Learning to Be Free

July 3, 2011
Learning to Be Free

“Y ahora en las noticias, Afroamericanos estan peleando para sus derechos de libertad. Hoy dia, en Washington, una marcha se llevo a cabo, y el ahora famoso, ‘tengo un discurso sueño’ estaba dado, The news reporter stated. The year was 1963. I can remember that day clearer than you could see the stars in the night sky. We were still in captivity. Barely any freedom whatsoever. The only freedom we Mexicans had was to pick grapes in the scorching sun of California throughout the day. But to our people, it never felt like the independence we had always dreamed of.

Three years later: 1966. I was in 5th grade, being taught alongside other children whose parents, like mine, were grape growers. For years I had been learning the same thing over and over again. I was sick of it, and decided to question it.

“Señora Huerta, why do we learn the same thing year after year after year? I mean, don’t you think we should be learning other things? I don’t believe that I’m the only person in this room who thinks the same way.”

“Soledad, I understand what you’re saying; however, we don’t have enough money for any new lessons. Besides, you should be happy with what we offer niña,” Señora Huerta explained.

That night, the news telecast was appallingly shocking. As I walked through the door, Las Noticias, as usual were on at seven o’ clock. I threw my xbooks to the floor immediately, glued to the television faster than children rushing to get ice cream on a 100 degree day.

“¡Noticias de última hora! ¡Ciudadanos Latinos va a protestar por sus derechos de educacion de sus hijos! Hoy dia, grupos de personas marcharon afuera del edificio del gobernador de California,” the news reporter reported.

“Oh my gosh! A change is going to come! I knew it would come someday,” I cheered to myself. The next day in school, all everyone could talk about in our tiny classroom, was the people protesting about our education.

“I can’t believe this is actually happening! I thought I’d never see the day that OUR Spanish people would actually fight back,” said my best friend Inez. “I mean, how unfair is it that we can’t receive a proper education, but Caucasian kids can?” As Inez finished her sentence, Señora Huerta quickly chimed in. “That’s why we’ve decided to make a change. It’s time to strike back!”

That very same day, I experienced what people call a sense of pride. My family took me to every single protest for the next four years. We went about three times a week, and day in and day out, I was full of pride. Three times a week, we would chant, “Education for all!” It felt like the building became tired of hearing our noise before the governor did. Eventually two years into our protesting, things got violent. People got injured, other were arrested, and as for some people like me, we continued to protest nonviolently. For some reason, Senora Huerta never returned to school. We found out years later that she had been working with César Chávez to organize the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee all the way back in 1962. Who would have thought Señora Huerta would contribute to Latino rights? Certainly not me! Anyways, it seemed like the years between 1968 and 1970 became the years of Latino action. In 1968, high school students of Latino decent in Los Angeles walked out of class and demanded reform in their schools. This boycott lasted about a year, or maybe less, from what I can remember. Just last year the most spectacular thing happened. Latin Americans v. California, the case was entitled. It’s a shame that I wasn’t able to go. However, my other friend, Leticia, told me all about it.

“It took only a week really,” she began. “My parents testified and complained how we learned the same thing daily. They as well as other parents literally begged and pleaded for reform every day for a week. They also complained about how terrible their working conditions were, and how it wasn’t a choice, as well as being paid low wages. Up in Escondido, the weather set the mood. While we were there, throughout the trial, the rain kept pouring. I assumed the Lord was crying in sadness because all of his people weren’t being treated the same. But after the verdict was read, which by the way we Latinos got the rights we deserved, and La Raza Unida was formed, the sun was shining brighter than the ocean’s sparkly waves crashing against the shore. It felt like we had won a battle that had seemed long lost.”

When our whole class heard her news report, the class was overcome with joy. “HOOOOORRRAAAAAYYY!! Viva los Chicanos, we all happily chanted.”

It was September 6, 1971.The day we could actually step foot into a public school for the first time. As we walked through the halls of El Cajon High School, ready for the world and anything that came our way, dirty looks from all the other Caucasian kids shot as us as fast as a bullet to the chest.
“Mira a esos gringos,” I sneered to Inez as we walked down the hallway to our first class.

“¡Si,si,si yo sé! No hicimos nada todavía,” Inez quickly whispered back.

After a few minutes, Leticia joined us in our first period class. “Listen guys, people don’t like us here. I was just sent down to the principal’s office.”

“Leti, por que?” Inez and I asked in unison.

“I spoke Spanish to one of the girls in our old school, and it seems that if they hear a word of Spanish, we’re going to be punished.”

“¡HAHAHA! I loudly laughed. ¡Eso no es la verdad, es una goce!”

“Soledad, since you are a new student, I’ll give you a warning. This is an English speaking school. We DO NOT approve of any other languages being spoken here,” Ms. Cassidy quickly commanded. Throughout the day, we three girls were silent unless asked to speak. When we got home, we continuously complained about how unfair it was not to be able to converse with each other in our native language. It seemed like our punishment was a routine. If we tried to talk during lunch, we were punished. Usually punishment included being sent home. This was pointless because our English was broken. Our silence continued for a few months, and once again, we became sick of being quiet every day. It’s pretty ironic how the past can reoccur into the present. Inez, Leticia and I decided to take the bull by the horns, and fight for what we believed was right. We and other Latino students planned a huge protest to get what we wanted and rightfully deserved. The first few weeks we shouted during school hours, “Latinos deserve the right to speak in their language at all times! Freedom of Speech cannot be taken away!”

After a month, the school began to call the police. Some were violently arrested. Our protest expanded quickly to the point where other Latinos came to protest with us. Our protest became so large, the police could no longer control our actions. We Latinos were more than determined to get what we wanted, and at that point, we weren’t stopping at any cost. As our protest strengthened; the school district weakened and had no choice but to give in. On February 14, 1971, we won for the second time. We had won the right to speak in whatever language we pleased. We were victorious, and nothing could defeat our pride. We were Mexican Americans. Proud Mexican Americans at that. Once in captivity, and free at last.

Nothing could have stopped us, and if anyone ever wants to try and break us, good luck.

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