An ongoing investigation into claims that La Quinta city officials asked a group of elementary school students to remove references to Hispanic culture during a September library performance has been expanded to include claims by a Mexican-American author, who alleges library officials asked him to remove a Mexican flag during a meet-and-greet event in 2016, county officials confirmed Wednesday.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors agreed last week to fund an independent investigation into the Sept. 15 performance by students from Coachella’s Cesar Chavez Elementary School.
The investigation will examine claims that the students were asked by library staff to remove a Mexican flag from their Hispanic Heritage Month performance and remove any information relating to Hispanic culture, according to a letter written by Coachella Valley Unified School District Superintendent Edwin Gomez.
The letter, sent to La Quinta Mayor Linda Evans last month, alleged that the students’ teacher was asked to “change their songs and dances to a more patriotic, American performance,” if they wished to perform at the library in the future, with “Yankee Doodle” and other America-centric songs suggested over songs like “Marcha Zacatecana,” the anthem of the Mexican state of Zacatecas.
Gomez alleges that library staff were following directives from city officials, and that the changes were made due to a local citizen who complained to Evans about public events depicting Mexican culture.
Evans denied that city officials were involved in directing students to alter their performances, but has said that the event was changed in title only from a strictly Mexican Independence Day celebration to a Hispanic Heritage Celebration, in order to be inclusive of all Hispanic cultures.
Evans also denied that the city council had the authority to make any such directives to city staff or county-contracted library staff.
Mexican-American author Victor Villasenor has come forward to allege that in January 2016, he was asked by library staff to remove a Mexican flag during a presentation regarding one of his books, then asked to leave the premises. City officials forwarded Villasenor’s claims to the Riverside County Counsel’s Office, which confirmed they will be part of the investigation which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The probe will be conducted by Barbara Raileanu, an attorney with “extensive experience in conducting investigations into misconduct, including allegations of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, workplace violence, and other allegations of workplace misconduct,” according to the office of Fourth District County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez.
“My focus is on making it up to the community and especially the kids, and finding the appropriate way to move forward,” Perez said. “A thorough and objective investigation will help determine exactly what occurred, how decisions were made, and ultimately think through measures of oversight, governance structure, lines of communication, cultural competency and other necessary improvements to ensure everybody presenting at our libraries is treated with respect.”