On today’s episode of Queering Left we will hear from Ricardo Jimenez and Jessie Fuentes, two activists from the Puerto Rican community.
To give a brief historical reminder, Puerto Rico was a territory of Spain that, in 1898, was taken by the United States during the Spanish American War. Since the US set foot on their soil, Puerto Ricans have been in struggle with the US colonial government.
The US government has attempted to strip the island and the people of their language, culture, resources, and autonomy while committing atrocities against the Puerto Rican people. Starting in 1941, the US military used the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing target and testing site, destroying the sugar cane industry, fishing habitat, and ecology. US pharmaceutical companies have experimented on Puerto Ricans while polluting the waters and environment. Most recently, the US government turned its back on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
Over 120 years of US colonialism, Puerto Ricans on the island and within the diaspora have fought in all sorts of ways to maintain their land, dignity, and independence.
Our two guests have had their own distinct relationship and roles in the fight for Puerto Rican independence. Ricardo Jimenez was born in 1956 and moved to Chicago as an infant with his family. He was captured in 1980 because of his involvement with the independence group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, or Armed Forces of National Liberation, and, along with 9 others, was convicted of “seditious conspiracy” in 1981. Ricardo was sentenced to 90 years in prison but President Bill Clinton granted him clemency in 1999. Soon after his release from prison, Ricardo came out as gay.
Jessie Fuentes is an activist and educator who came up through the youth programming of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and is a graduate of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School – the Puerto Rican Cultural Center’s very own educational institution. Fuentes has done work around empowering young people in the community, the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a former political prisoner, anti-gentrification activism, and organizing around the independence of Puerto Rico. Jessie began her political work as the Director of a youth organization in Humboldt Park called Batey Urbano, an alternative space for youth to creatively express themselves through theatre, poetry, hip hop, and dance.
Both Ricardo and Jessie are currently active in advocating for Puerto Rico’s independence and with efforts to address the devastation from Hurricane Maria on the island.
Jeanne: Maybe the best way to start is if each of you, Jessie and Ricardo, could both start by saying how you identify and just describe yourself a little bit.
Jessie: I’m Jessie Fuentes, an organizer in the Humboldt Park community. It’s been about 14 years that I’ve been struggling for the release of political prisoners, for the independence of Puerto Rico and community sustainability. I am a queer Latina, organizer. I am someone who believes in the liberation of all people through a decolonization lens. Specifically, LGBTQ Puerto Ricans. There is a specific and particular experience that we have as Puerto Rican LGBTQ folks that I don’t think is discussed often.
Ricardo: My name is Ricardo Jimenez Jimenez. I am a former political prisoner, Puerto Rican political prisoner. Incarcerated from 1980 to 1999 with a release from [President Bill] Clinton. I finally got comfortable enough to say that I completely came out at the age of 45. I did not tell one person that I was going to do this until it came out. But that’s who I am, who I was at that time and who I continue to be today! I still have those activist views, not only do I now understand the Puerto Rican independence and colonial situation I always dedicated myself but now it is without exception and without doubt that in order for our country and my country to be free, there has to be not the tolerance, not the acceptance, but the inclusion of the LGBT community, completely if we’re going to create a new woman and a new man.
Jeanne: Could you talk a little bit more about the relationship you see to fighting colonialism and being queer? Could you talk a little bit about that?
