PI Editorial: Where we are from shapes who we are | PostIndependent.com

PI Editorial: Where we are from shapes who we are

Post Independent Editorial Board

Naomi Peña Villasano did everything the “right” way: During her academic career at Grand Valley High School, she earned academic honors, is a student-athlete, serves on the student council, and more. Upon graduating, she hopes to earn her master’s in social work and open her own firm.

She’s also proud of her Mexican American heritage and hopes to wear a sash, otherwise known as a heritage stole, emblazoned with the flags of both nations — an action which apparently has become controversial through no fault or action of Peña Villasano.

Instead of letting her wear the sash, Garfield 16 Superintendent Jennifer Baugh denied Pena Peña Villasano’s request and told the Post Independent last month that allowing it could open the door to students wearing sashes of the Confederate flag.

We’re astounded at the comparison. Frankly, it’s easy to explain why the heritage of slavery, hatred and violent rebellion embodied in the Confederate flag is inappropriate for graduation or any other public celebration. But to say a sash with a Mexican flag is similarly inappropriate? That’s a false equivalency, plain and simple.

For context, for many, where they are from, the family they grew up in and places they identify with influence their way of life or cultural heritage, which means a lot to them. Taken together, these factors are also the driving force in their education and life path, including celebrating family or heritage and community through events. Much like St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo, honoring traditions is what makes us who we are.

It’s likely that Garfield 16 was hoping to avoid controversy by denying Peña Villasano’s request out of fear of someone somewhere being offended by it. The truth is, however, that many graduating seniors throughout Garfield County high schools (and elsewhere, we’re sure) have already in years past worn all sorts of different heritage sashes without issue.

If her request was allowed, Peña Villasano very likely would have stood proudly at graduation, surrounded by her peers and cheered on by friends and others of the Parachute/Battlement Mesa community. But denying it has turned it from a completely innocuous matter into exactly what Garfield 16 administrators were trying to avoid: a controversy.

We’re hopeful that Peña Villasano will still get the official approval and be able to have the graduation day she’s envisioned for herself. To her further credit, Peña Villasano traveled to the capitol this past week with the help of Voces Unidas and state Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs, to advocate for a state law ensuring graduating students across Colorado would have the same opportunity she’s seeking for herself and be able to express their identity appropriately through cultural regalia.

During her time in Denver, she met with Gov. Jared Polis and others to talk about her experience — and how lawmakers can help ensure other students don’t face such cultural stifling in the future.

It’s humbling to see such positive action from one of our county’s youth, but the fact remains it never should have been necessary in the first place. Sooner rather than later, we hope Peña Villasano’s heritage is received by others with respect and appreciation rather than fear and denial.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud, and community representatives Mark Fishbein and Amy Connerton.

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