Commentary: Young Latinos are foolish to boycott school, road to sucess
SAN DIEGO -- First, let's deal with this business of the flags. It's amazing. Congress is embroiled in the most meaningful debate since President Reagan signed an amnesty law in 1986 -- and the new dialogue touches on guest workers, border fences...
SAN DIEGO -- First, let's deal with this business of the flags.
It's amazing. Congress is embroiled in the most meaningful debate since President Reagan signed an amnesty law in 1986 -- and the new dialogue touches on guest workers, border fences, another round of amnesty and more. Yet the one thing many Americans want to talk about are those darned Mexican flags.
As a Mexican-American, on this issue I come down on the American side of the hyphen. I think student demonstrators made a huge mistake by hoisting Mexican flags, and that -- as a rule -- people who demand rights from one country shouldn't wave the flag of another. It's bad manners -- and even worse civics.
But the flags aren't even the most troubling part. This is: At the youth protests, the individuals carrying those flags should have instead carried their butts back to school.
Inspired by the 500,000 protesters who marched in Los Angeles on March 25 and incensed by efforts in Congress to make unauthorized presence in the United States a felony and extend the definition of smugglers to include churches and others who "assist" illegal immigrants, thousands of young Latinos stormed out of classes last week.
Just a few weeks after the airing of an HBO movie celebrating the 1968 walkouts by Mexican-American activists of yesteryear to demand more educational opportunities, thousands of Latino students squandered those opportunities by walking out of high schools in cities such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Detroit and elsewhere. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who himself was among those students who walked out a generation ago, last week urged students to return to class.
The walkouts bring to mind what I've often said -- that, now that they are the nation's largest minority, Latinos might have a shot at helping shape the future, if they break from the past.
You'll have to forgive today's kids. They mean well, but I don't think they fully grasp the consequences of their actions.
As someone who is often accused of trying to speak for the nation's 40 million Latinos, I'd like to make a motion: Latinos can boycott grapes and lettuce all they want. But, at no time should they boycott things such as schools, libraries, bookstores and newspapers.
Why? Because knowledge is power, baby. We have enough ignorance in this country. Just listen to the nonsense coming from anti-immigrant opportunists in Congress. What we could use, in all quarters, is more enlightenment.
Making matters more urgent, the stakes are higher than the students probably realize. As far as the educational system is concerned, the kids are in bad shape. According to a new study by UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center, Latino students nationwide typically attend segregated, crowded schools with poorly trained teachers. Often, the report said, they're also tracked into remedial or vocational programs. These are not the kind of kids who have the luxury of skipping school -- even for one day.
Not that the protests don't make sense. Immigration reform is no abstract topic. It hits the students close to home. Concerned about how events in Washington might disrupt their lives, it's obvious that the protesters want respect for themselves, their parents and their family members who are here illegally.
There's nothing wrong with that. But in this country, there are definite and defined ways for one to earn respect. Hold a job and provide for your family. Obey the law. Serve your (new) country. Register and vote.
For young people, it starts out with baby steps: Go to school. Crack some books. Get good grades. Get into college. Strive for excellence in what you do.
Do all that and, chances are, you won't be messed with. And you'll get the respect you deserve and have earned.
But there are no shortcuts. Protests and Mexican flags are no substitute for progress and hard work.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is email@example.com .