The Trials of Adapting to A New Land

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

On June 6th an article appeared in The New York Times describing an incident in Asheboro, North Carolina, where a student graduating from high school was denied his diploma because he had draped himself with the Mexican flag for the award ceremony.

According to the article, the school had allowed for students to display their identities by decorating their mortar boards and many did so.

The student in question was breaking with protocol by draping himself in the Mexican flag.

He is the son of Mexican immigrants but was born in this country. In the aftermath, he was quoted as saying that the Mexican flag meant everything to him and his family because it’s what’s in their blood, that’s where they came from and he’d do anything to represent it. 

Even though he was born here the student may not feel he’s from here. 

Not just yet.

And that’s fine. It takes a while.

What he’s doing right is that he’s taking every advantage to educate himself. And he has graduated. He’s probably perfectly fluent in English so he will have little difficulty moving up to the extent of his efforts and capabilities.

Eventually, he will merge with the host culture and make it his own.

And what ties he chooses to keep to the culture of his parents, that is fine, too.

The school officials were within their rights to expect compliance with their rules. 

After the ceremony, a school official emailed the mother of the student to tell her that the young man would be able to pick up his diploma this week.

The mother, however, replied, that this would not be enough. That her son and family expected an apology from the school because what had transpired was an act of racism ‘not just to my son but to the entire Hispanic community.’

I disagree. 

There is racism in this country and maybe the young man has felt it, but the requirement by school officials that he comply with protocol at his graduation ceremony is not racism. He could have decorated his mortar board like the rest of the students. He chose not to. 

We have to be careful with how we use that word, otherwise we devalue it.

Overcoming racism in America will be a long struggle, and maybe the young man will add his effort to the quest, but we must stand on solid ground when we call attention to it.

Meanwhile, it is not the school that needs to apologize to him and his family, but him that needs to apologize to the school.

And it will do him a world of good to acknowledge his mistake.

Save the daring for when it’s justified. There will surely be many such opportunities during his lifetime.

To the young man, my best wishes for a successful life.

To the school officials, onwards with the difficult task of preparing the next generation.

Oscar Valdes.