November 27, 1991
By Yolanda Reynolds
The Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of the local daily, Robert Ingle, wrote a statement of apology to the Hispanic community for the hurt that was caused by a recent article in the paper regarding gang activity. His apology appeared in the “Perspective” (editorial pages) of the Sunday paper.
The local daily also published, on Friday, an article by MN reporter, Steve Johnson, regarding the hearings held before the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission. That Thursday Commission meeting began at 3 p.m. and lasted over six hours. The speakers were limited to 3 minute each – with only a few persons allowed to testify for any length of time.
One of those allowed to speak longer was Ernestina García, a long time Mexican American community advocate and one of the founders of La Confederacion de la Raza Unida. It was, in fact, La confederacion that caused the Human Relations Commission to be created in this County in order to deal with just such controversies as those created by the article, “The Children of the Street.”
Garcia chronicled, “a history of insensitivity and racism towards the Mexican Community.” Garcia cited many articles, some from as long ago as the 60’s to this recent article which was published last month in October.
The hearings demonstrated the depth of community displeasure. Among the speakers were community activists, grandparents, parents, students, doctors, lawyers, professors, elected officials, religious leaders, representatives of community organizations such as, Bob Overstreet of the San Jose Park and Recreation Department, Richard Konda, an attorney of the Asian Law Alliance, Esther Medina Gonzales of MACSA and others.
The students who testified were all ages, some as young as elementary students, Tony Kros and Richard Stanton. And others such as high school student, Maria Cabreras, Stanford student, Cindy Avitia, and San Jose State MECHA students, John Morales, Rogelio Alvarado, and Ignacio Hernandez. One of the speakers, Rudy Navarro, the Affirmative Action Officer for the City of San Jose, told the panel that not all “gang” members are bad and are failures in society. He said that as a youth growing up in San Jose, he was a “gang member.”
Navarro said he joined a gang while at Roosevelt Junior High because that belonging to his own youth group gave him a “sense of identity and belonging somewhere.” Navarro did well in school and is still studying.
Besides working full time with the city of San Jose, Navarro is currently completing his studies on a Master’s degree in Public Administration at San Jose State. He graduated with B.A. from San Jose State.
One of San Jose student, Lorenzo Polanco, said that the article was “about me, I am the college version of (the kids you wrote).”
Maria Ortiz, a mother of six children urged the media, in particular the MN, not to portray “taggers” as youth having a “criminal mind that is uncontrollable.” She says that such characterization is unwarranted and that what the youth seek is an opportunity to express themselves – their artistic abilities are not recognized nor allowed space for expression.
Garcia and other community advocates donate innumerable hours to the supervising of youth activities and art projects at the Barrio Art Gallery. For Dia de los Muertos, this group held a two-day living art exhibit displaying an unforgettable, dramatic and artistic remembrance for the dead at the Barrio Art Gallery. The Gallery is located at 1717 Kammerer.
A number of speakers compared the article, and the manner in which the gang situation was presented, to that of a person shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. Alum Rock Superintendent Larry Aceves said that “the article increased racial tensions.” School principal Lou Henry said, that it (the article) brought tears and anger from the kids in his school. Other educators mentioned increased scuffling and expressions of intolerance.
The Alum Rock district serves 16,000 students and is one of the most diverse in the City of San Jose. Aceves and his staff work very hard to assure ethnic and racial harmony, helping the students to learn, understand and appreciate each other. He said such articles inflame tension and added that the newspaper should not “sensationalize its stories.”
Another of a repeated remark was a request that the MN apologize for the manner in which the October article was produced. There were speakers, such as, Enrique Dominguez who said that the student ” gang activity seemed staged. He also strongly objected to the naming of the youth in the photos. By law, the names of youth are not printed even if they are reported to be involved in illegal or allegedly involved in illegal behavior. He asked for a thorough investigation of the entire issue – how the story was generated and the possible involvement of the writers in staging the story with a group of naïve youngsters who don’t actually belong to a real gang.
Another person, attorney Esau Herrera, was one of many who said that a remedy to this affront was to stop subscribing to or buying the MN.
One Eastside parent told of the effect that a similar written article about the Zoot Suiters affected her treatment, not only by he peers but by her teachers, when she was a young girl growing up in Santa Barbara.
Richard Stanton, a Le Vay elementary school student, said “we have put up with this too long (stereotyping of ethnic communities, including European Americans) and we won’t take it any longer.”
Father Patrick Moran, pastor of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, said that stereotyping was not new and should not be tolerated. Father Moran said that in the 1880’s the Irish were similarity portrayed and made scapegoat for current ills. He urged that the City pay more attention to the needs of its youth, rather than concentrating so much of the City’s money and attention on the construction of big downtown buildings. He says that his parish serves 185,000 families and that there is an urgent need for employment and recreational opportunities for the youth of the City, particularly on the East Side of San Jose.
Throughout the day the speakers urged that a balanced view of the eastside and its community be presented. One speaker pointed out that little has been reported about the high rate of college bound students from the East Side – a positive news item regarding the East Side.
Recently, a west side neighborhood publication reported that Independence High School, Andrew Hill High School, Silver Creek, Overfelt and James Lick all have higher rates of college attendance (80% – 89%) than high schools serving San Jose Unified which serves west and south San Jose (78% – 49%).
Jim McEntee, Director of the Human Rights Commission said that the Thursday testimony before the Commission will be made available for review in writing within a number of weeks. The entire proceedings were taped as well. The Commission plans to meet with MN management and present them with a number of recommendations.
A lone, large widely distributed publication such as the local daily can bring a community together or pull it apart. One often repeated criticism was that the paper tended to “publish positive articles on the East Side section and unfavorable articles in the main section – thus creating an unfavorable image of the East Side and its communities to the rest of San Jose.
A number of MN management personnel sat through the entire hearings Thursday. It is now up to this newspaper to follow with a real change in heart and policy regarding coverage of San Jose’s diverse communities.
For more information on this matter, contact Jim McEntee on his staff at 299-2206.