Sunday, August 31, 2008

Colusa defends boys who drew caricatures

Colusa County has come to the defense of the youths who created the controversial "Waldo Watermelon Seed" caricature for the county's State Fair exhibit. The character was removed Wednesday after a local African American couple said the image evoked negative stereotypes of African Americans.

The exhibit was created by wards at Fout Springs Boys Correctional Facility – "roughly 40 percent Latino and 40 percent African American" – said Senior Deputy County Counsel Margaret Kemp-Williams.

The youths "faced the challenge of creating a display to celebrate the strengths of Colusa County's agriculture industry while paying homage to the State Fair's theme, 'The State Fair Goes Hollywood,' " Kemp-Williams said in a statement.

Colusa County's seed-producing crops generate $30 million a year, so the young men, under the guidance of teacher Ralph Minto, "decided to create a display honoring the world-traveling seed stars of the county: watermelon, cucumber, pumpkin and tomato," Kemp-Williams said.

"The boys were assigned the task of drawing caricatures of the seeds – characteristic of their ages and this era, they drew sharp images worthy of video game or Cartoon Network debut," Kemp-Williams explained. Their images were enlarged, drawn on Styrofoam and colored. "Each seed is depicted true to its color in real life," Kemp-Williams said. "Once completed, the Colusa County traveling stars were aptly named 'Diamond Crested Cucumber Seed,' a rapper; 'Patrick Pumpkin Seed,' a rough, tough guy; 'Rocky Tomato Seed,' a boxer; and 'Waldo Watermelon Seed,' a happy guy – why? Because who can be unhappy when eating watermelon? "We are saddened that the fine work of these young men is now cast under a cloud of unintended racism," she said. "We ask that you applaud their hard work and know that they were working to honor Colusa County with their artistic depiction of a genre of 'ag' products produced in stellar quantities by the county: seeds."

Veronica Hannon Thrasher, who objected to the caricature along with her husband, said, "I applaud these students' efforts. But they probably never had the benefit of a black history class" that showed images depicting African Americans "as a happy black slave eating watermelon. If the students were presented with that history, they might have drawn 'Waldo Watermelon Seed' a little differently."