Ever since her grandparents migrated from Texas, Enedina’s family has considered Idaho their home. Enedina grew up in Nampa and graduated from Nampa High School. Her two youngest children attended Roosevelt Elementary and Lone Star Middle in the Nampa School District, as well as Elevate Academy.
Since elementary school, Enedina’s son has been targeted for alleged gang-affiliation based on their racial identity and what they wear. Because of these allegations, Enedina’s son has been prohibited from having a bandana with the Mexican flag on it, wearing a red rosary, and even wearing a shirt that had red on it. This “gang” label has also caused Enedina’s son, who is on the autism spectrum, to miss school and feel like he has a constant target on his back. As Enedina shared, Latinx, and not white students, are the ones affected by these dress code policies and the resulting constant surveillance.
Enedina also shared instances when her children have faced discriminatory comments by white students who call them racial slurs or tell them to go back to Mexico. But she explained she does not see the school take her or her son’s complaints seriously. Despite these obstacles, Enedina continues to be a strong advocate for her children and their education.
*This interview has been edited for clarity.
Have your children been treated differently as Latinx students in schools in Nampa?
One day I dropped my kids off at school and the school administrator called me back because my son was wearing a red shirt. It wasn’t solid red, but it was a button up dressy kind of shirt. It was kind of like a flannel with red and white checkers, but it was short sleeve with a collar and buttons. The shirt had gray and black colors, too.
I wasn’t even to the stop sign of the school and my son tells me he is being sent home. I went into the administrator’s office, and he told me that my son cannot wear that color to school and “we don’t allow certain kids to wear blue or red.” And I asked him, what do you mean by certain kids? And he said, there was a certain type of kid that wasn’t allowed to wear those colors. And I told him he was profiling my son, whether he called it that or not.
I pointed out two kids we could see from his office window that oversees the school’s common area. I saw one kid wearing a red trap suit and another one wearing a blue t-shirt. Neither one of them was Hispanic. So, I asked, are you sending those two kids home because they are wearing blue and red? And the administrator said, no, it’s certain students that cannot wear red or blue.
My son is on a 504 and the administrator said he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to come back to school. My son is on the autism spectrum, and there’s certain things that he will wear or do. And when he doesn’t understand something, he is very vocal, and wants to know why, and he wants an explanation. So, the administrator said my son was being defiant and that my son kept questioning him. I told him he is on a 504 and that is part of the reason he is on the 504. But the principal said he had to consider expelling him, even though he is a child with a disability and did not physically hurt anyone--he was just wearing a certain color. Ultimately, he did send him home that day, and the Nampa School District couldn’t help because Elevate Academy is a private entity.
Did your school ever explain to you why your son could not wear red?
It was a gang thing and I think the administrator just assumed that I knew. It was very clear to me what he was trying to insinuate because at his old school, Lone Star Middle, it was the same thing. The school kept telling me he was a gang member and made him sound like he was a baby mafia boss, but he was in the sixth grade and only 11 years old. And he did get disciplined because of these allegations. We went into a 504 meeting at his school once and my son, my granddaughter, and I were wearing the exact same hoodie that said, “Westside Connection.” As soon as we walked into the school, they asked him to turn his shirt inside out. I explained to them Westside Connection is a [music] group and they said, it doesn’t matter, it is gang related.
The allegations that he was in a gang started at the beginning of the school year. The security told him and two of his friends that they could not be wearing red, and they were not allowed to “fly their colors.” And my son was so confused, but he got in trouble because he had a bandana with the Mexican flag folded in his three-ring binder.
It was the same issue as Roosevelt Elementary. He had been dress coded several times and when a white kid told him he had to go back to Mexico, he got in a fight with this kid and the school documented it as a “gang-related” fight. When I tried to transfer him to another school in the Nampa School District, the other school would not accept him because of the “gang” incident on his record.
My son and my granddaughter have also been told they cannot wear a red rosary. I told the school wearing religious items was federally protected. So, the next day, the school told them they could wear it, but it had to be tucked into their shirts, so it was not showing. Again, it was implied that this was gang-related clothing.
Have your children faced other forms of racial discrimination in schools in Nampa?
My kids tell me there’s a couple of teachers that will hear white kids calling them racial slurs, “border jumpers”, and tell them to go back to Mexico. And when I talk to the teachers, they tell me they don’t hear it. But they always seem to hear when they claim my son said something disrespectful. And I have a problem with that, they never hear any of the racial stuff that is going on.
Another teacher told me that my son and other Hispanic kids joke around between them about being “border hoppers” and going back to Mexico. But I said to that teacher that was not true. I have repeatedly explained to my kids why they are not allowed to say stuff like that, because my parents worked too hard and had to deal with [discrimination] when they came to Idaho, and when they were picking cotton in Mississippi and working in the fields. My parents couldn’t even go inside a restaurant, they had to order from the outside, because there were signs that said, “No dogs and no Mexicans allowed.” So, I will not allow my kids to say things like that.
The school keeps telling me it’s being handled, but my kids tell me nothing changes. There’s no discipline for those kids, there’s no apology for my kids, and my kids are the ones that continue to be disciplined.
Have your children had any interactions with School Resource Officers (SROs) at their school?
I think I’ve seen [the SRO] only once when I went to go pick up my kids for an appointment. He was handcuffing an African American student and had her on the ground.
Another time, my son was really tired, but I did not want him to miss school. He has really bad insomnia and anxiety, and I have told the school about this. When he got home, my son told me that they sent him to the office because they thought he was on drugs. A police officer searched him, including his pockets, and even asked my granddaughter if my son had taken anything. But he was just tired because he did not sleep well. The school did not find anything, and never told me about this.
How does it make you feel when administrators label your son as “gang” affiliated?
It makes me angry and frustrated. It also makes me sad in a way, because I don’t want my kids to feel less than or that they don’t deserve the same kind of education as the kid sitting next to them. And it’s hurtful and heartbreaking because it’s 2023, my kid should not have to go to school and feel like they are always looking over their shoulder because they feel like they are going to be accused of being a gang member or anything else that comes with being a gang member. Or be told that they need to go to a place where they have never been to, because they have never been to Mexico.
I’ve heard the stories and the struggles my parents went through. For my kids to be hearing the same [racist] things that my parents were told years and years ago means we’re going backwards and it’s not OK. And this also happened when I went to schools in Nampa, it has been going on for a long time.
And this treatment is affecting Hispanic students who feel like it doesn’t matter whether they graduate or not because no one is expecting them to.
What do you think schools need to do to better support Latinx students?
Schools need to find Hispanic advocates for our kids. Whether they have a degree or whether it’s parents that are willing to help out on certain days to be a resource for our kids to come to. Our kids need a liaison between the students and the administration, and we need more representation in our schools. And I think we need more parents to say enough already, our kids should be treated better.
Hispanic parents love their kids and care about their education just as much as white people do. There’s no difference between the goals and dreams that a Hispanic parent has that a white parent doesn’t have. Our expectations of our kids are the same. Our kids just have to work twice as hard to get it.
The Education Equity for Latinx Students project started in the fall of 2022 as part of our efforts to expand racial justice work on behalf of Idaho students, beginning with Latinx communities.