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Schools in Los Gatos and Saratoga represent how these communities differ from the county they call home

Los Gatos--Los Gatos and Saratoga are part of Santa Clara County, but the numbers from the recently released U.S. Census 2000 show pronounced differences in the ethnic makeup between these communities and their environs.

Los Gatos and Saratoga deviate from the trend that shows an emerging ethnic diversity in the county, which is less than 50 percent white. Still, Los Gatos and Saratoga, which the census found to be 83 and 65 percent white, respectively, have undergone a dramatic racial shift in the past decade. Nowhere is that shift more evident than in the local schools, especially in the high school district that bridges both communities.

In 1989, the Los Gatos-Saratoga High School District reported to the state that of the 2,457 students, 86 percent was white, 10.2 percent Asian and 2.9 percent Hispanic. Last year, the district totals came to 68.9 percent white, 24.7 Asian--an increase of 242 percent in 11 years--and 3.9 percent Hispanic. As a result, student activities at these local high schools tend to reflect their ethnic climates.

Both the town of Los Gatos and Los Gatos High School have a white majority. According to state statistics in October 2000, 86 percent of the 1,450-person student body at LGHS is white, with no other race breaking into the double digits.

Accordingly, the lack of cultural organizations at LGHS is indicative of the relative racial homogeneity at the school. While LGHS does have language-based extracurricular activities, such as Spanish, Italian and French clubs, no ethnicity-based clubs are currently in existence.

"I can't remember if LGHS has any cultural clubs, because if we did, they never really did anything I can think of," says Joel Key, a white LGHS graduate. "This dearth of clubs reflects exactly the lack of diversity at LGHS."

Until 1999, the campus boasted an Asian Cultural Exchange club, which was started in 1997. "Seeing that the high school lacks the diversity seen in other parts of our county," says LGHS graduate and former club president Angel Cheng, who is Chinese, "I wanted to promote uniqueness of some of the different cultures that have been lumped together to make up the 'Asian' population at our high school."

Craig Sakamoto, LGHS math teacher, football coach and advisor to the now-defunct club, says that meetings were spent identifying characteristics, holidays and festivals of the different Asian cultures. Events were held that included food and dancing. The club included some white students: "It wasn't my intention to leave it all for Asians," Sakamoto says.

Sakamoto points to apathetic leadership as the reason the club stopped meeting during the 1998-1999 school year. "It just kind of went by the wayside," Sakamoto says.

The situation is similar at San Jose's Leigh High School, which has a high number of students who live in Los Gatos. Seventy-four percent of the kids at Leigh are white. Activities Coordinator Jennifer Foster says that the only cultural club at Leigh was the Persian Club, which is no longer around.

Students, however, are aware of the lack of diversity in their schools. The March edition of Reality Check, an award-winning LGHS student publication, focuses on racism within the school. "In elite schools like LGHS it is hard to overpower stereotypes when there are so few examples," one student writes anonymously. Another says, "Since our town has so little cultural diversity, people at Los Gatos High have no concept of what it feels like to be a minority. Due to this cultural makeup, I, myself, as a minority have seen the horrible misconceptions and actions of my fellow classmates."

"At lunch you drive by and every single person looks the same," Mary Elliott, a white LGHS junior, says. "It's so generic in every way, like their race is the same, their clothes are the same."

Key, who now attends Occidental College in Southern California--"the most diverse liberal arts college in the nation" he says, reflecting on his experiences in high school. "Sure I had Asian friends at Los Gatos, sure I interacted with people of different ethnicities, but I had never really immersed myself in diversity since Los Gatos is so homogenous," Key says.

"I think kids growing up in Los Gatos, myself included, need to realize that they are naïve and completely oblivious to many conflicts still going on in America regarding race," Key says. "They need to be willing to get out and do some discovering."

At the same time, some students see the benefits of a less diverse school. "There's not much racial barriers and I kind of like it that way," says Monica Young, an LGHS junior whose father is Chinese and mother is Korean. Young cites Asian Pride gangs--sometimes violent groups formed solely on the basis of being Asian--and exclusivity as some of the problems associated with a large minority group's problems, she says, that are not evident at LGHS.

