At a typical lunch hour at Newport Harbor High School in Newport Beach, California, Latino students say whites and Hispanics tend to sit on opposite sides of the room. But tensions at the school—which is 58 percent white and 36 percent Hispanic—have gotten worse with the rise of Donald Trump, say a group of Latino students who successfully fought to wear t-shirts expressing their views about the controversial Republican presidential candidate.
Over the last few months, students who support Trump have worn “Make America Great Again” T-shirts and hats to school, making some Latino students feel uncomfortable. Words such as “wetbacks” and “go back to Mexico” have also been graffitied with chalk throughout campus in recent weeks.
Several students believed to be involved were called in to the office this week, a Newport-Mesa Unified District official said. It’s unclear whether pro-Trump supporters are behind the graffiti, though Latino students point out that words such as “Trump 2016” have also been graffitied.
“I think Trump has made people feel that it’s okay for them to speak so badly about immigrants,” said Susan Chingay, a 16-year-old student at Newport Harbor High School.
Chingay said that last Friday, after hearing that a teen had been punched at an anti-Trump rally, she and five of her friends decided they needed to take a stance. They wore “Dump Trump” T-shirts to school as a way to stand up against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his remarks about Mexican immigrants.
“When he came out with his speech about how Mexico sends rapists and criminals, that hit home for me,” said Chingay, whose mother immigrated from Mexico more than 20 years ago and does not have legal status. “I felt that I needed to speak up.”
But the school did not approve of the “Dump Trump” T-shirts and asked students to remove them.
One by one, the students were called to the front office where the school principal, Sean Boulton, told them they needed to remove their shirts for safety reasons. The students objected and said they felt they were being treated differently than Trump supporters, who had been allowed to wear their shirts on campus since the beginning of the school year.
“The principal told us how he was afraid of what was going to happen to us, but we told him he couldn’t silence us like that,” said Anthony Agama, one of the students who wore the anti-Trump shirt. “We told him we have a right to wear them.”
Agama, who was born in California to a Mexican immigrant family, said he decided to join his friends in wearing the anti-Trump shirts, because he disagrees with Trump’s assertion that Mexicans coming to the U.S. are rapists, drug traffickers and criminals.
“We’re nothing like what he describes us,” said Agama. “We’re educated people. Half of my family back in Mexico is super educated. They’re doctors, lawyers and architects. My sister and cousins living here are going to college, too. We’re hard workers, not criminals.”
Angelina Alvarez, another student who wore the “Dump Trump” T-shirt, said Trump’s remarks about Mexican immigrants are also personal for her. The 16-year-old said her grandmother came to the U.S. from Mexico seeking “a better life” and that her family members “are not criminals.”
The students were eventually allowed to wear their anti-Trump shirts.
Annette Franco, public relations officer for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, said the principal initially asked the Latino students to remove their shirts “to prevent disturbances” in class. After assessing the situation and speaking to the students, she said, the principal decided to allow the students to wear their shirts.
“Students are allowed to wear their political attire and talk about different issues,” Franco insisted. “But as soon as we learn that their safety is compromised, then that’s when we step in and try to do what we can to make sure that we can ensure the safety of our students.”
The Latino students said they believe the school would have prevented them from wearing their “Dump Trump” shirts had they not refused to remove them.
They plan to wear their shirts again on Friday during a meeting with the principal, parents and students who support Trump. The meeting was set up by the school as a way to ease tension between students.
"It needs to be fair," said Alvarez.