Battle of Alisal
School district under fire for naming new school, but scholars advise a closer look.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Tiburcio Vasquez: Robin Hood, or robbin’ hoodlum?
Battle lines over the Californio, who was executed for murder in 1875, have been drawn over the naming of a Salinas elementary school.
Earlier this month, the Alisal Unified School District trustees voted to name a new school after Vasquez, prompting outrage. The Monterey County Deputy Sheriff Association released a statement that the Salinas school, mired in gang violence, should not honor a man whose name is associated with crime.
Detractors focus on the murder charge and Vasquez’s reputation as a cattle-stealing bandido, but retired teacher Francisco Estrada says there’s more to the story.
“If they go to Wikipedia, which is for meager minds, they would find he was a murderer and a bandit,” he says. But digging deeper, one might learn that Vasquez was a scholar, a musician and a writer.
Vasquez, Estrada says, was a victim of the destitution and discrimination brought on by the California gold rush, which attracted greedy settlers who took the Mexicans’ land following the Mexican-American War.
Those who call Vasquez a thief should think about who the real thieves were, Estrada says: “Was it him, who took a few horses and cattle, or was it the robbers who took his father’s land and hundreds of heads of cattle?”
History is complex, says Maria Villaseñor, Chicano studies professor at CSU Monterey Bay. Look at Stanford University, she says, named after a railroad tycoon whose work led to the displacement and killing of Native Americans.
“As a teacher,” she says, “I always want to encourage people to examine things in the full complexity that they deserve.”