Mexican Student Asks for Legislative Change After Sash Ban
Naomi Peña Villasano was banned from wearing a sash with the Mexican and United States flags printed on it for graduation by Grand Valley High School in late April.
Now, she’s advocating at the Colorado State Capitol for more inclusive legislation.
The district’s superintendent, Jennifer Baugh, personally emailed Villasano to explain their reasoning. However, instead of accepting the ruling, Villasano is standing up for legislative changes throughout the state of Colorado.
Naomi Peña Villasano wanted to represent her two nations with her sash
The school’s superintendent emailed Villasano explaining why she was banned from wearing the sash at graduation.
Baugh wrote that “To some people, the Confederate flag symbolizes much more than just the Confederacy at the time of the Civil War,” noting that the school would not be able to tell them to remove the flag on a sash in that case.
The Post Independent reports that Villasano responded that it is “in no way, shape or form OK to compare flags of nationality — especially the Mexican flag because that’s who I am — to the Nazi flag and the Confederate flag.”
According to the Post Independent, 40% of students in Villasano’s district are Latino. Because of that, Villasano felt compelled to escalate the issue to the state’s highest levels of government.
Additionally, Nazi and Confederate symbols were permanently banned from school property, according to page 33 of their student handbook. Soon after the superintendent’s response, Villasano sought the advice of lawyers in the area. Even starting a petition online that currently has almost 6,000 signatures.
The school’s response prompted Villasano to escalate the issue
Soon after Baugh’s response, the Post Independent reached out for further clarification on the school’s position. Baugh told the outlet they would not ban Villasano from walking during graduation. However, they would ask her to remove the sash if she wore it.
When asked what would happen if Villasano refused, she said, “We would hope that we don’t get to that point.”
Villasano doesn’t consider she should have to tiptoe around an unjust policy. Especially when she has the power to make real change happen.
“I want to help enforce this policy of allowing people to wear their nation’s flag,” she said. Adding that she has nephews getting ready to graduate from high school, too.
The 18-year-old has teamed up with Democratic Representative Elizabeth Velasco to stand up for protecting students of color. Speaking to lawmakers, including the state’s governor, Jared Polis, Villasano and Velasco demanded laws that would nullify the school’s decision.
Polis recently signed a law protecting Native American students
On May 5, Polis signed a law allowing Native American students to wear cultural symbols at their high school graduations. However, Villasano thinks those protections should extend to all students who want to show their cultural pride.
“The same should be allowed for all students sharing their cultural pride in moments of community celebration!” Velasco said. “I will work on legislation next year to ensure that right for all students.”
Velasco co-authored bill SB23-202, eventually signed into law by Solis. The legislation specifies that public schools “shall not prohibit a qualifying student or the qualifying student’s immediate family from wearing and displaying tribal regalia at a graduation ceremony.”
Additionally, the President and CEO of Voces Unidas, Alex Sánchez, praised the bill but agreed that the protections should extend to all students regardless of race or ethnicity. He also acknowledged that it is offensive to compare cultural pride with Nazi and Confederate symbols.