Over the last few months, ten-year-old Alex Fierro has become an educational hero in California, and his tale is spreading.
Alex is a fourth-grader at Shannon Ranch Elementary School in the Visalia Unified School District. He is also a member of the Wukchumni Tribe. During lessons on the Spanish Mission period in California history, Alex’s class was asked to sing a song called “21 Missions.” Verses include “Two hundred years of arduous labor, spreading the Gospel, doing God’s favor” and “No need to hunt or a gatherer be/Come little Indian, dance with me.” The student refused to sing and later told his mother how upset he was. He has since told news reporters that he recognized the song as racist and simply could not sing it.
Alex refused to recite or sing the song to his mother, Debra Fierro, but brought her a copy of the song the following day. Once she saw the lyrics, she contacted tribal leaders as well as school officials.
Darlene Franco, leader of the Wukchumni tribe, said she saw no deliberate malice at Alex’s school. But she wondered: In order for that song to enter and remain in the curriculum, how many people heard that song and thought it was OK? “Alex is a hero,” she concluded.
Franco was not alone in her dismay at the curriculum or her praise of Alex Fierro. In relatively short order, a public meeting was held, the song was removed from the district’s curriculum, Alex received apologies from the music teacher and school officials, and teachers were directed to take Cultural Competency classes.
Still, the song is widely available, and history lessons on the California Mission period with similar European-bias remain in Visalia Unified School District and across the state.
Read, for example, “Lying to Children About the California Missions and the Indians,” published by the Zinn Education Project earlier this year. Deborah A. Miranda, author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, writes:
It’s time for the Mission Fantasy Fairy Tale to end. This story has done more damage to California Indians than any conquistador, any priest, and soldado de cuera (leather-jacket soldier), any smallpox, measles, or influenza virus. This story has not just killed us, it has also taught us to kill ourselves and kill each other with alcohol, domestic violence, horizontal racism, internalized hatred.
We have to put an end to it now.
See also Sorry Watch:
That was the important apology piece. Taking care of his spirit. The teacher was fabulous,” [assistant superintendent Doug] Bartsch said. There was no defensiveness. “Lon [Hannah, music teacher] offered a real heartfelt apology to the child. [Alex] was very gracious. Everybody was gracious in receiving the apology. There were embraces offered.” He says the [Visalia Unified School District] will “use this as a way of helping us learn more.” The tribal members offered to serve as a resource, and Bartsch says he will follow up on that this week.
— from 5/8/15 post