer melting. In the early 20th century, people fled other nations to become Americans. They learned the language, they became citizens and were, in time, assimilated. And they made this country greater than it had been. Today, America is a permanent vacation spot. People from other nations still want to come here, but now they just want to live here. They have no intention of becoming an American. I didn’t have time to research it thoroughly, but I can find no other countries that embrace the cultural celebrations of other nations in the way that this country does. We’ll see how it turns out.

  4. Elle M says:

    I understand that the Mexican heritage wants to celebrate their independence, but I don’t see why there is confrontation when kids wear american colors. I don’t understand because we are in america. To me, the confrontation looks as if Americans cannot wear colors of America even though they are in “America”. That would be like Americans living in Mexico and celebrating American’s independence day but not allowing Mexicans express their love for the country, even though we are not in our homeland. I understand that at school we are trying to cut down violence, but I just figured maybe there is another way people can compromise. Violence is not the way out for everything.

  5. Vander says:

    Personally, I think this is crazy. While I understand that it is a significant day in Mexico, and to people with the heritage from Mexico, we are Americans in America. Does that mean we can disrespect the cultures of other nations? Of course not. But when the American flag is ordered to be hidden, on American soil, because of another nation’s culture or heritage I am truly fearful for this nation in the years to come.

    I wear patriotic/military clothing all year long. On the Fourth of July I will be wearing it. On the Cinco de Mayo, I will be wearing it. Is it a slight against Mexico and her history? No, it is just my choice. And I will be damned if I hide my Flag. Maybe, just maybe, the flag means more to me than it does to other people. It is very possible.

  6. stszep says:

    The situation does not seem much different to me than say the sort of controversy occurring over in Great Britain over the Union Jack. Maybe it is a consequence of living in a forward thinking democratic society.

    For me patriotism isn’t measured by waving a flag or wearing a certain T-shirt. I think back to the aftermath of 9-11 and on at least a dozen occasions getting the finger from a motorist who was flying old glory.

    Oh the irony!!

  7. Camille W says:

    People should be able to wear the American flag if they wanted to. There should not be a bias against people wearing the flag of the country in which they originate. If Mexicans can wear they flag willingly without any ruckus, then so can Americans.

    • stszep says:

      Would agree; however, on school grounds different standards apply. For example the ability of school officals to rummage through student lockers without having to obtain permisson.

      It is a shame this issue could not have been resolved in another way. But hey after all kids can now sue their parents for living expenses!!

  8. Amanda S. says:

    The problem isn’t that the kids were wearing an American flag printed on their shirt that day. The problem was that they were wearing the shirt to PURPOSEFULLY create dissent and strife amongst the student body. Their goals were not to show their pride in being American, but to show their pride in NOT being Mexican and to mock those who wanted to celebrate their heritage.

    It boils down not to nationalism, but to racism. If this were another holiday – St Patrick’s Day, for example – students would not have been so keen to wear something to show how much they’re against someone celebrating their cultural heritage. You’ve probably never heard of (in recent years, at least) a student wearing the American flag on St Patrick’s Day with the sole purpose of being contrary and starting problems with students with Irish heritage. In fact, you’ve probably pretended to be Irish for the day and used it as an excuse to get very, very drunk.

    You wouldn’t force a Muslim child during Ramadan to eat before sunset just because they’re in America and shouldn’t celebrate non-American holidays. The school was in the right here. If the students had simply been wearing the shirts because they were showing solidarity – you love your heritage and I love mine, so let’s both celebrate today – then that would be different. But intention matters, and the intention was to create problems and to INSTIGATE FIGHTING. It was racist in its intention, because right now Mexicans and those of Hispanic heritage are the group that gets the most flak.

    There’s nothing wrong with wearing your flag and showing cultural pride on another culture’s holidays – but if your intention for wearing it on that specific day, and you ONLY wear it on that day to show DISrespect for another culture, that’s a problem. People who fly their flag year round are going to. If you have a tradition of wearing an American flag on an article of clothing every 2nd Monday, then you’re going to keep doing it.

    If you only wear an American flag on your clothes on the cultural holidays of others if an effort to somehow make yourself feel more important than they are, then you’re probably not a very nice person.

