Before Canyon High's Mexi-Mocking Mess, There Was El Modena's Blackface Botch Up--And Canyon High's Principal Was at Both!
Principal Greg Bowden claimed to the Weekly that senior dress up day during student spirit week had gone for years with no prior incident, only the inquiry found that not to be the case. At the early onset of this school year, he has taken a reportedly unrelated leave of absence until December according to a source familiar with the situation. But racist dress-up at Canyon High was not the first for Orange Unified School District. Another sordid affair splashed across local headlines twenty-four years ago this month.
During a "Disco Day" pep rally at El Modena High School in Orange, the Associated Student Body president and six cheerleaders performed a skit in blackface rightly angering African-American students and parents.
The racist racket occurred on September 30, 1988 and as the Los Angeles Times reported, the cheerleaders adorned Afro wigs during a Jackson Five routine as the student body president "dressed up" as Stevie Wonder -- all in blackface.
Former Orange Unified board member Russell Barrios, who served at the time, described the sad skit as "an isolated incident" with no "malice of intent." Barrios, still a player in Orange's politics having endorsed Teresa 'Tita' Smith for Mayor, claimed that the stereotyping stupidity was a last minute improvisation of the students themselves under the nose of both Principal Gail Seal and their unnamed cheer adviser.
Out of the outrage, a newly formed Black Student Union held a two-hour meeting with members of the Associated Student Body following the pep rally. Joe Komarinski, who had painted his face black and wove yarn in his hair to look like braids, said the "skit was meant to bring about student spirit." Now, that sounds so familiar!
Black students spoke to a Reggie reporter at the time under conditions of anonymity recounting feelings of humiliation. Another article canvassed the stands of a Friday night football game quoting a person who though the skit funny. Now, that sounds so familiar, too!
El Modena could only count 15 African-Americans among its 1,850 strong student body that particular school year. A mother of one of the fifteen Black kids didn't find it funny saying at the time, "It is an insult, a racial slur and I can't believe this is happening in 1988."
Nearly a quarter of a century later in Orange Unified, mocking people of color still happens as students at Canyon High illustrated last June with regards to Mexicans.
One last thing. According to another source who tipped the Weekly, one of those on staff during the blackface fiasco was none other than band director Alfred Greg Bowden. Too bad he didn't learn the lessons of El Modena before going on to become Principal at Canyon where "Seniores and Señoritas" Day would wreak havoc!
With Halloween coming up, let's just hope that students heed the 'We are a culture, not a costume,' campaign started by an Ohio organization of undergrads.
Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!