Jessie: Yea, I think, for a very long time, the left movement functioned in a way that they were only grappling with, racism and classism through a decolonization lens. That type of movement left a lot of people out, particularly the LGBTQ community. Ricardo and I have the privilege to travel throughout the diaspora and Puerto Rico while we do our work. This is something that we see campaigns do all the time. The leadership is straight and mostly men. They’re not talking about issues of the LGBTQ community. There is an immense amount of violence that is taking place. When we talk about our transgender people, they’re getting murdered at a rate that no one is talking about. It’s not on the news. It’s not on the front page of a newspaper. But these are our family. These are people who are doing work. These are people who also believe in a free Puerto Rico but no one is giving them a voice. A lot of the work that we spent time doing in the Humboldt Park community and specifically in Chicago is understanding that the decolonization of Puerto Rico also includes the LGBTQ community and if we’re not doing this work with a queer lens, then we are leaving out a large population of people. We have Vida/SIDA, which is one of the first organizations in the city of Chicago to grapple with HIV amongst people of color and being able to raise consciousness and awareness that this is not just a gay disease. This is an issue that the entire city has to take on because this is about awareness. This is about prevention and it’s not something that the LGBTQ community gives out. We have to affirm the people that they’re still human throughout this process. Often LGBTQ folks in the left new movement have been dehumanized because of how they identify who they are, specifically our trans folks. I have to say that because there are gay men, there are lesbian who can navigate spaces and not have to deal with the type of abuse and violence that transgender folks have to deal with. So, there is a great need for the Puerto Rican Independence Movement to understand that if we are truly going to be free, if we’re talking about freedom and liberation, we have to be talking about freedom of liberation for all people.
Ricardo: We cannot speak about colonialism as a silo because within colonialism, there’s the racism and all that evolves from being colonialized. But today we have to add the gender identity to this situation, because these populations existed for a long time and could not come out. Were not safe to come out. Were not able to express that and they lived it. Why do we have so many people who got married and everything, living miserable lives? Because they weren’t able to come out. The younger generations are teaching me about gender identity. I’m understanding it but it’s a little shocking. I think it’s a reality when I look at myself that it took me so long for me to be comfortable within myself. Then I know that this has always existed.
Emmanuel: You’ve talked about the importance of centering queerness LGBTQ into this work. How do you see yourself centering that in the Puerto Rican independence movement?
Jessie: There’s a couple of things that we do well in our work. We try very hard to break paradigms. In Puerto Rico, in every festival and every parade, there is a festival queen. That is celebrated not just in Chicago, but across the diaspora and in Puerto Rico. Most of those festivals are “Fiestas Patronales” and we usually see a female queen leading those parades and festivals, but who is to say that a woman who is born a woman is the only queen? So, in the Humboldt Park community and our Puerto Rican People’s Parade, a transgender woman leads our parade every single year. They compete, she wins and she gets to wear the crown and lead all Puerto Rican people in our parade. That is just one way of ensuring that there our transgender folks are affirmed. We have transgender, lesbian, gay folks who are the large majority of our administration. When you look at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, when you look at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, which is the school that I lead. When you look at Roberto Clemente Community Academy, we have a gay, Puerto Rican principal for the first time in its history. Those things are not by coincidence. We’re extremely strategic and conscious about the work that we do. Those are just small ways that we do the work. Then we also struggle for LGBTQ rights outside of the Puerto Rican community, within the Puerto Rican community. We have Vida/SIDA that ensures that we are providing services to our LGBTQ community. We have opened El Rescate, which is a homeless shelter for LGBTQ folks. When you talk about the most marginalized population, you’re talking about young, teenage LGBTQ folks. You’re talking about young people who are coming out to their parents. I have a Latino father, and it took him eight years to accept me. We know the experiences of our young Puerto Rican and Latino folks who are coming out to their parents. Often, they are homeless, they don’t have a supportive family so, we understand that in the Humboldt Park community. We work very hard to adjust the needs of our LGBTQ Puerto Rican community.
