Last week, a group of New Jersey high schoolers made headlines by organizing a walkout in solidarity with three students who were scolded by a teacher for speaking Spanish. In a cellphone video that was captured by a student and posted to Snapchat, the Cliffside Park High School teacher can be heard saying: “Military men and women are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish; they’re fighting for your right to speak American.”
A few of the students in the class can be seen walking out of the room in the video itself. Later on, nearly 100 staged a coordinated walkout despite warnings of punishment from the school’s principal.
One of the students scolded was Vianery Cabrera, a 16-year-old junior who, NBC News reports, immigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic three years ago.
“I laughed, because, first of all, that’s not a language,” Vianery said. “I have the right to speak Spanish. I have the right to speak English. I have the right to speak whatever language I speak, and that’s my right. There’s no law that says that I should or I must speak English.”
The teacher’s remarks are shocking to some, completely unsurprising to others, and being defended by yet others as (groan) the right response to hearing a language other than English spoken in the classroom. Mixed reactions aside, one thing is hard to refute: The student body’s action of protest in support of their fellow students suggests that the younger generation has something to teach us about empathy and acceptance of difference.
Despite the extraordinary contributions that immigrants make to our society across communities and professional fields, we don’t always make it easy for them to feel accepted or to even thrive. With ongoing threats to DACA and the Trump Administration’s proposed revisions to the (again overturned) Muslim ban continuing to make headlines, it seems as though a lot of people have magically forgotten that the US is a settler society where everyone who isn’t 100 percent Native American is descended from immigrants. Cue eye roll.
According to NBC News, 49.7 percent of the Cliffside Park High School student body reports speaking Spanish at home, and 62 percent identified as Hispanic or Latino. Only 32 percent of the school’s population reports speaking English at home. The school has not given any comment on the teacher’s actions.
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(Featured photo via Google Maps)