When I heard the news today that a group of teachers and staff at an Idaho elementary school dressed up as racist caricatures of Mexicans for Halloween (sombreros, mustaches, maracas), and that another group of staff members had dressed up as a FAKE BRICK WALL with the words "Make America Great Again" printed across it, and that the fucking school district's Facebook page proudly posted the pictures, I was furious. Then I thought, "That sounds like my elementary school." Then I read more and realized that it literally was my elementary school.
Middleton Heights Elementary, like Middleton, Idaho, as a whole, has always been a cesspool of whiteness. It is a place where clogging is popular*, which should tell you everything you need to know. That isn't to say it's a wholly white town. The town, most known for its high school exploding and now its elementary school staff's racist costumes, is full of Mexican Americans.
When my single mom and I first moved to Middleton, the only neighbors who were friendly to my mom were our Mexican American neighbors. The men of the town, which is largely Mormon, were of the Mike Pence variety and couldn't be left alone around my hot mom. Their wives would often bring my mom baked goods, sometimes in tears, claiming the Lord sent them to our home to set my mom up with missionaries. These people were misery.
So when I saw these staff members and their racist costumes, I was reminded of how intolerant Idaho has always been, and how now, under Trump, that intolerance has been given a stamp of approval, and how that approval must be thoroughly stamped out.
Another day, another racist costume. This is from Middletown School District in Idaho. Please call (208) 585-3027 to say
1) racism is unacceptable
2) they are creating and promoting a hostile learning environment to children
3) what is their plan to make it right? pic.twitter.com/DqUwvP3ROL
— unholy heidi (@heidiheilig) November 2, 2018
Middleton has never been shy about its racism. Throughout my childhood, I saw bald dudes with swastikas tattooed on their heads all over town—at the local gas station, outside the bar, and even buying subs at fucking Subway. Adults would whisper to me that those men were from Northern Idaho, not Southwest Idaho, which is where Middleton, Idaho is, but as the Middleton School District reminded us this Halloween season, Southwest Idaho has no problem being openly racist. I don't think it ever has. If you are not a white straight guy, you are always aware that people are watching you.
This was immediately clear to me. Like any nine-year-old, I was nervous that I wouldn't make friends at my new school, Middleton Heights, as I started the third grade. To give me confidence, my mom gave me a chain necklace of my favorite Pokémon—Gengar, a spooky ghost-like Pokémon—and said he'd watch over me. (We didn't believe in angels.) But during my first week, an older student found me on the playground, said, "Give me your Gengar, fag," and choked me with the necklace. I was shocked. I had no idea what "fag" meant and I had never been choked. I managed to run away, but I didn't tell any teachers because I felt guilty. Surely, something about me had caused this older kid to want to strangle me**, and if I told the teachers about this something, I thought they'd say I was the problem. I was a fag, an outsider, and I didn't think the school would support me. Seeing the school's staff in their Halloween costumes this year reminded me that I was probably right. Nine-year-olds should not have to have these conversations with themselves.
The school district's superintendent, Dr. Josh Middleton, said in a Facebook Live video published this morning that he offered his "sincerest and deepest apologies." Elizabeth Almanza, a member of Protecting Our Dreams and Empowering Resilience (PODER) of Idaho, a group dedicated to supporting undocumented Idahoans, wrote in a Facebook post: "Imagine how some of the students felt when they walked into their classrooms on Halloween and saw their teachers (people they look up to) dressed like this? This is NOT funny. This is heartbreaking. Students deserve better."
The damage inflicted by these costumes is intentional, designed to remind students and their families that they are unwelcome. Trump has emboldened these beliefs, especially in recent weeks with his rants against the migrant caravan and threats to end birthright citizenship with an executive order. These educators embody Trump's rhetoric, confusing selfishness and hatred for patriotism. If the people of Middleton, Idaho, believe themselves to be above this type of hatred, then these publicly-funded educators will face consequences. But they won't, because Middleton Heights Elementary is a nightmare. I hope Gengar haunts their dreams.
*At my middle school talent show, there were six clogging acts. Six, I believe, out of ten total acts.
**To be fair, I think this kid grew up to be gay, and I really wanted to blow him when we were in middle school.