    I am an American. I was born here, raised here, but I have a basic respect for others who embrace their cultural heritage. It’s not a difficult thing to do, nor is it difficult to understand. If someone wants to celebrate their heritage, let them. We all are of mixed heritage. Some of us are German, French, English, Irish, Ghanan, Afghani, Mexican, Brazilian – and each heritage is just as valid as the next because the United States has always been culturally diverse. By refusing to acknowledge this fact, you are ignoring your own heritage as a part of a nation made up of very different people. I come from Irish and Native American backgrounds. I celebrate my heritage because it is mine, and if someone insulted my family or heritage, then I would be very angry, too. (Given that both have been marginalized at some point in the past – or still are – I can firmly say that I HAVE been insulted by cultural ignorance.)

    If you really want to show pride as an American on a cultural holiday for another person, then show them respect and learn about their history, too. They’ve had to learn yours.

  9. Casey H says:

    I don’t agree with the idea of people wearing American flag t-shirts on Cinco de Mayo because I believe it is in poor taste and could be seen as disrespectful, but I don’t agree that students should not be allowed to wear them. While it could be in poor taste, it is entirely possible that people are just showing pride in their country and aren’t doing it to be disrespectful of other countries. It may have been the spark that caused an issue at a school before, but that is the result of poor decision making on the students. As someone else stated, I wouldn’t think anything of someone wearing another nation’s clothing on the 4th of July.

  10. Frankie D says:

    Lots of great comments here. Amanda S. brought up a really good point about the way in which the shirts were displayed and that it was intended to be disrespectful.

    However, the flag also means a great deal to me personally, as another commenter said. I look at it and I think of all of the men and women who served our nation. I look at it and think of all of my family members who were in the military. I look at it and think of all of my closest friends who I’ve met during my time in the military.

    While the kids who brought the shirts to school clearly meant it in an offensive way it’s still their right. The flag still symbolizes our amazing country. Is our country perfect – absolutely not but that’s what makes it ours and these kids have to grasp that basic idea.
    I also agree about the commenter who brought up the need to assimilate. My mom immigrated here and embraced America. My first language was Spanish, but my parents quit speaking Spanish to me soon after so I wouldn’t have an accent, and so I would fully grasp English. This could be a reason why I’m not big on “(insert race/ country of origin-American”. I just wish we could all get past that stuff.

    But at the same time we have to have patience. Even when most of America’s immigrants were from Europe they in no way assimilated overnight – i.e. racially divided neighborhoods (Irish neighborhoods, Italian neighborhoods) or came fresh off the boat speaking English. I would also say – keep in mind that there in a whole island of American citizens out in the Caribbean who speak mainly Spanish (Puerto Rico).

    These young Latino kids who are offended by the flag or driven to anger by it have to understand that their parents came here for a reason. They could have chosen to stay in Latin America but they made a choice. They saw a country that they felt would offer them and their children an opportunity.

    Embrace our country and tell the kids who are wearing the shirts that you’re American too.

  11. matthew. p says:

    I believe this is an excellent example of a failure to assimilate and encroachment upon the freedom of speech of our children. Our nation used to be a place that everyone came to have a chance at success. It used to be a nation that immigrants were proud to come to and become Americans. Over the past couple of decades, we have allowed the image of being American to become soiled and encouraged immigrants not to assimilate into their community. We as the government have actually taken steps to ensure you did not have to assimilate. I am not saying that immigrants should not be proud of their heritage. Our diversity is what makes us great, but we also need to remember that we are all Americans and that we gave up our native lands to thrive in this one.
    As far requiring the removal of the American flag by the students, it’s just ridiculous. We should be encouraging our children to take pride in our nation and strive to make it better. Making it better is not sacrificing the rights of a majority to pacify the demands of the minority.

  12. C. McCall says:

    I always find it fascinating to hear the conversations of Americans when it comes to whose rights are being violated more in a sticky situation. Because we live in a free country, there will constantly be a fight to determine what underlying rule takes precedence in an argument. We are currently in the midst of a ‘religious freedom’ vs. ‘civil rights and discrimination’ battle in some states. These are never easy, simple, “what-it-boils-down-to” decisions. While it will ultimately be up to lawmakers to finalize the language in these Congressional and State Bills, I am still very much appreciative to live in a place where anyone who has an opinion, has the right to share it.

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