Ricardo: Let me touch the national aspect of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. For me, coming out was, of course, a shock to the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, but also because I’m seen as a national hero. The quote at one time was “a national hero es un maricón” a national figure is a faggot. We did have a discussion and because now you have an element that somebody from the LGBT community now is part of a national hero. How do you deal with that? Because if you were going to accept me, you’re going to accept the struggle that I had for 45 years to become the man that I am today. Furthermore, if you can do what I did and I’m gay, so step it up to that point of view and see how we can change the terms. Because if you think that the other ones that were there 20 years are men and I did the 20 years, I’m not a man, what makes me different? This was, of course, a point of discussion on a national level with the left. I did criticize the left for saying, why do I come out when most of you have not come out. I was in Puerto Rico and I worked in a gay bar. This was the first time I saw many come there. Ok, so when are we going to live a life where and I had some people there that you all hide yourself to what the reality of who you are or are we going to change? And then if you don’t accept me as a national hero, then what makes the difference? Now those questions weren’t able to answer. But one thing that they do that I must say, the movement for LGBT rights, the queer movement because I see it very much in Puerto Rico, is led by the left. Today, I have to say that wholeheartedly. I don’t know if it because of a choice or because of this discussion of respect or the discussion is, we must look at this. But truly, I have to say that the left now dominates that in Puerto Rico. There has been much more acceptance. There has been more visualization. I’m glad that we have a trans program. There’s only seven in the whole United States and we have one. And we also ranked number one, in the United States of giving some assistance to the trans girls. Trans girls are one of the most alienated group within the LGBT community. We have alienated the trans community. So not only do we have to refocus the situation, but society in general, and I see that now that movement is much more alive, much more accepting.
Jeanne: Jessie, you came out of the programs. Can you talk about what the Puerto Rican Cultural Center did or how did they do such a good job? How were they so leading? And I’m sure with lots of debate, lots of discussion, lots of struggle. But how did they come to this very, very positive and strong position with programs that include LGBT folks and how’d that happen?
Jessie: I come out of the work as an activist. I went to Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos as a high school student, graduated from there, later became the director of what was known as Teatro Café Batey Urbano. Some of the things that the center in particular and the high school has done right is truly affirming the very identity of our LGBTQ young people. Prior to going to Albizu Campos, I was a student at Carl Schurz High School, and I remember what that was like. I remember teachers asking me why didn’t I wear tighter clothes or why was my hair so short? Why did I play basketball instead of cheerleading? Those type of settings can often make you feel like I don’t want to do this anymore. I’d much rather be closeted, then to have to grapple with this outright homophobia. I remember transitioning into Albizu Campos and I had a lesbian counselor and I was like wow, to be able to be in a space where you can see yourself in someone who has a career, someone conscious, someone who is intelligent, and someone was there to coach you. It was small things like seeing yourself in administration, seeing yourself in educators that allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin. But more importantly, Albizu Campos is a space that believes in breaking the chains of oppression and decolonization through education. What that meant for the education of Albizu Campos then and now is that if we’re going to liberate young people, then we also must teach them their own history. I remember sitting in a Puerto Rican studies class and learning about lesbian Puerto Rican activists that come out of the movement in the ‘70s and ‘80s. How their stories are not told in major books or major news clippings because they’re women and lesbian. But I was able to learn about those narratives through educators that cared. Which is super important and it’s not just important for Puerto Rican LGBTQ folks, but just for Puerto Ricans. To be able to learn a history that’s untold and hidden. It is small spaces like that that truly allow a young person like me at the age of 16 to feel affirmed and safe. Often LGBTQ folks of color navigate a lot of spaces they don’t feel safe in. It’s hard to do work. It’s hard to be passionate. It’s hard to have a fire in your belly and want to do something about systems of oppression if you don’t feel safe. Safety was something that the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, at the high school and the entire neighborhood was able to provide me. I think that it is that sentiment alone that inspired me to be an activist.
