Revision Street: Voices from the Whittier Elementary Field House -- Araceli Gonzalez, 46

September 19, 2010

Ms. Gonzalez, a reasonable and kind-looking woman, has been sleeping at the Whittier Elementary School field house for the last couple days and—well, I’ll just let her explain.

I have been here since Wednesday, 9 o’clock in the morning. I am a working mom, so I come back and go. I spent the night—Thursday? Yeah, I think so. I lost days. Yeah, Thursday—today’s Saturday—yes, I spent the night Thursday and I’m planning to stay today, again, and stay ‘til tomorrow until late, late, late so I can go to work Monday. I work at a bank. The girls let me go and take a shower before I go in, to get myself ready.


Supporters and occupiers of the Whittier Elementary School field house on Saturday.

The other moms, they’d been going to downtown, dropping off letters, trying to get an OK—an approval for the library. Seven years to get the renovation of the school, which we got. We did get the renovation but they did a very sloppy job. You can come and see: There’s tape where there’s not supposed to be tape, and they just cover it with paint. There’s a lot of stuff there that a professional construction company would not have done.

I feel, myself, personally, that we were—Here. This is what we gave you, and shut up.

I’m taking it personally: We gave you something. OK, so you fought for seven years, here’s part of what you want. Shut up.

I don’t think that’s right, because I’m a working mom. I pay taxes. My taxes are not late. We need the school to have all the necessities. They’re not luxuries, they’re necessities for our children. I have a fifth-grader in Whittier, and my son just graduated last year.

Was the decision to occupy the field house planned in advance?

It was not planned out. It was a decision we just made. I mean, this, all of this is new for me. As I said, I’m 46 years old, I’ve never done anything like this.

We decided to do this to try to get an answer. So maybe Mr. Huberman can say, Hey these ladies—they mean business.

I don’t know what else to say. It was not, OK, we’re going to do this, and if it doesn’t work, then we gotta do this. We don’t have a plan. We’re going as it’s going.

I said, OK. Just know I’m a working mom. When I’m off, I’m here.

 
Fresh fruit and other healthy food donations support the families occupying the Whittier Elementary School field house as they question misspent funds and demand a school library.

 

I should have stayed the other day because of when they broke in—security, from the Chicago Public Schools—they broke in and I got mad. That was on Thursday afternoon. They tried to cut the electricity. That got me very upset because I was at work. My daughter was one of the kids that was in here. Gema and Rosa help me with my daughter, because I’m a working mom so it wasn’t that I planned for my daughter to be here. They’ll help her—even when we’re not doing this—they’ll help me with my daughter.

She got pushed by one of the security people. Pushed her. He walked in, pushed her—ten years old.

When I came from work it was very—I don’t know how to say—being at work and not being able to leave. Moms were texting me: She’s fine, we’re fine. I was texting back. It was very . . . nervous. I don’t know what’s the word I’m looking for. My daughter just saw me, and I started crying. She hugged me; she told me she was scared. I felt guilty because I was not here, but I know I needed to be at work.

That only gave me energy to do what I’m doing. [Araceli begins tearing up.] I don’t mean to cry, but just remembering how my daughter hugged me, and seeing other kids and moms telling me they pushed them. This is too . . . A big man. Pushing little kids, moms. We’re women. We’re not men. Maybe we’re a little heavy but we cannot compare to their strength.

They were security people. I was not here, but my daughter did not lie. The actions that she did when she saw me—if they were trying to scare me—it did the opposite. Gave me energy. I didn’t sleep Thursday, I went to work Friday. I just slept yesterday. It was very hard for me to go to sleep. I finally went to sleep.

I’m here, I went to work, and I’m staying. Like I said, I’m staying Sunday and if I need to stay, if we have moms that can stay, I will stay, and I will go to work Monday and continue. Because what they did—also Friday, again, I was here at the beginning*—how a police officer pushed the door open. He didn’t come in or anything, but he pushed, he forced himself. We’re not criminals. He held the door, and screaming and talking to them in a very loud voice. We’re not criminals, we’re not gang-bangers. We don’t sell drugs; we don’t do anything.

We were treated like criminals—I don’t think that’s the best word it could be—we got surrounded by police officers. I live in the neighborhood. I hear shooting in the middle of the night, and I don’t hear a siren. Where are they? Oh, but they surrounded us? They did this to moms? To kids? The kids were outside on the playground.

Are you saying, the police don’t respond when you call them?

Exactly. And Mr. Huberman calls and says, Arrest these ladies! Get them out of here. Because they’re in La Casita, trying to get a library. This is not legal. Get ‘em out. Oh, [she snaps her fingers] boom! They’re there. We get surrounded.

We’re peaceful. We mean peace. We are not harmful, we are not going to harm anybody, we haven’t harmed anybody. This Casita has been only positive things: classes, ESL classes, sewing classes. No gang-bangers hang around here! There’s no drug-selling in here. Why are we being treated like that? When I believe—I do not know her name, she is a secretary or something with the CPS—she was here Thursday and I tried talking to her, she completely ignored me. I told her, I know you’re listening to me. ‘Cause she kept walking and I kept following her. You’re ignoring me, I know, but I know you could hear me. But I’m going to tell you one thing. I’m going to bring my daughter and you tell her why she can’t have a library. You tell her why the North Side has so many books and libraries and luxuries. This is not a luxury. Go look at our school.

I welcome people to come and look at our school. They don’t complain. These kids don’t complain. They got their moms. And we’re gonna get what we need.

*On Friday, the police came to the Whittier Elementary School field house—La Casita—and surrounded the block. Close to thirty officers intimidated and attempted to evict the ten or so single moms and their kids—a few men here or there, maybe a married couple was in the building too. A few left, but many returned.