Ripley: The case for Campo Verde High - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Ripley: The case for Campo Verde High

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Posted: Friday, November 21, 2008 10:09 pm | Updated: 10:18 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Had she achieved anything? I ask Gilbert School board member Elaine Morrison.

"You're here," she answers.

She had me. I was here at the Gilbert Historical Museum at 10 S. Gilbert Road and it was because of her that I was here at the museum.

At the school board's Nov. 4 meeting, the board handed Morrison a defeat and voted to reconsider naming the district's fifth and newest high school Campo Verde.

"I think a trip to the Gilbert Historical Museum might be in order to get a sense of what it used to be like out here," Morrison said.

Morrison had championed the name and initially won the board's support, but that support evaporated as critics mobilized.

The name was confusing. It wasn't representative of the area. It was, well, Spanish and that makes it un-American. (OK, I don't know if anybody actually said that in public, but you know that's what some are thinking.)

So I make the trip and join Morrison, museum executive director Kayla Kolar and Dale Hallock, a former mayor of Gilbert and town historian.

In 1920, one third of the population of Gilbert was Mexican, Hallock says.

That was when Gilbert was a small town surrounded by green alfalfa fields.

At the time, the school was integrated, but that changed in 1927 when the Mexican School was created.

Kolar and Hallock show me pictures of the students at the Mexican School and a display on 44 Mexican-American families who joined Anglo farmers from the Midwest and Canada to build the town of Gilbert.

The Morrison family is one of those pioneering families.

So Elaine Morrison saw the name Campo Verde as a way of honoring Gilbert's past and sharing the history of Gilbert with the students who will attend the school.

By the way, if you are Spanish-impaired like me, Campo Verde means green field.

Gilbert already has a Greenfield Elementary School and a Greenfield Junior High School. What does it matter if there is also a high school named Greenfield, or Campo Verde?

Apparently a lot to some people.

"People have written in e-mail what I never would have imagined," says Morrison.

Morrison does not seem angry about the backlash and the board's reversal on the name.

Disappointed and philosophical are on my short list of adjectives for describing her demeanor.

In part she attributes the backlash to "no sense of place" for the thousands of families that swelled Gilbert's population in this decade alone.

To them, she says Gilbert is a "mall, freeway and swimming pool in the backyard."

She also addresses the discomfort some have with the Spanish name by pointing out that English has been absorbing words from other languages since 1066 when the Normans of France and Anglo-Saxons forced two very different languages to integrate on one tiny island.

No doubt about that. The word "mesquite" didn't come over on the Mayflower, nor did "Mesa" nor did "vista," and so on.

However it ends, the debate, Morrison says, has been a teaching moment.

"In this case, a win comes to the community learning something about itself - engaging in the activity of self-reflection and coming out different (maybe only slightly) on the other side."

It also has been a learning moment, and one lesson learned by Morrison is that "there is a lot more work to be done in our Character Counts program."

"The lesson some community members would teach is simply wrong, so I will push back against bigotry."

I didn't like the name "Campo Verde" when I first heard. No reason, other than its unfamiliarity to my Anglo ears. But I learned something about Gilbert from Morrison and the museum and now see things her way.

I also learned something about Morrison's character that I can't help but admire.

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Jim Ripley is executive editor of the Tribune. Contact him at jripley@evtrib.com or (480) 898-6546.

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