The annual "High School Principals Spanish Lip- Sync Contest" - this year`s final is scheduled at the Modesto Centre Plaza at 8 P.M. tonight - kicks off three months of Mexican celebrations that will dominate California school calendars and guarantee a steady stream of dopey newspaper articles.
Say what? You never heard of the "High School Principals Spanish Lip Sync Contest?"
Welcome to California where the ridiculous meets the sublime.
Every March for the past sixteen years, high school principals have competed in two regional play-offs en route to the Spanish Lip-Sync State Championship. Mexican-American students provide the back-up vocals. The principals—many are neither Mexican nor Spanish speaking - make fools of themselves in the name of school spirit.
But why can`t they look silly lip-syncing "Tutti Frutti?"
The lip-sync contest, while harmless enough on the surface, shows how extracurricular activities conducted in Spanish are increasingly accepted in California schools without question. But at a time when more and more Mexican students struggle to graduate, presumably because of limited English skills, the continued emphasis on Spanish is not productive.
However, lip-syncing and dancing does provide an excellent tune-up for the upcoming Cesar Chavez celebrations. Although Chavez`s March 31st birthday is a California holiday, students are not excused from class. Instead, Governor Davis has declared that at least one hour of classroom time be dedicated to lessons exploring Chavez`s contributions to California. And Davis recommended that the afternoon be spent in some "public service" appropriate to Chavez.
Although it doesn`t meet the Davis guidelines, one option in the San Joaquin Valley is "El Ballet Folklorico Mexicano" offering "a salute to Mexico and Cesar Chavez." The "ballet" is staged at 10:00 A.M. and 12 P.M at the San Joaquin Delta College. Factoring in travel time and the general hubbub that surrounds field trips, the entire school day is lost.
The Chavez tribute, presented by an arts education group ominously called "Dance for Power", will stage "animated polkas and rancheras from the north, spirited harvest dances from the south, and festive dances in the banda and mariachi styles offering a colorful birthday flair to a celebration that honors a Mexican American folk hero."
Expect added pomp about Chavez this year because on April 23rd a postage stamp bearing his image will be released. When the stamp was unveiled on Capitol Hill in September 2002 with Senators Edward Kennedy and John McCain, U.S. Postal Service Vice President of Diversity Benjamin Ocasio said, "The significance of his impact transcends any one cause or struggle. This leader is a welcome and important addition to the nation`s stamp program."
Less than two weeks after affixing newly-minted Chavez stamps on our letters, Cinco de Mayo—the holiday that isn`t a holiday—arrives. Barely acknowledged in Mexico and widely misunderstood in the U.S. as Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo celebrates the 1862 Mexican victory over the French in "La Batalla de Puebla."
Even though the French won the war, Cinco de Mayo has reached carnival status in California. Almost all of Los Angeles is decked out in red, white and green. And again, like Cesar Chavez Day, Cinco de Mayo is not an official school holiday but there are a lot of empty seats.
Many of the kids show up at City Hall where a temporary stage is decorated with a picture of Mexican hero General Zaragoza and Mexican flags.
Given his affinity for Mexico, it isn`t surprising that President Bush warmed up to Cinco de Mayo. In 2001, he and Mrs. Bush hosted the first White House Cinco de Mayo fiesta, with a full compliment of Mexican dignitaries, on the South Lawn.
Finally the school year wraps up with Latino Graduation. For over twenty years, the Chicano/Latino Graduation Association has hosted commencement ceremonies—separate and apart from the school wide commencement and for Latinos only - at various California college campuses.
Of course, as Latino Graduation became more popular, the idea spread east. And it was eventually adopted by other ethnicities. You can attend Latino Graduation at Harvard or go to an Asian-American Graduation at a growing number of California universities.
Maybe as an Italian-American, I am not the right guy to comment on the Mexican ethnic to-dos. Maybe I am still bent out of shape because poor Christopher Columbus has been relegated to the dung pile while Chavez is elevated to sainthood.
But really that`s not what bothers me. When I lived in New York, I went to the San Gennaro Festival every year. I watched the parade, ate canollis and calzones. But then, I went back to my life - as an American!
Somehow, I don`t get the feeling that we`re headed down that road.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.