Seeing San Diego at Morse High

I’ve known many members of my generation for whom racial diversity is an imagined state of grace. They are the kind of people who have complained that San Diego, for instance, is so white. You still hear this at times, even though the Census Bureau assures us that non-Hispanic whites make up less than half the population of San Diego County.

I remember being at a party when a man who moved from the New York area was marveling at how white San Diego was. I suggested his view might come from the fact that he lived in Carmel Valley. No, he said, he worked at North County hospital where the clientele came from all over the area.

I neglected to additionally point out that 25 percent of San Diego County residents (at that time) had no health insurance. Was it possible that 25 percent was made up predominately of non-white people?

People who live in white ghettos are like the blind men feeling the elephant when they talk about a city’s lack of racial diversity, a perception they curiously bemoan even though they made a choice to live on the white side of the tracks. I’d like to encourage these folks to get out a little bit more, and maybe visit Morse High School.

Morse is located on Skyline Drive in what most people would call “southeast” San Diego. That’s shorthand for a part of town that’s poor, non-white and high-crime. I was visiting Morse High School to interview some people who were planting a garden that would be maintained by students and used by the school’s culinary arts classes.

It was just before noon when the bell rung and I saw hundreds of kids move from their classes to the lunchroom. Among all the kids I saw, I counted two faces that your average person would classify as “white.” I thought the white kids in this school must feel like black kids did in the high school I attended in rural Iowa. Out of place.

One of the teachers I spoke to claimed 40 percent of the Morse High School student body was Filipino. I didn’t know San Diego had so many Filipinos that they could make up a near majority of any public high school. All I knew is the kids I saw at Morse High looked black, Mexican and Asian.

My point is the geographic segregation of San Diego makes people in Carmel Valley believe the others just aren’t there. Out of sight, out of mind.

The culinary arts program, by the way, was a very chummy group. It was an outpost at a big urban school where kids of like mind could find a place to pursue a common interest and feel comfortable. Some of them wanted to train to be chefs. Some just wanted to make pesto and chile rellenos and pass the time.

I’ll make one last point, that’s entirely off the main point of this post. Take a look at this video of the school’s urban garden. The containers you see lining the chain link fence, and acting as planter boxes on the ground, are called Woolly Pockets. They’re basically porous bags you fill with dirt and grow plants in. You can put them anywhere. Just remember to water the stuff.

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One Comment on “Seeing San Diego at Morse High”

  1. Carol Says:

    Excellent piece! Needs to go viral around San Diego!

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