Ricardo: I would have to say that the emergence of the crisis of HIV was the motivating factor of what happened. We have to understand that in 1980, when this comes out and they have this little thing that is the gay plague, that’s what everybody thought was going to be affected. Here we see how the LGBT community has been hidden and not come out because society would not accept. So how is it that in our community that “gay” was not the people who were dying? Okay, so how does this emerge? How is it that we have gay people that died. Of course, but others did not. And they had question marks. So here we see the situation of our society. What is happening? One that time we didn’t know. Then one of the modes of transmission was what, intravenous drug use. Intravenous drug use then leads to, being sex workers. Who are their customers? The same neighborhood that goes in there and has unprotected sex with these. Then goes back and goes back to their girlfriends or wives or whatever it is and this was something repeated, constantly without us knowing the other thing was the whole thing of people not coming out, that people did not know being in the closet and having sexual activities. That’s why we have a category of MSM and gay men, which is completely different than each other. But that kind of behavior is not only seen in the Puerto Ricans, but it’s also seen in the Mexican population, and it’s seen very much in the African-American community and Latin America in general. So that’s how we were able to identify that. What was the situation of the Puerto Ricans with HIV? That’s how we started developing that we had to then create in the community something that would then intervene because we were not getting any help. We use a very controversial word at that time. Vida/SIDA if you talked about SIDA that time you’re dead. Nobody was going to go to your office. Nobody was going to go nowhere. Everybody was scared of you. We still use that word. I can say that 30 years later of the existence of Vida/SIDA we have transformed that word into people accepting it and going through and knowing to get their services, just like we transformed the word terrorists They’re not terrorists. They’re patriots. That lived all the way through. Same thing when we talk about terrorists and then they covered us as Puerto Rican nationalists. We’re able to identify and to change those outcomes through education, through service. We have to do the humanistic part of it. It was to intervene without any money or anything, to help them. That I think started the basis of the LGBT movement in the PRCC of accepting, not only accepting but the including. Eventually, they were one of the first ones to start accepting trans and other gay people to start working in the community.
Jeanne: So you mentioned the history and the importance of history and we’re doing this little series because of the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall. So how did Stonewall, which is a riot of the most marginalized drag queens, sissies, transgender people, butches, prostitutes and homeless young queers. How did that influence you and the work you do and was that, a significant flashpoint? I know it happened before you were born, but when you learned about it or when you heard about it, how do you think about it now?
Jessie: Just like the Stonewall riots and like the 1960s and ‘70s riots on Division Street, I wouldn’t categorize them as riots. I would call them rebellions. These were the most marginalized folks in the LGBTQ community. They had the right of an outcry. They were being oppressed and marginalized and abused by many forms and systems. Institutions, police officers, communities. These are folks who could not enter a space without being verbally or physically abused. This was what it was and they had the right to have that rebellion, to have that outcry. Now, when I think about all the movements that came out of Stonewall and the amount of consciousness, those raised by those drag queens, by those transgender folks, by those butch lesbians who said, no, we’re not going to take this anymore, we are human, too and there are going to be movements. We’re going to educate people. We’re going to go into the schools into the communities and we are going to talk about how we need to be respected, accepted, and affirmed. It was the Stonewall movement that allows me to be a masculine-presenting lesbian in this movement. It was those folks who raised their voices who took the risk. Because they did, they entered spaces to raise consciousness and were abused again. After the Stonewall rebellion. The abuse didn’t stop.They continued to take risks. They continued to put their bodies at risk in order to create a more just world for folks like me. We have to be able to pay tribute to moments in history. Stonewall is one of those moments in history that allows for young people like me to do this work and to navigate safe spaces. There’s this insane phrase that history repeats itself. History doesn’t repeat itself. That doesn’t exist. There are forms of oppression in history that insist on being resolved. The rebellion of Stonewall was one way that our community thought that they can resolve the problem. Rightfully so, because that gave rise to a lot of movements. But unfortunately, many communities have forgotten what it means to continue to fight. You know, we have Lori Lightfoot in office. First lesbian Black mayor in the history of Chicago. We should be proud of that. We should. But that does not mean that our work is over and sometimes people believe that it is. A Black lesbian in office? We’re there, we’re not. We’re not there yet. There are still trans women of color who are dying at an astronomical rate. We still have people of color who are gay, lesbian, and trans who cannot exist within white communities. We still have trans women in Puerto Rico who are being abused and stoned and raped and killed at a rate that’s asinine. So there is so much more work to be done and as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall, we have to remember that there are 50 more years ahead of us.
