By Devona Walker
Mayra Sigala lives in a two-bedroom mobile home on a remote road behind Frontier City. The door to her room is wrapped in red and pink Valentines Day paper. Cupids and hearts encase her name. At times, she seems amazingly mature for her age. At others, she seems more insecure than most 15-year-olds.
"We try to ignore it as much as we can, but it just gets worse and worse,” Mayra said about the racist slurs yelled at her in the crowded hallways of Edmond Memorial High School.
The first incident occurred in early November, within a week of the passage of House Bill 1804, Oklahoma's stringent immigration enforcement statute. A fellow student, a football player, yelled at her in the hallway.
"He kept calling me names,” she said. "He kept telling me to go back to Mexico. I tried to tell him that I was born here, but he didn't believe me.”
Other students laughed.
"I guess they all agreed with him,” she said. Mayra did not tell the principal. She feared he would not believe her. Instead, she told her Spanish teacher. A few other Hispanic students were experiencing the same thing, she said. They were told by the teacher that something would be done. But the behavior continued, Mayra said. School officials say the information was not passed on. They say if they had known, something would have been done. But they conceded there have been issues in the past.
"It's obvious there were some issues we needed to address, otherwise we wouldn't have started native speaker's class,” said Brenda Lyons, associate superintendent with the Edmond School District. "Do we have bullying? Of course we do ... There's not any more than the norm with any other group.”
The native speaker's class started a few years back at Edmond Memorial. It's a class that blends learning the mechanics of the Spanish language with providing social support to Spanish-speakers.
Bullying at other schools
The problem isn't specific to Edmond Memorial High School. Community leaders say this school year has been noticeably difficult for many first-generation students. Many students have to translate and navigate cultural complexities for their parents; the language barrier means their parents are unable to advocate for them at school. Rey Madrid, youth organizer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, says Hispanic youth are reporting these things across the metro area. It's something all the children of the youth council speak freely about when they meet. The head of the youth council told him she has been targeted because of her race at Westmoore High School.
"These children are getting bullied and they are getting angry,” he said. Madrid warned that for some kids bullying pushes them to drop out, join gangs or use drugs.
"Whenever kids at school pick on somebody, that child that gets picked on is going to look for security,” he said. "Kids don't always know how to work things out for themselves, and they turn to gangs for security. They turn to drugs to ease the pain.”
‘Supposed to be here'
Mayra Sigala was born in Oklahoma. Her parents were granted amnesty in 1986, as part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act signed by President Reagan.
The act made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit undocumented immigrants, required employers to attest to their employees' immigration status, and granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants who entered the United States before 1982 and had resided there continuously.
Contributing: Staff Writer Jesse Oliverez.