Latina women occupying the Whittier School field house speak for themselves

From the Nov.-Dec. 2010 issue of News & Letters: Latina women occupying the Whittier School field house speak for themselves

Chicago Latinas demand a library

Editor’s note: Women in the Mexican-American community of Pilsen have been occupying a field house on the grounds of Whittier Elementary School for over a month to keep authorities from demolishing it. Two women who occupy the building and one supporter tell the story of their occupation.

* * *

ChicagoMy name is Virginia. This week it will be one month of the occupation of La Casita (The Little House). We sleep inside La Casita at night. Many people have donated food, supplies and money. The mothers in the community are helping, cooking and bringing food. We have a meeting every day about what we are going to do.

We are fighting to keep La Casita from being demolished. We need a library for the children, and a space for other activities like GED, English and sewing classes. The school is very small and we don’t fit in it.

Now Chicago Public Schools (CPS) said they are going to leave it for six months and they want us to leave, but we don’t know what will happen after that. Last week they cut off the gas but restored it after a few days. Las mamás (the mothers) went once again to speak with Ron Huberman, the CEO of CPS.

The majority here are mothers of students. Our alderman, Daniel Solis, promised that he is with us but we’ve only been receiving pure lies, false promises. The Alderman, the Board of Education, CPS ignore us. This has to stop.

People learn from being in the struggle. We are defending the rights of our children. We are learning how to defend their education. It appears that it will take a lot of time, night and day. And the cold will come soon.

I am Ana. Sometimes I’m here from 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM. We are collecting books. The children from the school come and check out books from the new library. Because the school’s classrooms are very small, there’s not room for enough books and no library. My daughter in 4th grade said, “Mama, I have already read all the books in the school.”

It’s very important that we all struggle for the education of our children. This is an experience I’ve never had. One day we decided as a group that we were going to stay here day and night, sleep here. The next afternoon people from CPS came to knock down the lights. There was a pregnant woman, a lot of running around, chaos. The third day, people from CPS surrounded us with yellow tape, as if we were terrorists. There were about 40 police officers, ambulances, CPS people at the door. They said we would be arrested. This experience has made me a stronger person.

While we are mostly women, fathers help too. My husband works the night shift and comes to relieve people when they need it. The men support us but we are here 100%. We moms were the ones who decided that we would stay here. We get a lot of support from the community.

I’m Maria, a supporter, and for me this is important because it’s a community struggle. It’s parents addressing their needs, saying it’s important that their children attend school every day. It also brings out the bigger issue of inequality in schools. Why is it that this school has no library? Why are they knocking down this space that is useful to the community, that serves it? Why are their needs not being taken into account? They’ve tried time and time again to resolve this. It’s incredible that they stood up for what they believe in and what is rightfully theirs and should be there for their children and the community.

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