Emmanuel: What does it mean to both of you, that Sylvia Rivera was a Puerto Rican activist, trans woman and one of the leaders of Stonewall?
Ricardo: I’m very proud. I wish I would have known a little bit sooner I could have made contact with her. When you hear about Stonewall, do you think the people know who she is and that she was one of the heads and the leaders to say, no, I had it? I mean, there was a lot more people. I’m proud that we have a Puerto Rican and that Puerto Ricans have had that consciousness of human rights. I think that colonial factor is very big on that, because when you’re repressed in your own country and you come back and you’re even more repressed that gives you a better sense of reality. It’s like Puerto Ricans who are very light skin in Puerto Rico. They’re extremely privileged. When you come here and you think you’re going to be just as privilege, open that mouth up and see if you’re going to be that privilege. You’re no longer that white privilege person here. We have to understand that, you know, I think, because of colonialism, we have this confusion. I’m very proud that we can claim her but she’s a claim for all Latin America. She is an example of what the rise and the essential root of the movement for the LGBT community, that we had a Latin American right there. We had African-Americans. We had other people there. So, we can claim that and we can give homage to that by only continuing this movement until we get fully human rights for the LGBT community.
Jeanne: I want to say that it was the 25th anniversary of Stonewall, where there was, I think it was the 25th, that I was there in New York City and so the good news is that Sylvia Rivera led the parade. It was a magnificent moment to witness.
Ricardo: I was in prison.
Jeanne: You missed that party! But you’re correct. It’s a small group of people who understand that and who she was.
Jessie: I was like five at the time.
Ricardo: I think it’s something that we have to redevelop. How is it that we’re going to make the move from an activist movement and people start learning to understand that we have not changed the definition of a family. The only way we’re going to see and be more inclusive society is that the definition of family is a man and a woman. We must change that definition. We have to change the definition to say that the family consists of a man or a woman or a woman and a woman, a man and a man. Then when we do that, when kids are growing up, they now have that option to know that they may fit one of those categories or you might be alone. My mother was by herself, like most Puerto Ricans, they have a 50 percent divorce rate. So, when we start teaching that definition in a society of what a family is, then, of course, that process and have a national education. I went to Cuba and it’s incredible what they do in Cuba. They have a national project of LGBT. Is an all educational project that goes throughout the whole country of Cuba talking about what is LGBTQ? They also have a trans program, in order for them to be recognized. Now note that Cuba has one of the lowest rates of HIV in Latin American and in the world. But their trans community was very much affected. Why? Because they work. They still are workers. So, it is nothing that we don’t. We’re going to hide. But then, of course, they were able to get medication. But Cuba now can be much more relaxed and committed. People are understanding it and they have become inclusive in society and they have a national program for education. That’s something that we here in this country, still way behind. In the legislature, there’s a movement now to change the definition of the family in Cuba, one of the first ones in the whole world to do that. That’s what we call about putting inclusive in the society to make them know that they are accepted.
Jeanne: So you were in prison at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Could you talk a little bit about what you may have learned there that you bring to your work now?
Ricardo: I was fortunate enough to be in prison with others. I was in on one section and then there was another section where Edwin Cortez and Alberto Rodriguez was there. Jihad is an activist, in the African-American movement, who also had a case with Oscar Lopez Rivera and Tim Blunt. And we were able to organize the first educational program and awareness of HIV in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Nobody else would touch it. We did touch it. And it was a six-week class. They were excused from work. They could go and everything. And we also have faculty participate. This opened the doors for people to become aware for people to not treat them so inhumanely and to be educated on something that we did not have too much education on. But we did have films and videos and almost people dying. And it’s like when Vida/SIDA when they started. Is like them misogynists. And what do you do for somebody that tells you to have AIDS at that time you were going to die. The likelihood of you dying was extremely high. And so that humanistic approach was put in prison and I was able to intervene in that way without, I was not out and in prison at all. I was not out. But I was very sympathetic. And since I was very well respected and that made a world of difference. And I’ve always been able to talk to both. You have to have a different perspective in prison when you talk to because unfortunately, they have ownership of people who are gay. If they’re weak or something, they will own them. They’re like a piece of property, which is disgusting. But you also had gays that were there that, they were strong. They were tired of being treated the way they were and they would stand up. So, I saw it all there. And abuse the whole works. But I think, in the contribution of making this program and lasted for years was, I think, a big tribute for all the people that were there that had infected with HIV to be treated in a very different fashion, a different manner.
