April 24, 2005 — Salma Duarte doesn’t fall under the guise of “Class Favorite” or “Most Popular” at Porter High School.
The 17-year-old — dressed in her black attire of lace gloves, long dress and make-up — says she’s often treated differently than others her age.
“Teachers treat us badly because (of) the way we dress,” Duarte said.
The mother worked with school officials to get her son medical help on April 1, after she read in his journal that he and his friends experimented with blood drinking and discussed bathing in others’ blood.
The mother, who has remained anonymous to protect her son’s identity, feared the all-black style contributed to his dangerous behavior. Since then, other Brownsville teenagers who wear black have been accused of vampirism, a behavior in which people gain pleasure from drawing and tasting blood.
Teachers, parents and strangers have approached Duarte at the mall over the past week to ask why she dresses in black and to find out if she is a cult member.
“I tell them this is just me.” said Duarte, who classifies herself as a Goth. “The style is the way we express ourselves.”
The Goth subculture became more popular in the 1980s following the rise of punk music. It’s characterized by dark clothing and make-up and is often associated with dark literature and music.
But Duarte said people who dress differently are not all trouble-makers. As a graduating junior, Duarte believes she breaks the myth of Goths as bad students.
She also believes there is a big difference between being Gothic and thinking you’re a vampire.
“Gothic is appreciating beauty, especially the weirder things,” she said, adding that Goth is not a religion, nor are Goths constantly depressed. “My favorite color is purple, but I wear black.”
ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM
Concerned that some students are taking the lifestyle too far, Rivera Principal Mary Tolman said district officials are trying to determine what activities students have participated in, and who may have been involved in a cult.
“Before this (vampire) story came out in the news, it was already being investigated, and up to this point nothing has been confirmed,” Tolman said.
Sources say some Rivera students implicated in the cult have relocated outside the Brownsville school district.
A few of those students transferred to Los Fresnos and are being processed into the district’s alternative center, said Los Fresnos Superintendent Sylvia Atkinson.
She did not say why they are being sent to the center but did say the district is being careful.
“We’re always concerned when our students are involved in off-campus activities that have the potential to affect our school activities,” Atkinson said.
Police would not comment on the ongoing investigation.
Despite Rivera’s colors being black and silver, students who wear black have recently been singled out by others and asked if they drink blood, too.
“Black is my favorite color,” said Rivera student Brenda Alvarez, 17. “People pick on me just because of the color (of my clothing). To me, a color has no meaning.”
Alvarez said she knew some of the students accused of being in the alleged vampire cult. While she didn’t know if the allegations were true, she said they were generally good people.
“They were awesome and good to talk to, and they never showed any of that (negative behavior),” she said.
The vampire incident increased awareness among parents that they need to pay attention to their children’s activities, Tolman said.
“Parents are more aware of what’s going on at school now,” she said. “They want to know how they can help their kids.”
Porter Principal Alonzo Barbosa Jr. said Gothic clothing is not a new phenomenon.
“There are different factions in a school just like in society,” Barbosa said. “You’ve got your jocks, your band kids, your cheerleaders … and your Gothic kids. For us to single out any one group of kids is not fair.”
He said students attend school for a reason. They want an education, and many are good students because of that, despite their lifestyle.
“In the old days they were called ‘punks,’ now some kids call themselves ‘Goth,’ others call themselves ‘freaks,’ and yeah, they are a little different, but they usually come from good homes,” Barbosa said. “In most cases the moms and dads accept their kids, because that’s just the way they are.”
Barbosa said he is always on the lookout for warning signs and talks with counselors and parents whenever concerns arise. He added that students who get involved in self-mutilation or “cutting” are not necessarily suicidal or homicidal.
This opinion was shared by Scott Poland, director of psychological services for the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston. Poland has led 11 post-shooting crisis teams, including the aftermath of the ColumbineHigh School attack when 12 students and an adult were killed, and the recent Red Lake Indian Reservation incident when five students and two adults were killed.
He said cutting has gained popularity among some high school students.
“We are especially concerned because lots of them are doing it as a coping mechanism,” Poland said. “This is hard for adults to understand, but the cutting actually releases endorphins that calm kids down.”
He warned that the behavior is contagious among impressionable teenagers, but not as common as parents might fear.
“I have seen kids that do want to do these things,” he said, “(but) we can’t just be worried and presume that every kid that is into the Goth look is potentially violent.”
He said just as racial profiling is discouraged, discriminating based on a teenager’s style is not a good idea. Parents should try to observe and communicate with their children first if they are concerned.
“If I find out that he’s involved with something organized, he does something once in a while with mom and dad and is sweet to his little sister … then I’m going to relax,” Poland said. “If you tell me that he’s isolated from all adults, he’s fascinated with violence, and he’s mean to his little sister … I’m going to say this is a child that needs mental health intervention.”
He said parents should consult a psychologist or school counselor to learn more about warning signs. Parents should not be afraid to look into their children’s lives, Poland said.
“It’s not doing our kids any good to basically bury our heads in the sand,” he said, adding that restrictions on clothing and entertainment options can be beneficial.
Parent Teresa Robles agreed that dressing differently is not enough cause for alarm.
“These kids are trying to identify themselves and see where they fit in,” Robles said.
“My daughter went through the Gothic stage and she grew out of it. To me, that’s not an indicator enough that there is a serious problem.”
Her daughter, a Pace High School student, also experienced discrimination based on the way she dressed.
“She wore all black with the (Gothic) jewelry and she noticed the negative reaction from teachers, but she’s a straight-A student,” Robles said. “She thought it was unfair. I told her to smile more and that could counter the (effect of the) clothing. As time when on, her style changed.”
Porter student Chris Perez, 17, also wears dark clothing, chains and spikes, something that causes conflicts with teachers and parents.
“I told my mom, ‘If I dress how you want me to dress, it wouldn’t be the real Chris, or the happy Chris,’” said Perez, who considers himself more metal than Goth. “We’re people too; we just have different lifestyles.”
Some people take that self-expression too far and actually see themselves as vampires, werewolves and witches, trying to emulate fictionalized versions of mythical creatures, Perez said.
“There are people who take it too seriously, and they want to live in it,” Perez said. “They want to be something they’re not.”
He said outsiders need to separate clothing from beliefs.
“The lifestyle is about independence.”