Published June 10, 2010
Standing in front of a wall-to-wall mural featuring a who's who of revolutionaries, including Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, and boldly displaying the motto Patria o Muerte, Venceremos!!! (Fatherland or Death, We Shall Overcome!!!), a group of teachers, students, parents and community activists in the Los Angeles Unified School District gathered last month for an unusual field trip — to Arizona, to protest that state's controversial immigration law.
A video posted on YouTube shows LA social studies teacher Jose Lara interviewing teachers and students on May 28 at the headquarters of an organization calling for a Mexican revolution on U.S. soil. Soon after he shot the video, many in the group left for an overnight "freedom ride" to Phoenix to protest what Lara tells the camera is a "racist and outrageous" law.
Four days later, the school board president implored the superintendent of schools to ensure that students in the district be taught that Arizona's law is "un-American" and Jim Crow-like. The law, passed in April, empowers law enforcement officials to question the immigration status of people they think may be in the country illegally.
Lara, who made the video, teaches at the Unified School District's Santee Education Complex with Ron Gochez, another social studies teacher who came under fire last month after he was identified making incendiary remarks in a widely circulated YouTube video that shows him speaking at a 2007 rally for La Raza, a revolutionary group calling for Mexican revolt inside the United States.
In that video, Gochez referred to Americans as "frail, racist, white people, and to California as "stolen, occupied Mexico." The video's posting led to a groundswell of anger and a flood of calls for Gochez's firing, but a school district investigation found him fit to continue teaching history to public school students.
Both Lara and Gochez are active in numerous revolutionary groups, including Union Del Barrio, a La Raza organization that Gochez helped establish across the street from Santee High School.
In the video shot before the trip to Arizona, students, teachers and others are seen gathered at the Union Del Barrio meeting hall and cultural center in Los Angeles, called Centro Cultural Francisco Villa — a nod to one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution — where wall murals picture revolutionary leaders — including Ho Chi Minh — holding machine guns.
Beside portraits of the revolutionaries is a hand-painted rendering of the famous and long-living revolutionary motto: Patrio o Muerte, Venceremos!!! Popularized by Fidel Castro during the Cuban Revolution, it’s been used by Latin American leaders including Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, who declared it the official motto of his nation's army three months ago.
Gochez confirmed to FoxNews.com that he participated in the caravan to Arizona, though he does not appear in Lara’s video blog entry. Gochez did, however, give numerous on-camera interviews to local news outlets from Centro Cultural Francisco Villa that same night.
In his video, Lara asks a North Hollywood High School student named Susana why she's heading to Arizona.
"Even though we're — I don’t even know how miles away — we're there, we're there for la gente, we're there to help every Latino who's being accused for being immigrants," Susana says. "We have the power to make a lot of change."
Toward the end of the video, Lara introduces another LAUSD teacher, Clare Martinet of Garfield High School.
"I'm getting on the bus because, I think, that the laws are such a threat to all of us," she says. "I'm getting on the bus for all the people that can't get on the bus — for my students and parents of my students ... I'm here with them in solidarity."
School district spokesman Robert Alaniz declined to comment.
The teachers who accompanied students to Phoenix are no strangers to political activism and controversial speech. Gochez has organized against immigration law enforcement raids and held anti-Immigration and Customs Enforcement meetings at his public high school. Lara has worked to secure scholarships and student loans for high school students who are in the U.S. illegally.
Lara and Martinet did not respond to e-mail requests for comment.
FoxNews.com has also uncovered e-mails sent by Martinet to a Progressive Educators discussion group that reveal her involvement in a May 16 march to protest Arizona's immigration law and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who gave a commencement speech that day at Pomona College.
In an e-mail to the group on March 15, Martinet listed the demands of the next day's "March and Rally to DHS Secretary Napolitano's Speech at the Pomona College."
1. To Stop the Criminalization of Immigrant Families!
2. No More Deportations and Raids!
3. Stop Using Police to Enforce Immigration Laws!
4. Stop Arizona Now!
5. Pass a Just/Humane Immigration Reform Now!"
The day after the march, Martinet wrote an e-mail directing the group to "a nationwide call for people to converge on Phoenix, Arizona, on May 29 for a National Day of Action."
Three days after the teachers and students caravanned to Phoenix to protest the immigration law, the Los Angeles school district board passed a resolution opposing it. The board said the district would look into curtailing district travel to the district and business with any Arizona-based companies. The school board president called on the superintendent to ensure that students throughout the district are taught that the immigration law is "un-American."
Hours after that June 1 school board meeting, Lara posted on his Facebook wall a link to an article titled, "LAUSD board condemns Arizona Immigration law," along with the comment, "I know what I am teaching tomorrow in class!!!!"
Others weren't so sure. A Facebook user named Anne responded, "LAUSD CLEAN UP YOUR OWN HOUSE FIRST!" and another, Lou De Pace, a longtime LAUSD educator who's now retired, wrote, "amazing CA is going to hell in a handbag that is empty and we worry about AZ."
De Pace still sits on a teachers' union committee and is involved in national education and student activist causes. He said the student-teacher field trip was another example of the district focusing on other people’s issues while avoiding their own.
"I think it's ridiculous. There's so many more important things — like oversized classrooms, that's one of the biggest problems in the district," De Pace said. "I don't understand what their priorities are.... What message are we sending our kids, help everyone else other than yourself?"
"Clean your house up so you don't live in glass house that people can throw stones at it."