Emmanuel: Can you add a little bit just other ways that you were politically active in prison?
Ricardo: We did things that usually have not been seen done before, but we will celebrate African-American Day. We had programs and everything else and speeches. We would celebrate what was called “El Grito de Lares”. Every year in prison we would do that. So, what is “El Grito de Lares”? El Grito de Lares is the first time that Puerto Ricans fight against Spain for independence. If you look at the creation of the Puerto Rican nation, it’s made of Taino Indians, Spaniards and, of course, Africans. It was the invasion of Spain to the natives, Tainos were the first ones, but if you go to the mountain tops in the “cordillera Puertoriqueña”, then you would be free. There were sympathetic Spaniards then in doing the slave trade. If they, the slave trade, when they stop in Puerto Rico, they would say when you get to the pretty island, you go to the mountains. They don’t do anything to you. So, hundreds of years started moving and then probably in that eighteen hundred, early eighteen hundred. No longer did they consider themselves Africans, Tainos or Spaniards, but Puerto Ricans. The conscience of the Puerto Rican nation gives rise in 1860 in El Grito de Lares. Dolores and Yara are two other ones. I mean, Mexico and Cuba. They all had movements against Spain. Unfortunately, ours didn’t help because we never became independent we lost it. But that’s the conscience of the Puerto Rican nation, you know? So, we celebrated that in there and we were able to tell the prisoners about their own history, that a big part population of Puerto Ricans. This is exactly what Jessie has brought up because one of the things that we have a problem is not only here in the United States, but in Puerto Rico is Puerto Rican history is not taught. When I was in Puerto Rico I was working with some educations and I did a survey and I said, who’s the father of our country? Everybody uses that before and out of every 10 people, nine couldn’t answer that question in our own country?” The same survey I asked, who’s George Washington, nine out of ten got that immediately. That’s colonialism. When you rob somebody of their history of who they are and where they’re going, where they are and where they’re going and that’s what wrong with Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans have no concept, no understanding of Puerto Rican history at all. They don’t even know that they are a colony in the United States because that’s never taught. They never know that we were invaded because that’s never taught. It’s not until you go to a university that you understand that. Now, these guys who were in prison had the same thing. Very proud to be Puerto Rican. So, what’s a Puerto Rican? You don’t understand. We gave that kind of thing. We would do a Mexico, we would come up with Mexican brothers and we would have consciousness about what Mexico is, what has happened to Mexico and the conditions that are created in Mexico by the United States. But we did that. We worked with the Muslim community also. There was African-American actors there. Matula Shakur was there. Jihad was there. I was able to create programs, even as little as that is to create conscious, to have the understanding, and for them to maybe relieve the tension there, everything else, that was a moment for them to relax. And we were able to do those kinds of programs. Food is one of the worst things in prison. Eddie, with somebody else and that helped them, of course, also were able to do “Bon Appétit”, we called it. Once a month we were able to take over the kitchen and we would cook. We would cook. So, one day we were going to do the Puerto Rican meal. So, there were some Puerto Rican guards there. So that could say that now. So, it’s already been 30, 40 years. So, I tell a man what you can do for us. I said, I need sofrito I need all this other stuff I’m making bisteces encebollados, habichuelas guisadas and arroz blanco a very Puerto Rican meal. And so we got the items all that the items got there and we made a very authentic Puerto Rican beans, even cilantro the whole works, man and steak, Puerto Rican steaks smothered in onions.
