Tuesday, March 28, 2006

MY FORT WORTH: Tuesday, March 28th student walk-out

So--Angelique and I were looking over garments for our upcoming "Trashin' Fashion" encore performance in April. We head out to porch for some reason, and I notice hubub. Out of the usual noise, movement, something was in the air. Okay, well, there *was* a helicopter in the air (news station or cop chopper?), but then there was something else. Kids, alot of kids. Walking Chicanitos/Chicanitas on the street, streaming down my block, stepping lively on the sidewalk in front of my house. Then i notice cop cars--funny how the presence of po po can help contextualize a situ--and it dawns. The kids are all alright, the kids have walked out. Just to test, I ask a few striding past my house--Angelique has snagged her ever-ready videocam and is shootin' the scene--"what are y'all doing?" Their responses: "We just walked out." "We're marching for our rights." "We can't just let them say this about Mexicans."

I phoned Ramz, as the squad cars--tailing many of the kids--were slowly heading in the direction of his place. I hoped that he would eyeball the situation and monitor for rights abuses. From my street corner, I couldn't tell exactly what the cops' intention was. After reaching Ramz and giving him the 411, me and Angelique decided to follow the action. You have to imagine this: there were also more than the usual number of cars filled with boisterous h.s. youth passing to and fro. It reminded me of the flurry of animal activity in the moments before a storm--when they sense climactic shifts and know to scurry to their proper places. It was kinda like that, but what i wanted to know about these students was what WAS their proper place--like where were they headed?

We pieced together the story by getting quick sound bites from kids: apparently, they had walked out of their schools and converged downtown for a big shout-out to the powers that be, making their presence and their outrage (against some of the proposed anti-immigrant legislation being bandied about in the big house of Capitol Hill) known to any who would hear it. So, basically, these kids had done their bit and were proudly, surefootedly, hoofing it back to campus (in this case, Paschal).

Near the corner of Eighth and Morphy Streets, we happened upon a Star-Telegram Reporter interviewing two male students--both from Paschal. The most outspoken of the two, quite articulate and well-poised, told me that campus- and city-wide text-messaging campaigns had helped the highschoolers make their momentous decision to make today the day that Fort Worth high schools got emptied for marches in the streets. (Of course, not even a class clown in a hinterland school could have avoided hearing about the anti-immigrant hysteria getting whipped up in DC congressional sessions the past 2-4 months. It's increasingly become the talk of the town as it is of the nation.) Angelique kept shooting footage, as we listened to student Roberto describing his walkabout day. He told us that he knew that Northside, Trimble Tech, and South Hills, as well as Paschal students had joined in the walkout. He also mentioned that Paschal seems to have been the most tough school to leave, as administrators there (and security, i suppose) made the leaving rough.

Angelique and I eventually got in my car and headed down towards Paschal, to see the situation there. Ramz had earlier indicated that larger numbers of kids were heading south on Eighth, so that's where we went. But first, i grabbed my "Who's the Real Alien, Pilgrim?" poster of an Aztec warrior. I wanted to show solidarity any way i could. (It was a bit of a challenge to drive while holding the poster out the window for students to see...) My heart was pounding, as somewhere on a visceral level, i guess i was conjecturing "this is what it might look like if we ever have to deal with martial law". A cop car was stopped in the turn lane of Eighth Ave.--just planted there between Texaco and Fiesta--and i wondered "are they going to make an arrest, or chase some of these kids?" After a few more seconds, i could tell that they were just watching, maybe with their own documentation camera gear... When three more squad cars started to encircle Cici's Pizza--for gawd's sake--we felt that someone might be "going down." There was a throng (never use the word 'mob' when we're talking about our own..) of students crowded near the entrance to the 'za parlor, and we hoped that this wouldn't give the cops reason enough to draw weapons, spray mace, and do all those AP photo moment things i've seen on too many front newspages and indywebsites. We also spotted this tableau, on a grassy knoll near the parking lot: 5-8 Chicanitas/os standing proudly together, with a five-foot Mexican flag held upright by one of the taller boys. Now i'm not into flags as much as maybe the next person, but in that moment those kids holding that flag symbolized something like cultural integrity and a steadfast refusal to be invisibilized by a xenophobic mainstream society. These Raza youth were not munchin' pizza.

