Revision Street: Voices from Whittier Elementary School Field House — Monica, 9

Revision Street: Voices from Whittier Elementary School Field House — Monica, 9

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Monica is a sweet young girl in a pink knit pancho. Her hair is tied back into a ponytail and she is shy. I’m making her speak in English for the interview. She’s comfortable in the language, clearly—but she’d be even more comfortable if we were speaking Spanish. Her mom stands off to the side, coaxing her in her native language: It’s OK, just tell her what you think. The mom doesn’t speak any English, and when I thank her for letting me talk to her daughter—unthinkingly—in my native language, someone translates. Gracias.

Copyright Sarah Jane Rhee(photo by Sarah Jane Rhee)

I’m struck by it, the need to translate Thank you in Chicago. It’s clear that there are significantly larger issues here at the Whittier Bilingual Elementary School field house than just the desire for a library. It seems likely that much is lost in translation: it is a serene act, to decide to stay in one place until a room for learning and reflection is promised. But a fury and frustration come from seven years spent witnessing corruption, misspent public funds, landgrabbing, broken promises, and a failing educational system. This becomes more evident the longer the occupation continues. A confusion sets in, stoked by media attention, lack of sleep, and keeping up the appearances of regular old life. People are tired.

But Monica is immune to the confusion. She just likes to read. And that seems to be why her mom is here.

So how long have you been going to school here?

Five years.

How do you like it here?

I like it ‘cause there’s a lot of things to do.

What grade are you in?

Fourth grade.

Do you like to read?

Yeah. I love to read.

What are you favorite books?

Junie B. Jones. She’s a character who has adventures.

What kind of adventures?

Like, she likes to go to school. And she doesn’t like school because she says that it’s boring. Sometimes it makes me laugh. It’s a funny book.

Copyright Sarah Jane Rhee(photo by Sarah Jane Rhee)

The neighboring Chicago Public Library, Lozano, just a couple blocks away, was closed for repairs over the summer. It was supposed to reopen when the school year started, but it hasn’t yet.

Where do you get these books?

I just get them from my classroom. But I want a library. I want to not throw away the Casita. We want a library.

And what are you doing here at la Casita?

We’re protesting to not throw away the Casita. We’re making signs for the workers to not throw away the field house.

What do the signs say?

Like, we want peace. We want answers. We want a library.

Do you have anything else you want to tell Chicago?

To please make us a library because we want books and we want to read more. We want to learn and to be smart. And to be able to keep our field house.