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"I'm 100% American and 100% Mexican." School bans student from displaying her Hispanic heritage at graduation

Student Naomi Peña Villasano sued Grand Valley High School in Colorado for not allowing her to wear a sash with the U.S. and Mexican flags. A judge ruled in favor of the school one day before the ceremony.

Captura de pantalla de una alumna con la estola con los colores de Estados Unidos y Mexico.

(Captura de pantalla)

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Naomi Peña Villasano, a senior at Grand Valley High School in Parachute, Colorado, will not be able to show off her U.S. and Mexican heritage at her graduation this Saturday. Judge Nina Y. Wang ruled in favor of the school Friday, which Villasano had sued after it banned her from wearing a Mexican American sash to represent her roots:

I’m a 200 percenter — 100% American and 100% Mexican. I was born in the United States but my parents are Mexican immigrants who came here for a better life . . . They have sacrificed and provided for me in so many ways that I am so beyond grateful for. And also my brothers. I’m proud of who I am and the opportunities that I have. 

The day before the graduation ceremony last Friday, the judge ruled that choosing what clothes can be worn during a graduation ceremony is part of the school's right to free speech, not the students', according to AP. Therefore, she concluded that the school may restrict Villasano's expression as it sees fit.

"I will not allow my culture, heritage, and nationality to be shut down from being represented," Villasano wrote in an online petition, which had more than 6,700 signatures the day before the ceremony. In addition, she pointed out that she was told on two separate occasions that she could not wear it because it could offend some of her classmates.

In the lawsuit filed last Wednesday, the plaintiff's legal representatives accuse the Garfield school district of hypocrisy and discrimination: "The district will not allow Naomi to wear the sash honoring her Mexican American heritage but the District will allow students at the graduation ceremony to wear sashes honoring Pacific Islander heritage, Native American heritage and enlistment in the military."

In the 2022 Grand Valley High School graduation ceremony, two other students wore leis constructed from money bills (while crossing the graduation stage and receiving their diplomas). One student wore a ribbon leis decorated with dollar bills, his name and his graduation year. Another student wore a similar leis decorated with flower-shaped bills.

Voz Media found that several students wore sashes with various decorations at last year's graduation. The Grand Valley school administrators allowed them to take the stage, receive their diplomas and even take pictures with them.

Screenshots of students at Grand Valley School in Parachute, Colorado, wearing assorted long scarves.

First Amendment

In the text, the plaintiff's attorneys allege that the ban violates the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. In addition, it infringes on the freedom of speech guaranteed in the Colorado Constitution and the right of students to display the Stars and Stripes representing the country.

Naomi Peña Villasano - Dema... by Santiago Adolfo Ospital

"We live in an age of increasing threats to the First Amendment in public schools," Thomas Saenz, president of MALDEF, an organization that defends the rights of Latinos in the United States, said after filing the complaint. "Here, the district has wrongly concluded that it is allowed to discriminate against certain students and their heritage while honoring that of other students; our Constitution does not permit such obvious discrimination."