A Worthy Celebration
May 6, 2001

The Cinco da Mayo celebration at St. Norbert College on Saturday, May 5 th was a colorful affair, filled with food, music and dancing. The turnout of students, faculty, staff and community members, for the first such celebration at the College, was quite considerable, and it's fair to say that a good time was had by all. The organizers of the function, students Lillian Morales and Paul Lebron, earned richly deserved plaudits; they, in turn, were appreciative of the guidance provided by Dr. Gratzia Smeall and Ms. Cindy Hill.

The affair also featured a guest talk by Mr. Antonio Saldana, a high school Spanish teacher. Mr. Saldana, who writes on diversity issues in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, spoke about the historical significance of the occasion. May 5 th is not, as some believe, Mexico 's independence day–rather, Saldana pointed out, it's the day Mexico defeated the French army (in a battle–they went on to lose the war).

Saldana touched upon the battles, the “Cinco da Mayos”, that are still being fought every day. Addressing the subject of racism, he recounted the reactions evoked by his newspaper columns. Reading aloud from some of the letters he has received over the years from readers (the contents in some cases, he said, could not be repeated in polite company), he demonstrated the unfortunate tendencies of intolerance and prejudice that persist in pockets of society. In an almost comical vein, some correspondents asked Saldana to return to his country, not realizing that Saldana, an American citizen, was born and brought up in this country.

While Saldana's delivery clearly revealed the narrow-mindedness, even bigotry, of some of his column's readers, it left hanging the question of the extent of such prejudice in society at large. Has Saldana received letters over the years commending him for his coverage of diversity issues? If so, did they outnumber the disparaging ones? We do not know. But the fact that the Press-Gazette has given him space to air his views for several years leads one to suspect that Saldana's opinions find strong resonance among the newspaper's readers.

An immigrant friend of mine, who works in the software industry, points out how charges of prejudice, even racism, are bandied around rather too glibly. Software development is an industry whose success depends keenly on rewarding merit appropriately–yet, employees of foreign origin who are passed over for promotion may attribute the decision to their manager's racist tendencies rather than any shortcomings in their own credentials for the higher-level position.

This is not to deny that biases, prejudices, outright racism, play no role in such matters. Or that society has managed to banish the scourge in other walks of life. Rather, the question is: How widespread is the problem, and does the legal system provide sufficient redress for those who suffer as a result?

Events like the Cinca da Mayo celebration provide a useful service. They bring people together, and in so doing, give us an opportunity to relish our diversity–and mitigate the possibility of future misunderstandings.

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