CLAREMONT - Condit Elementary School parent Michelle Raheja said she was not prepared for the backlash she got from helping to write an e-mail to a kindergarten teacher at the elementary school.

She and her daughter have been harassed as a result, she said Wednesday.

"It was a private message to one kindergarten teacher," Raheja said. "She did not ask me if she could circulate it to others or circulate it to the principal. I don't think she was ill-intentioned."

On Tuesday, numerous parents and their children dressed in American Indian and Pilgrim costumes to protest a Claremont Unified School District decision to have a Thanksgiving feast without the costumes that have been traditional for decades.

Another group of protesters, many younger and of American Indian descent, carried signs that said "Racism," "No Thanks No Giving," "Respect" and "Don't Celebrate Genocide."

Raheja said Wednesday that the e-mail was "never meant for public distribution."

Raheja said she and about 15 to 20 parents in the school helped write the private e-mail message about their concerns with the dress in the Thanksgiving feast to a Condit elementary teacher. She said the e-mail was redistributed without her knowledge.

Raheja said she later spoke to the Condit principal and Superintendent David Cash.

"I never made a demand, I never said to cancel Thanksgiving," Raheja said.


Advertisement

Messages left with Claremont Unified School District Superintendent David Cash were not returned.

At the Tuesday feast, Raheja said her 5-year-old daughter was harassed. A parent dressed up as an American Indian, Raheja said, "did a war dance around my daughter." The parent then told her daughter and others to "go to hell," she said.

Raheja, a UC Riverside instructor, said she has contacted the Claremont Police Department and the UC Riverside police because of the hateful phone calls and e-mails.

On Wednesday, she said she had received more than 250 "hateful and intimidating" e-mails.

"They go from being anxious about political correctness to calling me (an epithet). They don't know my daughter's name, but they've said hateful and disgusting things about my daughter."

There have been as many positive e-mails from people in Claremont and worldwide, too, Raheja said.

"I've gotten so much support from people internationally," Raheja said.

Of the negative e-mails, many are anonymous.

"Most don't identify themselves because they're powerful ignorant," she said.

At Tuesday's feast, Raheja said she was told "if I had any issue with the school, I need to leave the school and my daughter would not be welcomed."

Raheja said, "We love Condit. We love the staff. Overall, we've had a very good experience. But the anger and hatred has been unbearable."

Raheja said she would be "happy to have a debate with (others) in an open forum."

Raheja said her concerns were strictly about the dress-up for Thanksgiving.

If the school proposed people dress like African-Americans or people of Jewish decent, it would also be "a stereotype."

As far as Raheja's identity, she said her mother is a Seneca Indian.

"Identity is complicated," she said. "No other ethnic group has to prove to the government who they are. I never said I was an enrolled member of the tribe."

Raheja said "it was the reactionary parents who brought this to the school board. They contacted the hateful radio station. I never contacted any press."

She added the issue involved one school and needed to stay in the one school because other schools "don't do racist stereotyping in the district."

Raheja said she never tried to cancel Thanksgiving or Christmas or "the other insane things I'm accused of. It's incredibly hateful."

wes.woods@inlandnewspapers.com

(909) 483-8549