Once we could tell that the cops' buzzard circling was not meant to draw blood, we pulled away from Cici's (who wouldn't?) and drove again towards Paschal. A few kids here and there, walking casually, but no big rallying location was seen. We concluded that the kids were just heading calmly back to campus and class. Responsible and accountable. After a pitstop at my place--where a message from Ramz directed us to go downtown to City Hall--we retooled and veered north, passing lots more students on foot, near Trimble Tech. In downtown, we parked near City Hall, though we could hear and see that the action was directly in front of the Traffic Court Building on Throckmorton. This was the corner where the students stationed themselves, yelling Raza pride chants and raising power fists when drivers honked to demonstrate solidarity. I was amazed to see that adults (parents?) actually were dropping students off at this site, facilitating the young people's participation in this thing called democracy. Cool. One day of missed high school to cry foul in the face of bigotry and ignorance is a small price to pay. Angelique, never missing a moment, kept the camera tape rolling. We interviewed several students, letting them share whatever they wanted. Students had actually walked all the way from South Hills HS, which is down on Altamesa for gawd's sake...! I asked again, how did the organizing happen. Again, "cell phones", "text-messaging", "email". As they walked out of South Hills HS---according to one student--teachers and administrators taunted them, saying "You're going to get tired, your feet will hurt, you'll get thirsty, then you'll come back." And the living proof was that these bad-ass students walked their talk (a talk that many of us are not willing to hear because the voices are younger, from kids of color). I gave my "alien, pilgrim?" sign to a young woman who eagerly accepted it and pushed her way to the curb to hoist it in the air for passersby to read.

I stepped towards Chief of Police Ralph Mendoza, who was conversing freely with several people (students, reporters?). Angelique turned the camera on us, and I began to ask Mendoza some few questions. He was very personable and notably NOT defensive. I looked past him, where a line-up of cops cast a severe edge to what otherwise seemed a laidback police presence. (I guess they were standing that way to keep students from rushing the entrance to the courthouse.) Mendoza said that he "respected the students' rights" to be out in the streets, marching and speaking up for what they believe in, and that the role of the police in this situation was primarily to make sure the students were safe and to make sure that no property was damaged. He smiled and surveyed the layout of the scene with what seemed to be at least a bit of cultural pride. I was glad, in that moment, that he is a Hispanic and that he was directly present there.

(I heard later---via local tv news--that the FWPD actually did arrest THREE students. I don't know what the charges or causes for action were in any of the arrests.)

Before we left the courthouse scene, we met another indie media person doing some taping, as well as a mom ("Angie") of three of the South Hills HS students. She basically drove the "sag wagon" for the students, providing water and adult supervision along the march route from Altamesa Drive in southwest FW. She told us that her son "text-messaged me that he was going to leave [the school]" at around 10:30 this morning. Angie drove to the school to meet with the principal(s), asking about any possibly punitive measures they might take against the students for leaving campus. To her relief, she was told that the students would not be punished. She said she was very proud of her three children--including one daughter who is 6 months pregnant!--for marching today.

Later, on my way in to Wedgwood Middle School--where i teach performance and writing in an after-school program--I asked a few Latino/a students if they had walked out too. The answer: no. The reason: "They turned the sprinklers on all around the school to keep us from going."

My niece, who attends J.P. Elder, which is predominantly Latino, did not walk out--though she did mill about on-campus debating the possibility. Campus monitors corraled students together, as best as they could, and a few kids who had run from campus were caught and hauled in to the principal's office. My niece told me that alot of kids wrote MEXICAN FOREVER and other pride slogans on their foreheads and arms. (One girl, afraid to draw attention from punitive faculty, merely wrote on the palm of her hand.) My niece had written MEXICAN in red ink on her arm. Wow. She's looking forward to Friday, the day after her UIL chorus competition. Friday, she says, is the day she will walk out.

[Note: According to a local newscast at 10 tonight, the DISD schools have now instituted a zero-tolerance policy for any students who walk-out: truancy arrests, and other punitive measures will be meted out (big boo hiss). BUT--in FW schools, students who walk-out will 1) get an "unexcused absence" on their record, and 2) will have to make up missed classwork (less boo hiss).]


Anonymous said...

Wow, this is really amazing what these kids did, and the solidarity! It is refreshing to hear that a community of latinos/chicano/as have united and taken some sort of action; when I was in high school it was so difficult to get anyone to even.... well, it was not united at all.

I'm glad you came upon it and documented it. Those interviews that Anjelique did would be really interesting to see.
I really enjoyed your blog.



ShoeGirl said...

I heard you last night on the Nuestra Palabra radio show. Beautiful poetry! Thanks for your words.

sunlit doorway said...

Elisa--if you're local (817), we can find a way to get you a copy of some of this footage we shot on Tuesday. just lemme know.

email at: tammygomexican@yahoo.com

sunlit doorway said...

shoegirl: oh, did you hear me in Houston on KPFT? i felt like i rushed through the readings. i miss doing radio; it's such a fun medium. thanks for listening!

ShoeGirl said...

Yes I heard you on KPFT. I listen to the show every week because I love Nuestra Palabra. I'm also volunteering for the Latino Book & Family Festival in May.

Stewart M. said...

I actually graduated from Paschal, years ago, and I really enjoyed reading your account of events.

Keep up the excellent blogging.

sunlit doorway said...

thanks, Stewart. feel free to check in again to see what's up in the city of your old alma mater. i used to live in the 512 back in the 1990s. austin'll always have my heart.

go, Panthers!