Cheng, currently a junior at UCLA, also says that she thinks there is an absence of the "racial tension" that she has seen in nearby schools with a more diverse population.

Elliott believes that the tension is not overt, but "you hear racist jokes, racist comments 10, 15 times a day." Elliott says that, although there is less tension with the Asian population on campus, many students hold prejudiced views of other races.

The city of Saratoga, on the other hand, is far richer in the blend of ethnicities offered. The census shows that while white is still the majority, 29 percent of Saratogans are Asian and 3 percent are Hispanic or Latino.

According to state numbers, of the 1,500 students at Saratoga's Prospect High School--which is in the Campbell Union High School District--there is an equal percentage of Hispanics as there are Asians (17-18 percent) and a 5 percent African American student population, making Prospect the most diverse of the high schools in Los Gatos and Saratoga. Still, white students are the majority group at 56 percent.

Organizations formed to foster cultural interaction are relatively plentiful at Prospect. In addition to the typical language clubs, Prospect High students have formed a Black Student Union and a Cultural Exchange Club.

Black Student Union, which has a dozen "core" students, is made up primarily, but not entirely, of African American teenagers. "We're trying to establish something that not only has cultural roots but also gives kids some scholarships," says government teacher Kirk Mansfield, who is also the club advisor. Black Student Union members participate in community service events, such as the annual campus clean up, and hold fundraisers, such as an upcoming talent show.

The Cultural Exchange Club focuses on community service events and raising money for scholarships, as well. Members of the club range in background, from Indian to Hispanic to white to Asian. During International Week, an annual event in the spring, members of the club dress in authentic cultural garb and sell ethnic foods. The club recently received a bronze award from the Second Harvest Food Bank for its collection and donation of more than 2,000 pounds of food in November.

At lunchtime, clusters of students hang out in front of the school--some mixed-ethnicity, some homogenous. "The administration is really good at not hindering the meeting of the minds between the students," Mansfield says. "The racial tolerance is amazing at Prospect."

Prospect High sophomore Jack Lin agrees. Lin, who immigrated to California from Taiwan five years ago, is currently going through his first year in no English as a Second Language classes. Lin says that he has never experienced discrimination at Prospect from teachers or fellow students, partly because there are many ESL students at Prospect.

The reason he hangs out with other overseas-born Chinese, Korean and Japanese kids at lunch, Lin says, is both because of the language barrier and because he finds that American-born Asians have different ways of thinking. "But I can joke around with them," Lin says of nonAsian classmates.

At Saratoga High School, student organizations encourage the mingling of cultures. Arnaldo Rodriguex, a Spanish teacher, has merged the three clubs that he advises. The Spanish club, Asian Awareness club and Cultures of the World now all meet together every other week. Rodriguex says that, by having the different groups meet together, more can be accomplished. The group organizes folkloric dance performances on campus, fundraisers with other schools and multicultural dinners.

As a Saratoga teacher for the past 22 years, Rodriguex says that he finds that, with the racial shift, comes increasing academic pressure for students. "Kids 10 to 15 years ago were more interested in school activities," Rodriguex says.

An abundance of ethnic organizations exist at Saratoga. "There are about 8,000 of them," says Assistant Principal Karen Hyde. Hyde says that there is a Korean club, Chinese club, Persian club, Jewish club, Japanese anime club, Intercultural Council, Indian club and a Black Student Union--"with the two black kids on campus," Hyde adds.

In the year 2000, 51 percent of the school was white, while 45 percent was Asian.

Rodriguex says that many of the existing cultural clubs are not very active and were formed not to educate, but to bolster an individual ethnicity. "All these groups are looking for an identity," Rodriguex says. Rodriguex says that he believes students want to join or lead a club to add to their college résumé.

The neighboring communities of Los Gatos and Saratoga, though similar in size, offer sharply contrasting experiences to its resident youth. According to Joel Key, however, a quality education which prepares students "to be open to experiences in the future" is necessary for students anyplace. "I have had to accept the fact that I carry inherent biases within me for which marginalized people will resent me," Key says. "I am still incredibly naïve, yet I think the experiences I had at Los Gatos have prepared me perfectly for the experiences I am having now."
Gloria I. Wang

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Web extra to the April 12-18, 2001 issue of Metro.

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