Santa Fe High attack spotlights school’s racial tensions.

Brass knuckles. Baseball bats. Ethnic slurs.

Those are three details missing from the Santa Fe Police report of a Feb. 12 case of alleged aggravated assault and battery that went down at Santa Fe High School.

The report simply lists three 15-year-old boys as victims of a fight that resulted in injuries.


The more complex version of events, pieced together through interviews with school administrators, parents and one of the victims, paints a much darker picture of violence against immigrant students.

“I was coming from fifth period and it was me and two other friends that were there,� one of the victims says. “And they were waiting for us.�

The boy agreed to speak with SFR on the condition that his name not be published for fear of reprisals.

“There were like 15 waiting for us,� he continues. A stab at dialogue was attempted with at least one member of the group. “I even told him that I didn’t have any problems with him but I don’t think he listened,� he says.

The confrontation pitted the three Mexican and Mexican-American students against 15 non-immigrant Hispanic students.

“One said, ‘Should we fight these mojados now? And then another told them, ‘Hit him! Hit him!’�

A lopsided melee ensued with the immigrant kids on the losing end.

“The one that hit me had brass knuckles,� the 15-year-old recalls. Then, he says, he blacked out. He later learned he had sustained a fractured cheekbone, among other bruises and scratches.

Asked what prompted the beating, he answers: racism.

“I can’t think of another thing,� he says in slightly accented English.

Five days later, the scene at the Chavez family’s two-story adobe home just off Siringo Road is a picture of normalcy as young kids play and scamper up and down the stairs. But the assembled parents, as well as a senior at Santa Fe High who has also experienced prejudice and violence at school, all express deep concern.

Elena Chavez, the 15-year-old’s mother, is worried about sending her ninth-grade son back to school.

“Who is going to look out for his safety?� she asks.

Chavez met with Principal Dan Webb following the attack, but she wasn’t pleased with the outcome. There were no commitments to increased security on campus, she says, nor much understanding of the paralyzing fear the incident has created.

“He said, ‘If you don’t like it, you can remove your son,’� Chavez says.

“He was so cold.�

Chavez and other parents also met with Superintendent Leslie Carpenter on Feb. 14, but that meeting ended without any commitments beyond another meeting.

Webb doesn’t dispute Chavez’ recollection of his comments, but he maintains that was just one part of a lengthy conversation.

“I did tell them I felt very badly that their child was hurt,� he says. He also explains that it’s up to district administrators to determine if the school needs additional security, on top of the seven full-time security guards and four administrators who currently help monitor the school’s trouble spots. “I’d be glad to take the help,� he says. Webb adds that the district is considering a plan to complete a fence around Santa Fe High, which he says could help improve security on the school’s south campus.

But to some extent, Webb feels there are limits to what can be done. “If kids want to fight and are determined to do so, it’s a huge campus,� he says.

In Webb’s version of the meeting with Chavez, he acknowledges suggesting she consider transferring her son. “I’m sitting there telling her, ‘You have the right to transfer schools,’� he says. “If they want to interpret that I’m trying to move them out, that’s their choice.�

While Webb, only six months into his job, says he doesn’t really notice the immigrant/non-immigrant rift playing out on campus, other district leaders see it differently.

“It’s a major concern,� Santa Fe Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez says. “It’s my understanding from our security

officers that the police have stated that these issues seem to be on the rise around town, Hispanic and immigrant issues.�

Gutierrez notes that a $200,000 federal grant the district received in 2000 helped address the targeting of immigrant students by non-immigrant students. The money was used to develop the district’s bully- and violence-prevention programs, but the program ran out of money in 2003. Since then, the district has scraped together funds to keep them going. But she says more needs to be done going forward.

“We’re going to give it lots of our attention,� Gutierrez pledges.

District leaders have not forgotten the confrontation that erupted at Capital High School in March 2006, when pro-immigrant students clashed with other students waving American flags, some screaming, “Go back to Mexico!� More than 30 police officers were called to the scene.

The backdrop for that confrontation was the larger national debate over immigration reform. Frank Montaño, president of the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education, hears the same echoes in the most recent issue. In part, he says, that explains why the attack took place.

“I think it’s due to the mood of the country overall in terms of how people feel about immigration,� he says. Montaño blames the federal government’s failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform for making an already bad situation worse. Meanwhile, he argues, kids reflect their parents’ own prejudices. “It trickles down to the teenagers and that’s why we have things occur like we had at Santa Fe High School,� he says.

But according to some, the immigrant side of this cultural clash is only half the equation.

“There is an issue with our own people, our raza, and that is a serious lack of cultural identity,� Erwin Rivera of Engaging Latino Communities for Education (ENLACE) argues. This “identity crisis,� Rivera believes, helps explain how it is that the boys who allegedly beat up the immigrant student at Santa Fe High are all believed to be Latino themselves, maybe just a few generations removed from their immigrant victims.

Back at the Chavez home, a bilingual Santa Fe High senior, who says she was the victim of a similar attack three years ago in the high school’s girls locker room, mentions that witnesses of the attack on the three boys reported seeing at least a couple bystanders using cell phones to record a video of it.

“The thing that sickens me is that nobody tried to stop them,� she says.

Not only that, such incidents make learning much more difficult for all immigrant students. “When you always feel threatened, you can’t concentrate on anything,� she adds.

Affected parents can only concentrate on the danger zone their kids’ school has become. “It’s really frustrating,� Elena Chavez says, pleading for less talk and more action.

“Are they waiting until a child is killed?