My name is Jonathan Romero, I’m 24 years old, and I’m a proud Chicano resident of South Central, Los Angeles. I was born in Watts at MLK Hospital, but the advocate I am today was born on March 27th 2006 at Manual Arts Senior High School, a predominantly Latino and black public school. This is a short story of the day South Central students stood up for undocumented immigrants.
It was Sunday night, a day following a 500k people demonstration that took place in downtown Los Angeles in opposition to anti-immigration bill HR 4437. I was on Myspace updating my profile song when I came across a post announcing that student walkouts would take place on Monday across the country. Assuming that my parents would give me a lecture about the importance of school and the dangers of civil disobedience I bothered not mentioning it to them. Instead, I tossed around in bed creating walkout scenarios in my head all night.
The following morning was gloomy but I could care less--my curiosity enabled me to overcome the morning coldness, the lack of sleep, and the hunger that came after missing breakfast. Per routine, my dad drove me to school in his old grey Mercedes and as usual I arrived at school as the bell rang. I got off and rushed to my business class with Mr. 007, a big balding white man who was a part-time stockbroker and frequently shaved his beard during class time.
As I sat at my desk, I looked around the room wondering if any of my classmates knew about the walkouts. It didn’t seem like they knew nor was there any indication that they would actually happen. Meanwhile, I was having an argument with myself---I was debating whether or not walking out was indeed the best thing to do.
Suddenly the room went silent and it was filled with chants that traveled through the hallway and into the classroom. “Get out of class…walk out, walk out!” My heart raised, my hands got clammy, and my throat went dry. Time had run out and the advocate in me had won the debate: I decided to stand up. “Sit down!” Mr. 007 shouted while pointing his chubby finger in my direction. His shouting only fueled my decision. I grabbed my backpack, stood up, looked my teacher right into his eyes, and I walked out.
I found myself walking through campus alongside “disobedient” students trying to find a way out of school. As we walked out of the hallway and into the lunch area I noticed that parents were waiting on the other side of the main entrance and to my surprise my mother was too. I immediately feared humiliation, as my mom would not mind smacking me once or twice in public to make a point. I approached the gate and my mom said to me, “Jonathan asegurate que no hagan basura.” (Make sure that you don’t make a mess.)
While we marched through campus I followed my mom’s advice and along the way I picked up the trash bins my peers dropped. By then a couple hundred students had joined us and the unrest on campus could be heard with the jerking of fences, trash bins dropping, and the siren of a megaphone. Unfortunately, we couldn’t force the gates open.
“Sit down right now or you will receive a citation!” shouted a security guard. With our heads down, frowns on our faces, and banners dragging on the floor we walked over to the outdoor lunch area and sat down.
My heart rate dropped as I witnessed the shutting down of a small movement. The look on the faces of my peers conveyed defeat. Suddenly, the image of my mom on the other side of the fence came to my mind. I then realized that this movement was greater than each one of us-- it was about friends, family members, and neighbors that for many years had been marginalized. I knew right then and there that I had to do something for those who lived in fear.
As I stood up the security guard shouted at me to “sit down” but I paid him no mind. I walked over to the group of students with banners. I told them, “Hey guys, we don’t have the luxury of time. The longer we sit and wait the less likely we’ll ever get anything done. Let’s get up and rally up the students.” I did not expect them to listen--I simply felt the need to express my support.
Something beautiful happened: these students looked at each other, smiled, grabbed their banners, and stood up! Together, we defied the security guards and we marched through the lunch tables shouting “walkout, walkout!” Once again we were a movement. We were determined to walk out of school, so we marched on over to the main gate on Vermont and jerked it back and forth a dozen times. The security had no choice but to unlock the gate. As the doors opened we poured into the streets of South Central with one destination on our minds: City Hall.
The day South Central students stood up for undocumented immigrants was the day the advocate in me was born.
Activist and Scholar
Categories: Memories, Immigration, Activism.