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Conservative school official doubled down on her cries of racism. It’s a display of arrogance and prejudice

Coronado, a sleepy seaside town in San Diego Bay, became home to a heated race-based controversy after the community’s high school basketball team beat Orange Glen High School in a championship game. Immediately after the tight game ended, coaches from both teams got into a heated scuffle in front of the Coronado bench. Two excited JV Coronado players threw tortillas high up into the air and some landed near the members from the majority-Latino Orange Glen team.

The incident started a cascade of events, creating the so-called “tortilla-gate” and dividing the small town. 

Critics immediately called the incident racist, and the Coronado Unified School District Board quickly put out an apology. However, further investigation cast doubt on any racial motivations  and the board subsequently retracted the racial component of its apology. Yet a conservative board member continues to argue that the incident was racist.

In a column reiterating her belief the tortilla-throwing was racial in nature, Coronado Unified School District Board Trustee Esther Valdes Clayton suggested that all California Latinos were in agreement about the incident: “Latinos will not support conservatives as long as we fight about whether Latinos deserve respect or an apology for racist actions, such as hurling tortillas at Latino students.”


The initial statement and apology from the CUSD Board was crafted in an illegal closed session and released within 24 hours of the tortilla throwing. The board would later learn that Luke Serna, a local political activist, instigated the incident. Serna, who is a registered Democrat and identifies as half-Mexican, clarified that his motivation for bringing four bags of tortillas to the game was purely celebratory. As reported by the San Diego Union Tribune, Serna said that it’s a long-standing tradition at the University of California, Santa Barbara, his alma mater, to throw tortillas at sporting events.

The board ultimately removed language in its apology condemning “racism, classism, and colorism” following these revelations.

Valdes Clayton voted against the language removal, apparently convinced that 24-hours is sufficient time to gather eyewitness accounts, analyze evidence, and conduct a meaningful investigation. Further, she suggested that the wealth disparity between Escondido and Coronado was considered by Clayton as evidence of “classism” and that the trivial fact that Serna – the instigator – happened to have a lighter skin tone was suggested as evidence of “colorism.” The quest for fairness and justice becomes a divisive zero-sum game that elevates group grievances over individual nuances.

There is a disturbing arrogance and prejudice here that mistakes perceptions as realities. It morally hijacks California’s second largest voting population by race in the name of group affinity. More, it ignores the electoral realities of racial issues in California.

In November 2020, over 9.65 million California voters, or 57.2% of the electorate, rejected Proposition 16, a racial-preference ballot measure aimed at reinstating race-based affirmative action, while 64% of the votes went for Biden. This means 35% of the Biden voters voted no on Proposition 16, according to the Center for Equal Opportunity.

All 10 counties with the largest percentage of Latinos in California voted against race-based affirmative action. An analysis of exit polls among Latinos in the recent recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom showed a six percent decline over the 2018 gubernatorial election. Beyond California, Latino support for conservative causes and candidates has grown, evidenced by a three percent surge in votes for Trump last year compared with the 2016 election.

Support for true equality – rather than superficial racial equity – united Californians across party lines and certainly was a winning issue in all majority-Latino counties.

In her pursuit of a political triage, the irony is not lost when Valdes Clayton professes to speak for the Latino community by claiming Latinos will not support conservatives. In sharp contrast, two Latinos hold prominent positions within the California Republican Party. Jessica Milan Paterson is the California GOP chairwoman and Jordan Gascon is both the executive director of the Republican Party of San Diego and the president of the Latino American Political Association. Gascon defended the Coronado High basketball team and criticized ungrounded emotional appeals that pander to and morally hijack Latino conservatives. 

Embracing the fashionable fad of racial identity politics may help score short-term gains, but it takes discipline and faith to uphold the timeless and fundamental ideals of liberty, prudence, personal responsibility and equality. In the current case, these widely shared principles are eroded by a petulant obsession with racial tribalism and divisive balkanization. After all, the basketball team players – children from both Orange Glen and Coronado – are deputized as either martyrs of victimhood or scapegoats for race-based thinking masquerading as a universal truth. Nobody wins at the end. 

Dr. Wenyuan Wu is executive director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation and an immigrant of Chinese descent. Alma Munguia-Kostenko is a Coronado Unified School District parent, a former intelligence analyst for the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves, a military wife and an immigrant of Honduran descent.


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