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Hate Letters Spur Students to Focus on Race Relations

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Students at Santa Monica High School were focused Thursday on assemblies, class discussions and writing assignments fostering better race relations in the wake of an official-looking hate letter sent to about 700 Spanish-surnamed families.

The mood on campus was calm, but some parents kept their children at home out of fear that violence would erupt.

The one-page typed letter, received by most of the families on Wednesday, made blatantly racist remarks about Mexicans and was signed by the “Samohi Assn. for the Advancement of Conservative White Americans.”

Its author used the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District headquarters as a return address, the district’s bulk-mail permit number and copies of last year’s address labels, Supt. Eugene Tucker said.

The letter attacks last year’s senior class president, this year’s homecoming queen and a former assistant principal, who are Latino. About 30% of the 2,649 students at the high school are Latino.

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The rambling letter also supports a proposal to restrict lunchtime off-campus privileges and attacks a program for gay and lesbian students that was started this year.

“It’s the best example of a hate-crime letter designed to bring out the worst in everyone,” Tucker said.

Students said they were outraged and upset, but dismissed the author as irrational.

“He’s an ignorant person,” said junior Helen Soulimiotis. “We know that it’s just a bunch of bull. We’re not listening to him.”

Josephine Santiago, president of MEChA, a Latino student group, told an all-Latino assembly that she was angry. The letter “kind of woke us all up, though not in a nice way.”

Police said they suspect that it was the work of someone who worked in the school system who had access to the mailing items.

“It’s more than amateur,” said Santa Monica Police Sgt. Bill Brucker. Some officials suspect it may be a student because the memo has details about issues and even rumors on campus and a few grammar and spelling errors.

Tucker said that the PTA and “legitimate organizations” can request mailing lists from the district. “We don’t make (them) readily accessible, but it’s not guarded in a safe, either.”

Tucker guessed that the memos were probably dropped into several mailboxes throughout the city, “were buried in the avalanche of mail,” and were not separated and checked as bulk mail should be.

Brucker said the Police Department is investigating the incident as a hate crime and has reported it to the FBI. The incident may also be prosecuted as a violation of federal civil rights laws and mailing regulations, he said.

Police were checking one tip from a student who works at a copying store, who said that a woman ordered about a hundred copies of the letter Wednesday night.

Authorities said it was the first incident of its kind in the district. At the assembly for Latino students, City Councilman Tony Vazquez was cheered as he urged the crowd to “fight . . . not with your fist, but with your head.”

He said later that the solution to such incidents is to develop a multicultural curriculum. “This has been festering here. If we don’t add (awareness) through curriculum and staff . . . it will get out of hand,” he said.

Other assemblies were held for the entire student body. One teacher reportedly led his class around campus in the morning, singing “We Shall Overcome.” The National Conference of Christians and Jews is helping to plan a Cultural Diversity Day at the school next week.

At the district’s middle and elementary schools, teachers also held discussions with students about racism.

Senior Gavin Marquez, who received the letter yesterday, said that at first he wanted to “find this person, beat him up.” But he said that as he reread it, “the more of a joke it became. It was so funny because this guy’s so ignorant.”

Sophomore Fabiola Murillo said Latino students must “prove them wrong . . . by being yourself, not being like they say we are.”


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