A flier circulating in the Alisal area of Salinas describing facts about the life of Tiburcio Vasquez is not sitting well with at least one resident.
During a special meeting organized ahead of a visit by the California Superintendent of Schools, Salinas resident Kirk Barrett decried a "letter" posted on the doors of many homes in his neighborhood, including his, calling it "racist."
"That letter is a regretful, hateful letter," he told board members. "It has offended me as an American, not a white American, or Mexican American, or black American, but as an American. There's no reason why, whomever speaks for the Alisal school district (should condone) the letter. That's very racist.
The naming of the newest school in the Alisal Union School District after Vasquez, who was convicted and hanged for murder in 1875, continues to stir controversy in the already polemical district. But while two major Salinas law enforcement associations have decried the move, Alisal officials defend their decision, saying Vasquez set an example for the district's children.
Francisco Estrada, former bilingual teacher at the Alisal, stood up after Barret to claim authorship for the letter and say he stood by his words.
"If you want to talk about (that) it was a racist letter, I honestly did not see it that way," Estrada said. "What is racist is all of the attacks from certain community members and certain people, and all the attacks by the media against our board and against our community."
Alisal supporters have repeatedly slammed media coverage of the issue, describing it as one-sided and prejudiced. They say Vasquez was unjustly persecuted during his lifetime and his life circumstances have not been appropriately researched.
"What I would like for people who are against the naming of the school is please do some research, not just look at Wikipedia," Estrada said.
The flier, intended as an eight-point fact sheet about Vasquez's life, describes his origins as descendent of the Juan Bautista de Anza expedition, his pedigree in California going back to 1760s. It describes details of a brawl in Monterey that sent him into hiding to avoid lynching, details of his trial and of his execution.
"Tiburcio was tried before a jury of twelve white men, a white judge, with no Mexican Californio allowed to testify on his behalf," the flier reads. "Of more than 20 subpoenas given by the defense to the sheriffs of Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Clara counties, none were served."
Barrett, who has lived in the Montebella neighborhood since 2008, seemed particularly upset with the letter's mention of "white men."
"That letter said 'white men, white American.' I did not have anything to do with what happened in the past," he said. "I'm today here to be part of this community. Now I'm fearful as a white Caucasian male for someone to say 'Let's get together, the white American did this to us.' Now I'm fearful of gangbangers who to want to step up and get back at the white man."
Estrada believes Barrett's response is "immature."
"The intent is not to incite anyone, the intent is for people to become aware of the facts," he said by phone. "It's ridiculous and immature, I don't see why he should fear anything. If anything, Hispanics in the east side should be fearful of the threats we've received because the media has blown this out of proportion."
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or firstname.lastname@example.org