Revision Street: Voices from the Whittier Field House—Ociel Gomez, 9

October 20, 2010

Yesterday afternoon parents leading the occupation at Whittier Dual Language Elementary School met with Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman and reached an agreement on the future of the field house: CPS agreed to repolish, not demolish, as parents had been asking for 36 days straight—and for seven years before that, too. Once renovations are completed, the building will be leased back to the Whittier Parents Community Council, the recently christened organizational name of the group, for $1 per year.

An official school library was also part of the agreement, although it will be housed inside the school, and not in the field house. The field house will continue to be used as a community center. 


(photo by Sarah Jane Ree)

And stand as a testament to the strength of the moms in Pilsen, who, for over a month, ate, slept, breathed, and lived La Casita. The building became a family center, and not just a convenient community space on the elementary school grounds; A place where friendships, solidarity, and love were nurtured. A place where truly radical politics were revealed to be, acts of community preservation. A place where everything we believe about what kids want was tested.

I was there in a moment of quiet a few days ago, to talk to a boy who’d been staying in the field house with his family. Ociel Gomez and I sat on the playground together. He’d just finished a raspberry popsicle, and was quite proud of his elaborately colored mouth. Of course, you can’t just whip out a high-quality microphone like you see on music videos without every kid in the neighborhood rushing over, wanting to sing you a song. But we tried.

If you get bored of it, I tell him, I can hold it. So point it, right at your blue mouth, and tell me what you’re doing here.

We stay here ‘cause we want a library. CPS want to knock down the building for Christo Rey to have a soccer field.

You guys looks like you enjoy soccer, though.

We do, but we don’t want a soccer field. If it’s built for Christo Rey, we can’t use it.

So, ideally, you’d be okay about a soccer field if you could use it, but you definitely want a library?

Mostly I want a library, more than a soccer field. We always read the same books every year.

What books?, I ask. Another boy drops down from the monkey bars next to us, and has a ready answer: Arthur. Ociel nods agreement.

The same Arthur, the same chapter books.

Same Captain Underpants, the boy adds, and Ociel nods again.

What kind of books would you want to read in the new library? I ask my young interviewee.

New books. I want to be surprised. I don’t read right now, ‘cause why? ‘Cause if I finish the books I don’t have anymore to read. I wanna be surprised by books.

Is your mom staying here? Ociel nods again. What about your dad?

Yeah, but mostly my mom, ‘cause she takes care of the kids more.

So what do you think about when your parents were like, Hey we want a library, so we’re going to go live on the school yard!

Well we don’t sleep over right there [Ociel points to the school], we sleep over right here [and he shifts his hand slightly to the left].

But isn’t it kind of weird, to be sleeping so close to your school?

It’s better, ‘cause we can do exercise too, ‘cause there’s monkey bars. If we don’t stay here, we have to go home early, so we could stay here and play more, too. We can play a lot of games and get new friends, and learn new stuff.

What have you been learning about while having this protest here?

A lot of things, like how to make a library.

Do you think you’re learning as much here as you would be in regular school?

Yeah.