Alex and mother, Debra Fierro after school board meeting. Photo by Christine Williams
VISALIA, CALIFORNIA – Fourth-grader Alex Fierro, a member of the Wukchumni (Yokut) tribe, proves one person’s action–or lack of action–can make a difference. He is already at his young age a catalyst for change in his school district. Alex, 10, refused to sing “21 Missions” in his music class. “21 Missions” is a song that glorifies all 21 Catholic missions in California.
Once his class at Shannon Ranch Elementary in Visalia, California were given the words of “21 Missions” to sing, Alex did not feel right about singing the song. Alex told his mother, Debra Fierro, about the song and asked her to write a letter to his teacher so he would not have to sing the song. His mother asked him to tell her about the song, and he refused to speak any of it. She asked him to bring the song home and he did the next day.
On Friday, April 24, 2015, his mother read the song and she notified the Wukchumni Tribal Council and elders to share the song. Debra Fierro and the tribal leaders were outraged by the lyrics that they found to be derogatory towards American Indians.
“21 Missions” lyrcis include:
“Men of faith, the good news preaching/ praying, teaching, searching, reaching/ out to the red man’s soul/ Oh, what a noble goal.”
And “Come little Indian dance with me.”
By Monday, April 27, 2015, letters to Alex’s teacher, principal, and superintendent of Visalia Unified Schools District (VUSD) were sent asking to have the song removed from the curriculum.
Alex’s mother received messages from the principal and assistant superintendent that night, stating that they would address the issue the following day. Many of our tribal members took to Facebook to share this story and gain support for the school board meeting the following day.
The Wukchumni Tribal Chair Darlene Franco wrote emails and made phone calls to VUSD officials calling for the song’s removal from the entire district’s curriculum.
By the afternoon, she had spoken to the VUSD Board President who assured her that the song was being removed and would never be put back into the district. She let him know that representatives from the Wukchumni Tribe would be attending the School Board meeting that evening to address this issue, and he encouraged us to do so. About 30 supporters attended the meeting, four of whom read letters to the board: Darlene Franco (Wukchumni), Debra Fierro (Wukchumni), Yaynicut Franco (Wukchumni), and Cristina Gonzales (Chumash).
After the remarks by the tribal representatives, the VUSD Board President apologized on his behalf and stated that the song has been removed.
Last Friday, May 1, 2015, the assistant superintendent and Alex’s music teacher had a meeting with Alex, Debra, and Darlene to formally apologize to Alex.