The Mexican flag flew alongside the American flag in front of Napa’s New Technology High School on Monday in celebration of Mexico’s day of independence.
Balloons and banners of red, white and green decorated the school. The colors of Mexico’s flag also adorned the tables in the lunchroom and outdoor patio. A Mexican singer and dancers from Ballet Folklorico performed for the students, who ate lunches of carne asada, chicken, beans and rice and Mexican pastries.
Monday’s festivities were organized by seven New Tech students who wanted to make Mexican Independence Day a schoolwide event.
“We wanted to make it big, and go all out,” student Sandra Correa-Saenz, 16, said. “We want to show them that we’re rich in culture.”
The Mexican War of Independence began Sept. 16, 1810, when a Catholic priest called for the end of Spanish rule, and a peasant army marched its way to Mexico City. Unlike Cinco de Mayo (which celebrates Mexico’s victory in a battle with French invaders), Mexican Independence Day is rarely — if ever — recognized by the schools, according to the New Tech students.
Correa-Saenz credited school board member Carlos Hagedorn with inspiring her activism and teaching her that it’s “OK to be Mexican in an American community.”
Hagedorn, who is also a professor of Chicano studies at Napa Valley College, taught Correa-Saenz in a class over the summer. He was one of three Napa Valley Unified School District board members who attended Monday’s festivities.
“It’s rewarding to see a former student — who’s still in high school — taking the lead,” Hagedorn said. “She’s taking what she learned in class into the community.”
Approximately 40 percent of students at New Technology High School are Latino. Districtwide, the number of Latino students is more than 50 percent, according to data from the California Department of Education.
On Monday, New Tech students lined up along the patio for Mexican food. During the singing and dancing performances, a few people walking along Main Street stopped to watch.
School board member Frances Ortiz-Chavez said she hoped the celebration at New Tech would be replicated in other local schools.
While such events are sometimes criticized for promoting “separation” between different ethnicities, school board member Jose Hurtado said he was proud that New Tech was willing and able to celebrate diversity.
“And who better to celebrate that diversity than our children?” Hurtado said.
New Tech’s celebration is one of many events taking place Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 in honor of Napa Valley’s Latino Heritage Month. Events will include music, arts, food, films and other festivities celebrating Latino cultures from around the world.
Although this is only the second such celebration in Napa, Latino Heritage Month is celebrated nationwide. President Lyndon B. Johnson first recognized “Hispanic Heritage Week” in 1968. President Reagan expanded the observation to one month, and every successive president has continued that tradition.
The national celebration kicks off mid-September because Sept. 15 is the date on which a variety of Latin American countries achieved independence in 1821.