Revision Street: Voices from the Whittier Field House—Ociel, Ramón, Manuel, and Adrianna

October 25, 2010

It’s the 41st day of the occupation of the Whittier Dual Language Elementary School field house, also known as La Casita. The families down there in the little white building on the school yard—it’s right there, between the massive storage container holding overflow educational supplies that CPS verbally promised to remove from school grounds last week, and the brand-new playground, saved in the CPS agreement to abandon plans to put in a new sports field—are just waiting for those promises to appear in writing. Rumors have it that a meeting, and thus a final resolution to the dispute, will take place tomorrow. But given the bureaucracies involved, and the Whittier parents’ experiences with the officials in charge of them? The families have opted to hang put until those meetings actually give them what they demand.

Some of the parents might not be all that eager to leave, anyway. We have hot and cold running water, Lisa Angonese told me a few weeks ago. There’s no holes in the roof. This is better than even my own apartment, where I have a leaky sink and things like that.

And the kids? My guess is, they’re going to miss it too: the camaraderie, the excitement. Maybe most of all: the profound impact they’re having as young people, reconsidering the old adage, You can’t fight City Hall. Because you know what? It turns out, you can.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Ociel: I don’t know yet. Right now I’m thinking about a cooker. ‘Cause I like to cook. I already made my first cake. Chocolate. My cousin loves it. That was when I was six years old.

It does seem like you would need a lot of books to learn how to cook.

Ociel: Yeah, but we don’t have any cook’s books.

Are any of you going to sleep here tonight?

Ramón: Maybe I will. If I sleep here it’s going to be my fourth night.

Is it weird to wake up in the middle of the night and not be in your bed?

Ramón: No, we get used to it ‘cause we have air beds.

Those look pretty comfortable, actually.

Manuel: Yeah they are. Hey—you’ll never believe this, but, like he—[Manuel excitedly begins to tell a story, indicating Ramón with his elbow]—when were asleep, my mom fell off the bed. He thought it was going to rain! He thought it was thunder! And then, Oh my god, he thought, There’s a big hole over there. I better cover myself. He went on with his dream, and then it didn’t rain at all. And the next morning, I said, It was my mom. Right?

Ramón looks sheepish, proving the veracity of Manuel’s tale.

Ramón: In the night we always have fun. A friend of ours came and made those posters over there, and there’s another poster over there—pink. He’s the one that made them in the night. He’s a DJ and we always dance, and we have a lot of fun. And yesterday there was a mom’s birthday, and in the night it was so dark. We were all excited ‘cause we had a lot of food, we had a lot of fruit.

Adrianna: And people bringing food.

I was there that day. There was some cake, too.

Adrianna: There’s cake today, too.

Ramón: In the night we play hide and go seek and it’s kind of fun, ‘cause it’s practically in the dark.

Adrianna: Yes, and you cannot see the persons.

It does sound really fun. Has this been a fun way to get all your friends together?

Adrianna: I have made a lot of friends here too.

I made a lot of friends, even grown-ups. Like her right there. [He points to the volunteer stationed at the door of the field house.]

Adrianna: You.

Me.

Adrianna: And some of the moms here are from some places in other schools. They want to enjoy the library, because they want their kids to feel good, not sad, because they don’t have libraries either.

Adrianna, you’re wearing a whole Whitter outfit. Is this the uniform?

Adrianna: This is the gym outfit. I have the sweater too.

Do you like your school?

Adrianna: My mom said that I might move to another school, but I don’t want to ‘cause I like this school.

Manuel: I don’t want to move to any other school. This school’s better. I will stay here and this is my favorite place. I will not leave from here.

Ociel: ‘Cause they have good teachers, they teach us a lot of things.

Adrianna: But we want to teach the school about food, because some of the food tastes disgusting.

OK. So the school is good.

Adrianna: Yes, but—

And the teachers are good.

All: Yeah.

But you don’t have a library—

Ramón: That’s all we ask.

—And some of the food is disgusting.

Ociel: Yeah, some.

Is that it? Is there anything else you want to put on the agenda?

The kids all shake their heads, and say, Naw.

So if you had your ideal, you’d get a library, and better food.

All: Yeah.

When you’re in school during the day, do the other kids think it’s weird that you sometimes sleep here?

Ramón: People keep saying that I’m famous, but I’m actually not.

Manuel: People said I was famous! They said I was famous too.

Do you feel famous?

Ociel: I don’t.

Adrianna: I don’t feel famous. Some people are bullying, like, Oh my god, I don’t know why they want a library. They’re saying like—a girl who lives on my street says, Your school doesn’t even need a library because your school has a playground.

Ramón: A kid in my classroom, he doesn’t want a library. He doesn’t get it.

Adrianna: He doesn’t like reading, that’s all.

Ramón: He just doesn’t get it.