Revisiting Resistance: 2000
I am leaving with a weapon of my own, a Schools not Jails sign and a new sense of empowerment
I am given a white poster board and a black marker to jot down my thoughts on youth incarceration. I struggle to write a thought-provoking statement, the type that will leave the bystander thinking, "Damn, I hadn't thought of that!" Youth incarceration has definitely impacted my community but at the moment, my mind is just like the poster board in front of me: blank. I look around and question why I'm here, doing last minute preparations before heading out to a National Democratic Convention protest. Over the years, I began to question the impact I can realistically make by being involved in acts of resistance like the one today. I see myself: 20 years old, pregnant and a resident of the Pico Gardens housing projects. What change can I make now?
Published on LatinoLA: March 30, 2007
An old yellow school bus is waiting for us in the front. I drag my poster with the same old quote, "Schools not Jails" and feel embarrassed for my lack of creativity. Eva hops on the bus and finds a place next to me. From the corner of my eye, I watch as my mom chats with her group of friends. I settle down on my grey torn seat, pretending I had better things to do today. As I look out the window, I start to revisit old memories. I remember the day my family joined the march against Prop 187 many years ago. We were walking out of mass that Sunday when a crowd of "Si se Puede" banners and Aztec head pieces took over Chavez Ave., known as Brooklyn at the time.
Captivated by the sight of solidarity, I pleaded with my mom to let me join the protest, "Ama, but you have to let me go. Don't you care? Please, vamos!" My sisters were reluctant to walk with the crowd because they were in their white and blue choir uniforms and felt stupid marching in them. Maybe it was the forcefulness in my voice or the despair in my eyes, but I was able to evoke some sort of guilt trip on my mom. It was then decided that everybody was going to march, all seven kids and her as well. Typically, I would have felt embarrassed pushing a stroller stuffed with two colic babies inside or holding the hands of my little brothers with their cowboy boots. But to walk alongside the UFW flag, I was willing to help out with the kids, even if Prop 187 didn't directly impact my family or me. That was such a long time ago. Now, it is my mom and Eva that insisted I accompany them to this march. As I look out the window, I realize I am struggling to feel the excitement I experienced then.
The bus makes a stop on the side of the Criminal Courthouse in Downtown LA. Javier, the Chaplain of Detention Ministries for the Dolores Mission Church, is giving instructions. "We are here to let LA know how we feel. Our children are being targeted and unfairly incarcerated. Ya no hay justicia. This has to end!" He turns around and says, "Oh, no se preocupen, they aren't going to hurt us. We have permission to be here. Just don't walk on the street. Stay on the sidewalk." We respond with a quiet nod and understand the they to mean the white cops with guns in front of us.
We cross the street and naturally form a line on the paved sidewalk, our backs against the courthouse. We instinctively lock hands with each other. My sister holds my left hand; a little girl holds my right. I look across to watch the line of black uniforms drawing their guns. Although I have seen similar "safety procedures" in rallies before, the proximity of these guns to my face is rather frightening. By now, my hands are sweaty and I am nervous. A womyn with a thick accent picks up the microphone and shouts, "What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!" The little girl next to me seems to know this part by heart. I look around to see if I can identify with someone from the line, a nervous soul trembling at the sight of white cops with guns, but I am all alone on this one. Some people are getting the mic, others are passing out water bottles, and a few are negotiating with the cops. Even children no older than five years old are carrying signs! Eva notices my nervousness and so she starts ridiculing the cops that are driving by. It helps me feel more at ease.
After a few laughs, I finally hold the sign I made and reluctantly chant along with the line. A mother gets the mic and shares her testimony, something about her son and an unfair trial. For a slight minute I think about her situation but not enough to keep my mind from wandering. My back begins to ache and my baby starts to move. As I place my hand on my womb, I become aware of my presence in the line: Young, Xicana, and pregnant.
I hear the other mothers along the line, yelling at the top of their lungs. The vibrations of their chants are going through my body and consequently felt by my unborn son. I look around and catch a glimpse of my mom. Although none of my brothers have served time, my mother is holding a "Close CYA" sign and chanting like everybody else. Her voice brings me back to reality and my unborn son comes into my mind. The words on the posters take a new form and it finally hits me! I am here not only in support of my community; I am also here for my son.
I could be like the mother that was just speaking, demanding a fair trial for child.
Another mother gets the mic and talks about her two sons. My mom's friend is holding a picture of some kid that is serving time at the Eastlake Detention Center. I touch my womb as the next mother shares her testimony with the crowd. All the speakers seem to say the same thing: they never thought their sons would be behind bars. Do I have to wait until my son is in a county cell so that I can feel connected, invested and committed to this protest? The earth seems to spin and the voices I am hearing are now making sense. I close my eyes to clear my mind and when I open them, a rifle is aiming at my womb. My heart stops for a moment and cold blood flows down my body. My eyes start to fill with tears. I have a sour taste in my throat. Why is that cop aiming his gun at my son? A feeling of immobility comes over me but I am able to shake it off. I can't allow myself to be intimidated, not this way. As I am picking up the sign I made, I notice the little girl next to me. The guns that are aiming at me were also aiming at her. Why didn't that bother me before? I start to question myself, my actions and protests I have attended. I think again about the Prop 187 march and remember the passion and intimate connection I felt with resistance. As the years went by, the chants and banners that once filled me with pride had somehow become redundant and embarrassing to me. When did I fall out of love with justice?
Eva is now holding my hand tighter. I look at her and she nods. I know she understands. My mother walks to my end of the line and checks in with me. I tell her I'm okay and she walks back to her place. Half an hour later, we are picking up our banners and throwing away empty water bottles. As we are heading towards the bus, I look back and see the cops still aiming their weapons, their guns. I start to get tense but check myself instead. I am leaving with a weapon of my own, a "Schools not Jails" sign and a new sense of empowerment.