Jeanne: You’re making me hungry.
Emmanuel: Thank you for sharing. I wanted to ask you both, where do you want to see the work that you’re doing go when you hand it off to the next generation? Jessie, you may have a little while, Ricardo as well. Where do you want to see that work go on the next generation?
Ricardo: I don’t have a while. She does but I don’t.
Jessie: I’m an activist and I’m also an educator. It’s my second love. It’s what I love to do. One of the places that we still have a lot of work to do is in our schools. Albizu Campos, we are a sanctuary school but we’re a very small school in Humboldt Park. You know, 200 students at a time and we’d get a lot of LGBTQ young folks who leave CPS and charter schools because they’re being bullied by their peers. Unfortunately, also bullied by staff members. We have a lot of LGBTQ young folks who, they just don’t feel comfortable in classrooms. They don’t feel comfortable in English classes. They don’t feel comfortable in social studies classes because what they’re learning, the curriculum that they are being taught is not affirming to who they are. We also have an issue with bathrooms in our schools with CPS now wanting to claim on paper that they have changed the policy but not implementing it. We have, educators who are allowed to teach and be in the system but also be verbally homophobic towards their students. We have a discipline system in place that suspends and expels kids for who they are, what they look like. There’s a lot of work to be done. I think that we have an entire educational system that’s supposed to make young people feel safe. That’s supposed to affirm who they are and it’s supposed to inspire them to create a more just world. Rather, we have a system that does the complete opposite. Being an educator and a school administrator at Albizu Campos, we see it every day. We see it every day at enrollment when we have kids come in crying because, their dean told them to dress differently or their dean suspended them for kissing their girlfriend in the hallway or, a kid got expelled because they went to the “wrong bathroom.” So, there is a lot of work to be done and I don’t know, and I’m extremely young, but I don’t know if that’s going to be undone in my lifetime. We are working with the system that has been in place for decades and they have been allowed to commit this type of violence with no consequences, I might add. So, I hope to be a parent one day and I would be extremely scared to send my child to a school where they would fear being who they want to be. We have to create a world where our young people can go to a place that is supposed to educate them. That’s supposed to affirm them and keep them safe can do that.
Ricardo: I was in Tuley High School, an activist and was one of the student leaders of 10 to protest and lead the movement to get a new school, a new high school that was overcrowded. Eventually, that school, is what today is Roberto Clemente. I’m very proud to say that, I named it in 1972 when my dear mother in the committee, she was the head of the parent-teacher committee and I was the head of the student. So, I was able to eventually give a name to a high school. The first Latino named building in the history of Chicago. Why do we do that? There we have De Diego. Tuley got an eliminated. I graduated from Tuley but it was eliminated. What was Tuley now is Jose De Diego. But, one of the things that we do is that kids have to look at something that says, I can identify that. When I look Jose De Diego of course, all the Latinos are going to know and say everybody’s got a Jose in a family somehow or another. Somebody’s got a Roberto also. But Roberto comes up because of the legacy that he lives and he was also an activist and nobody knew about it and what he went through. At the same time, we couldn’t even go to universities. I was a top 10 student, UIC refused to accept me. So, we’re talking about then the protests and demonstrations that everything that we did that that today I can feel happy to say that we have a school, that De Diego that’s filled with Latinos and cares about them. That we have a principal Sergio Mojica in Clemente High School, that’s an openly gay man that’s married. People might know or might not know, but it’s there. That we have a school now that, that meets the needs of the other Latinos that are there. People are very comfortable with their settings and they think that nothing’s going to happen to them. We are still not at the point that that acceptance is there and anything can happen. How can we today continue that legacy to them to understand how important it is for you to continue to have those doors open for your children, for your future children?