Latino students have increasingly become targets of bullying in metro-area schools since Oklahoma passed a tough immigration enforcement bill, community leaders say.
Hispanic youth across the city are reporting incidents of bullying and racial slurs, said Rey Madrid, youth organizer for the League of United Latin American Citizens.
The head of the youth council told him she has been targeted because of her race at Westmoore High School, and Madrid said it’s something all the children of the youth council speak freely about when they meet.
“These children are getting bullied and they are getting angry,” Madrid said.
He said the problems are particularly difficult for many first-generation students. Many times these students have to translate and navigate cultural complexities for their parents, who are often unable to advocate for them at school because of the language barrier.
Madrid warned that for some kids bullying pushes them to drop out, join gangs or use drugs.
“Whenever kids at school pick on somebody, that child that gets picked on is going to look for security,” he said. “Kids don’t always know how to work things out for themselves, and they turn to gangs for security. They turn to drugs to ease the pain.”
Mayra Sigala, a 15-year-old student at Edmond Memorial High School, said she first experienced race-based bullying within a week of the passage of House Bill 1804, Oklahoma’s bill targeting illegal immigrants.
A fellow student, a football player, yelled a racial slur at her in the hallway.
“He kept calling me names,” she said. “He kept telling me to go back to Mexico. I tried to tell him that I was born here, but he didn’t believe me.”
Other students laughed.
“I guess they all agreed with him,” she said.
Mayra said she told her Spanish teacher. A few other Hispanic students were experiencing the same thing, she said. They were told by the teacher that something would be done. But the behavior continued, Mayra said.
School officials say the information was not passed on. They say if they had known, something would have been done. But they conceded there have been issues in the past.
“It’s obvious there were some issues we needed to address, otherwise we wouldn’t have started native speaker’s class,” said Brenda Lyons, associate superintendent with the Edmond School District. “Do we have bullying? Of course we do … There’s not any more than the norm with any other group.”
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