Revision Street: Voices from Whittier Elementary Field House -- Evelin Santos (II)

September 22, 2010

Evelin has been explaining to me that the building now known as “La Casita” has been in regular use for at least the last seven years.

We have documentation to prove that CPS knew that it was in use, that we have programs here. We gave them the schedule of programs, and we told them, Here’s our programs that we have here.

They said, Oh, you guys can use it the whole summer. Then they said that on September tenth they were going to demolish it.


Whittier Bilingual Elementary School's growing library (Tuesday)

Now we’re saying, If it was good enough for us to use it this whole time, then why are you now saying it’s not good no more? We’ve been using it for years. Now, all of a sudden, you’re saying it’s not structurally sound?

The money that they are proposing to use to demolish this field house was part of the money that they gave the school for renovation. The mothers advocated for renovations, and they got $1.4 million for the renovations. The $354,000 that they’re using to demolish it—that’s part of the money for the renovations.

So the moms are saying, That’s the money that we fought for. We want to use that money to better our school. Not to take things from our school.

Every school needs a library. I grew up in Pilsen my whole life. I graduated grammar school in Orozco, and then I want to Juarez, and I see the differences when I go to DePaul. It’s a private school, and I understand that, but I’ve also been to Harold Washington, I’ve been to UIC, and to different schools. I’ve seen that they’re good. Orozco, my community school here, is a really good school. They have a library; they have everything—why can’t this school have it too? I see the differences. Why can’t they get what they need?

Evelin tells me the mothers have been asking this same question—of the Chicago Public Schools system, of the 25th Ward Alderman, of anyone they can find. But Alderman Daniel Solis had proven particularly evasive.

Yesterday, in fact—Evelin and I recorded our interview on Saturday but I returned on Tuesday—Solis had set an appointment to come meet with the mothers occupying Whittier and answer their questions. He’d been pushed into the meeting and, at first, set no time for it. Then he told Fox News he would come between 9 and 10 a.m.

I was there at 9, and I was there still at 10. Various big-name activists wandered through, did photo opps, made sure their books were face out for when the TV cameras came on, and then left. Gradually, even the crusty radical enthusiasts began to trickle away, and the news cameras began filming this-was-supposed-to-happen-here-and-now-there’s-a-news-hole stories. Solis never appeared. At 10:05 Evelin gave a short list of her demands, and they were repeated in Spanish.

At 10:15, two employees from Robinette Demolition, stating they were on contract with CPS, attempted to enter the Whittier field house area. The group did not allow them entry onto the property. Eventually, the alderman’s chief of staff Vincent Sanchez showed up, claiming he had no idea about the meeting, and no knowledge of the demolition crew.


The demolition company that arrived at Whittier Elementary when Alderman Daniel Solis didn't

None of this seemed to surprise Evelin Santos.

One Saturday in Harrison Park there was an award ceremony, you know when they give trophies to the children when they play sports? Our Alderman Daniel Solis was there. The mothers went up to him, and told him, Where are you at? Where are you standing now? We need your support. We want you to be here. How come you’re not showing your face? We voted for you. You’re our Alderman. We need you now. How come you’re not coming to help us?

He has not. The mothers have went to his office three times, been calling day after day, we even wrote a letter for him to sign. We told him, If you don’t have time to make a letter, we’ll make it for you. And you could sign it.

We told him, that day on Saturday, we had already went twice to his office prior to that, and tasked him, Have you signed the letter? What happened? You haven’t gotten back to us yet. And he told us that he was going to set up a meeting, that we were going to meet with him. Nothing’s happened yet.

After that Monday, we saw all these kids at Whittier Elementary with these shirts on. I don’t know if they were volunteers but I know that they work for National Able, and they came to help the school get their things together before they opened the school again, because they were having renovations during the summer.

Evelin whips out her cell phone and scrolls through the images. There! She says triumphantly, and shows me the screen. There’s a young man and he’s shot from behind, so you can read the back of his sparkly white T-shirt. It says: 25th Ward, Alderman Daniel Solis.

We asked them, Why are you wearing those shirts? Are you voting for Solis? Is that why you’re wearing them?

And they told us, This is our new uniform. They told us to wear these shirts ‘cause these are our uniforms.