By Jorge Casuso
January 12 -- A benefit concert for Edison Language Academy scheduled for Sunday evening was canceled after School District officials feared Latino comedian Carlos Mencia’s brand of offensive humor would be divisive and lead to behavior that could violate state law.
District officials pulled the plug days before the scheduled performance after the Association of Mexican American Educators (AMAE), along with a number of district parents, objected to the frequent use of racial epitaphs by Mencia, who bills himself as an “equal opportunity offender.”
“We want to teach cultural awareness,” said School Board member Oscar de la Torre, “and having any event that can be considered offensive is a problem we don’t want to take on.
“We have to be sensitive,” de la Torre said. “The School board has the responsibility to govern resources in a responsible way.”
District officials worried that Mencia’s obscenity-laced racial slurs could lead to a violation of a section of the California Penal Code that punishes any person who “uses offensive words… which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction” on school grounds.
“We’re entering an era of unity, and this event does more to divide,” de la Tore said. “We have to be concerned” about possible violations of state law.
The Edison PTA had hoped the benefit concert at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall -- with tickets ranging from $20 to $40 -- would raise as much as $25,000 by drawing audiences from outside Santa Monica.
“We work very, very hard, and we try all kinds of crazy things” to raise money, said Claudia Vizcarra, co-president of the Edison PTA. “This was an attempt to kind of go outside our community to raise money.”
The fundraising concert, which had been in the planning for six months, was initially slated to be held on private property until the PTA learned it could hold it at Barnum Hall at no cost, Vizcarra said.
“We had been very aware he was controversial, and that’s why we intended to do it on private property,” she said. But “the degree of the controversy was not made obvious until we received a letter (from AMAE) on Monday.”
The letter was written by Elias Serna, president-elect of the Santa Monica - West Los Angeles Chapter of AMAE.
“It is clearly hypocritical to raise funds for a bilingual education program by having Carlos Mencia at Barnum Hall this Sunday using the racist epithets (b*, w*b*, etc.) he is known to utilize in his comedy,” Serna wrote.
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“Mencia has made millions making a predominantly white male comedy audience comfortable with their racism,” wrote Serna, who is a professor at UC Riverside. “Mencia needs to read some history and see his responsibility to his Latino audience.”
Serna, who said the AMEA board had not had time to officially take a position, called it “ironic” that Mencia would be asked to raise funds for a school that is two-thirds Latino and has the least funding of any elementary school in Santa Monica.
“It was ironic that a comic who made millions putting down Latinos was raising money for the most Latino school is Santa Monica,” Serna told The Lookout. “The Edison PTA is culturally insensitive and refuse to acknowledge Mencia’s hate speech.”
Serna said AMEA is “committed to helping (the Edison PTA) on a future fundraiser.”
Vizcarra said the PTA is exploring different options, including holding the Menica concert on private property, but is also open to seeking out other big Latino names.
“We have to think in light of what has happened how we can raise funds and not offend people,” Vizcarra said.
District officials also said they want to help Edison parents raise funds, which are earmarked to support instructional aides, art and music programs, field trips and assemblies.
“We’re committed to finding alternative ways to fundraise in addition to supporting a Carlos Mencia performance off campus,” de la Torre said.
De la Torre, who heads the Pico Youth and Family Center, said he was taken aback when he viewed Mencia’s routine on YouTube.
“At first I was telling people, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s comedy,” de la Torre said.
“But he has an almost violent attitude towards the Muslim community, he tells inappropriate jokes about disabled people and he uses put-downs to make people comfortable in racism."
Mencia’s website bills him as “one of today's most lauded entertainers and feared comics.”
Since debuting on Comedy Central in early 2005, 'Mind of Mencia' has become “one of the strongest shows in the network's history, averaging about 1.5 million total viewers,” according to the web site.