Students Address Diversity
by Kathryn Gleason
Members of Point Arena High's Peer Counseling class had a firsthand, harrowing experience of culture clash when they were jumped by gang members in the Mission District of San Francisco last November. They've transformed their experience and what it has taught them into an original play, "Similar Differences" which they will present at the Arena Theater on Friday, May 4 at 10:45 am.
Directed by local writer, poet and artist extraordinary Blake More, Similar Differences explores the nature of labels and subcultures at Point Arena High School, within the context of the students' experience in San Francisco. The production is the centerpiece of Diversity Day, which was created for the first time last year by outgoing school counselor Shakati Walsh. Diversity Day is funded through a Prevention in Action grant from the Mendocino County Alcohol and other Drug Prevention programs. The Point Arena School Board and the School Site added funds to complete the project.
According to More, who was a chaperone on the trip, the students were attacked by gang members as they walked down Mission Street on their way to the Mission Cultural Center. Apparently one of the female PAHS students was inadvertently wearing a blue bandana in her hair. One of the students was asked, "Where are you from?" Suddenly, ten Latino gang members rushed in, swinging fists and cussing.
"All I saw were fists," said student Ashlee Rios, who, along with two other male students, caught the brunt of the attack. More confronted the leader, and hit him repeatedly with the bouquet of roses she had in her hand. "These are high school students!" she yelled. "We're here for peace and education." Her pleas stopped the violence for a moment, but then four more gang members jumped in---one of whom had a baseball bat---and the Point Arena boys, the gang members close behind, took off running down the street.
"Someone pulled out a tazer, I thought it was a gun," said Rios. "I thought, okay, maybe this is it. I am ready." Rios, who is a star athlete, outran his attackers, who were throwing bottles, rocks and oranges at him as he fled. He had the presence of mind to run to the hospital, where he called 911.
The other two were caught and attacked again, and again. More stepped in to defend them with her roses. This only made the gang members more angry, and she doesn't know what would have happened if one of the guys hadn't of taken a swing at her. In her opinion, this changed the drama, and in the calm before the storm, she signaled to the boys and told them to go to the cultural center, the building with the mural on it. They did and she walked calmly behind the students, creating a barrier.
All were shaken and a bit bruised, but fortunately there were no major injuries. More said, "The Point Arena boys handled themselves with great presence and maturity. They had the sense of mind to know not to escalate the violence by hitting back, and I think this is what prevented the situation from being truly awful.
"Although unwelcome and extremely unfortunate, this experience offered some unique and valuable lessons. The kids certainly worked together and helped one another; the street incident required the very same focus and presence that an actor must have when he enters the stage, and having Latino kids get jumped by their own kind was certainly a lesson that cultural diversity isn't only about race."
The Diversity Day Celebration is an all day event, which will feature an early morning asssembly by Madd Kru Hip Hop, the Similar Difference production, and performances by the Pomo Dancers as well as the Point Arena Folkloric Dancers and a Mariachi Band. Cultural centers will be set up throughout the campus during sixth period for students to explore. The day will finish with a closing assembly of Carne Cruda: an Afto-Caribbean percussion review of the history of how and why music developed in the Caribbean.