Racism & Bigotry Alive and Well in Westminster

At the Westminster School Board Special meting last night, the Board voted to rescind their unanimous vote of last week (May 23) to hire Dr. Kim Oanh Nguyen Lam as Superintendent.

Here is the OC Register Article: http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/news/local/article_1162181.php

Below is a note I received from one of the attendees:

Friends,

Tonight, we witnessed a character assassination and defamation of our good friend and nationally recognized educator, Kim Oanh Nguyen-Lam. Two Westminster school board members supported by the teachers’ union, Jim Reed and Joanne Purcell, were joined by a Christian Fundamentalist, Judy Ahearns, in overturning their original decision to hire Kim Oanh to be superintendent of Westminster School District.

Tonight, we witnessed nearly two hundred community leaders, teachers, and ordinary people with their children, many from the working poor, majority Latino, but also many Vietnamese, who came out to express their support for one of their own, Kim Oanh. It broke my heart to see so many parents who had such high hopes for their children in having a superintendent who could speak English, Spanish and Vietnamese; someone who, for the first time, understood their challenges, someone who would listen. Those hopes were dashed by the board who are so out of touch with the community they were elected to serve.

Tonight, we witnessed elected officials, including Lou Correa, former congressman, Jerry Patterson, Tony Lam, Lan Nguyen, and Trung Nguyen (Loretta Sanchez spoke directly to the union leaders last week) and Mark Rosen speak eloquently on behalf of Kim Oanh.

Tonight, the board by a three to two majority (Sergio Contreras and Blossie Marquez supported Kim Oanh) attempted to mask their racism by ignoring the community pleas and questioned her qualifications-despite a national search by an outside agency specializing in recruiting highly qualified candidates.

Let it be known that tonight, because of the actions by this board, we have also witnessed the coming together of our communities bent on taking direct action against this decision. We need to immediately mount a response to the racism which exists in the Westminster School District.

It is a sad day for our children that they have to attend a district that cares so little about their futures. It is a sad day for so called public education. It is a very sad day for me because I have been such a proud member of my teacher’s union, as a parent, my heart goes out to all the children.

On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson addressed Congress to call for the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Almost forty-one years ago, on August 6, 1965, Johnson signed that landmark legislation.

I thought that in the last forty plus years our society had progressed.

Sadly, based on last night’s action by the Westminster School Board, I was mistaken.

To quote President Johnson:

“…it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.”

“And we shall overcome!”

  5 comments for “Racism & Bigotry Alive and Well in Westminster

  1. June 1, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    I have no opinion on whether or not Ms. Nguyen-Lam should have been hired, or whether or not the hiring should have been rescinded.

    But can anyone provide a single shred of evidence that racism was a factor?

  2. June 2, 2006 at 9:17 am

    I don’t see exactly how racism is involved either…but the people at the meeting, and one of the members of the board are all claiming that it was a factor.

  3. June 2, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    I thought I would share an email I recieved that was an interesting point of view:

    Points to Ponder: Although one of the board members who voted against Dr. Nguyen-Lam says she is no racist, and that may or may not be true, there is such a thing as institutional racism. The term refers to a collective failure of an organization to provide appropriate services to people because of their race, culture, or ethnic origin.

    In Westminster Elementary School District’s case, where there are 39% Asian Pacific Islander (API) and 37 % Latino students, there are only 3% API teachers and 3% Latino teachers. What these numbers mean is that the district has not made an effort to seriously recruit teachers who would naturally be more connected to the cultures, languages, and histories of the students they are expected to reach. In business, the maxim is to “know your customer.” Thus, when a district defines criteria for identifying qualified teachers, one criteria should definitely be cultural competency with respect to the demographic population.

    Officials who defend institutional status quo, when confronted with statistics showing a lack of diversity, often respond by saying, “we don’t look at race. We hire the best.” This is really code language for hiring mostly mainstream candidates.

    In Westminster, because cultural awareness has been ignored or suppressed as a teaching quality, a Vietnamese student attending say, Anderson Elementary School, which has 55% API students and 38% Latino students will be lucky to have a teacher (during his entire 6 years in attendance) who is Asian since there is only one. There is also only one Latino teacher at that site too.

    When these types of figures are brought forward, officials will often respond with “oh we would love to hire more minorities but there just aren’t enough who apply.”

    Compare Westminster’s overall numbers to Garden Grove Unified, which has a 28% API student population and a 52% Latino student population. GGUSD has 9% API teachers and 7% Latino teachers.

    ABC Unified a few miles away in the city of Cerritos has 29% API students and 38% Latino students, yet it has 15% API teachers and 18% Latino teachers. It seems there are many qualified diverse teachers if one only made cultural competency a factor in hiring.

    When examining Westminster Elementary in this context, institutional racism does indeed seem to exist and was greatly reinforced by the decision made by the school board this past week.

    All statistics obtained from DATAQUEST, the California Department of Education official site. We can safely assume that Vietnamese comprise the bulk of API population. It is not disaggregated.

  4. June 2, 2006 at 6:32 pm

    wonderful point.

  5. M Martin
    May 4, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    To think that Mendez v. Westminster was foundational to Brown v. Board of Education, one wonders how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go. The struggle for equal access and opportunity is never ending.

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