2004-10-22 / Community

Controversy Over ‘Sexually Explicit’ Novel At Channel View

By Howard Schwach


 Denise Mulrain, a student at the Channel View Academy For Research at Beach Channel High School, holds a copy of the controversial book, “When I was Puerto Rican,” as Jacqueline Cruz, Filomena Cruz and Kathleen Cruz look on. The three 13-year-old eighth graders believe that the book is inappropriate because it is sexually explicit and because it denigrates Puerto Ricans.
Denise Mulrain, a student at the Channel View Academy For Research at Beach Channel High School, holds a copy of the controversial book, “When I was Puerto Rican,” as Jacqueline Cruz, Filomena Cruz and Kathleen Cruz look on. The three 13-year-old eighth graders believe that the book is inappropriate because it is sexually explicit and because it denigrates Puerto Ricans. The blurry line between the use of real-life material that will allow young students to enjoy literature and learn lessons about life, and the use of material that may not be appropriate for a particular age group has been challenged at the new Channel View Academy For Research, according to some parents who have contacted The Wave with a complaint about “sexually explicit” material at the school.

The book that has sparked the controversy is “When I Was a Puerto Rican,” a highly acclaimed book by Esmeralda Santiago that is used in many high schools throughout the nation.

Ivan Collado thinks that the book is not appropriate for his twin daughters, both eighth graders in the new program.

“The book has very sexually explicit material that is not suitable for children,” Collado told The Wave. “There is no reason for a book for young adults to describe sexual acts in detail.”

Collado says that the book also denigrates Puerto Ricans.

“The book refers to a time in a young girl’s life when she lived with a dysfunctional family in the ghetto and she refers to that time of her life as when she was Puerto Rican,” he says. “She insinuates that being a Puerto Rican is a bad thing.”

The dust jacket for the books says that it is a story of how “She overcame adversity, won acceptance to New York City’s High School of Performing Arts and then went on to Harvard, where she graduated with the highest honors. [It is] a record of a tremendous journey by a truly remarkable woman.”

Both Jacqueline Cruz and Kathleen Cruz, 13-year-old twins, who are in different eighth grade classes at the school, say that they are embarrassed to read and discuss the book in class. They were joined in that claim by a classmate, Denise Mulrain.

Jacqueline said that she was uncomfortable about the material in the book and she told her teacher.

“You’re too immature,” her teacher, Mr. Englebert, reportedly told her.

“This book is used everywhere and we’re going to continue to use it,” Principal Patricia Tubridy reportedly told Filomena Cruz, the mother of the twins, when she complained about the material in the book.

Cruz provided The Wave with copies of the material that angered and embarrassed both the two young girls and their parents.

On page 117, for example, there is an exchange that reads as follows:

“You first,”he said.

“No way, you first”

He pulled down his shorts and just as quickly pulled them up. “Your turn,” he said.

“I didn’t see anything.”

“Yes, you did.”

“I didn’t. And I’m not going to show you mine until I do.”

Although I’d seen both Hector’s and Raymond’s penises when I changed their diapers, I’d never seen one outside the family. Tato had no sisters, so I was pretty sure he’d never seen a girl’s private parts. I, of course, had seen several of those, too.

“Well, I’m not pulling my pants down again!” Tato said, walking away.

“Fine, I don’t have to see your silly old little chicken. I’ve seen my brothers’ and I’m sure they’re nicer than yours.”

“Those are baby pollitos. I’m already big. Mine has hair on it.”

“Oh, sure.”

“It does. And it gets so big, it can already go into a woman.”

“You’re disgusting.”

“I can get it into a woman and wiggle it around, like this,” He wriggled his finger in arches that circumscribed a space much larger than his hand, at the same time wiggling his hips in figure eights.

A number of parents and middle school teachers contacted by The Wave agreed that the material was too sexually-explicit for young people, especially if they are not emotionally ready to handle it.

“You cannot ask a young girl who says that she is embarrassed by the book to continue to read and discuss it,” one local teacher who asked not to be identified said. “And you can’t chastise the child for being too immature, because then she begins to believe that she does not belong in the class.”

“When my daughter brought her embarrassment to her teachers, she was told that she was too immature,” Collado said. “I think she showed a lot of maturity by having the courage to bring her uneasiness to his attention.”

The Department of Education’s press office was contacted for comment or for permission to speak with school officials at the Channel View Academy.

A department spokesperson took all the information and was read portions of the book. She told The Wave that somebody would contact the paper on Wednesday with a comment. At press time, however, there was no indication as to whether the school would continue to use the book with the eighth grade class. School officials cannot speak to the media without permission from the press office.

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