Deserving: A short story about the 1968 East LA Walkouts

I can’t believe Mariana is actually risking getting expelled for some walkout. When she texted me this morning in all caps, practically spamming the keyboard followed by an enthusiastic “LETS WALK OUT TODAY”, I thought she had meant she just wanted to ditch school for a bit.

 

We have a ritual- once every month, we skip our most boring class and walk down to the small liquor store near the school. I always came out with a bag of chips and maybe an energy drink, she with whatever piece of candy caught her attention that time. That was easy, almost no consequence since I’m pretty sure no teacher in that place cares whether we actually went to class or not. Ditching was simple, exciting even, but joining the walkouts?

Honestly, I don’t think it’s all that worth it. Not when these teachers and Johnson wouldn’t even care to listen, let alone change.

 

Now here I am, listening to one of those teachers give her opinion on the same walkouts Mariana expects me to participate in. Ms.Binkle: an ugly name…how fitting. I don’t look at her directly, I don’t like her. I don’t like the way she doesn’t take my work and effort seriously. Hell, I probably put in more effort than Jackson, yet whatever I finish doing is her “what not to do” example. Give me a break.

 

Looking out the window and into the streets, I hear her from the other side of the class threaten expulsion to everyone who dares go against their obviously biased and discriminatory system that they believed to be perfect. Of course they would, they’re not the ones losing. I know that they don’t think they’re responsible for our failure. I’m not oblivious to their accusations of it being simply a part of our culture to not graduate. They actually think we want to live a life of doing the bare minimum. Our culture has nothing to do with it, but it does have everything to do with the fact that all odds are put against us forcefully since the first day we walk into our kindergarten classroom. They don’t see that, though.

 

Actually, I think they just don’t care.

 

I keep staring at the street, but a bird catches my eye now. I think it’s going after some chip on the ground. Picking up its wings to head for it, it stops because another bird is taking a bite from it. It just stays in its place and I see how it eyes it. It wants it, but I don’t think it’ll be going for it now. I mean, it could just go find something else to eat, why bother?

 

I keep watching the still bird, and Ms.Binkle keeps talking, but now she’s just discussing some passage from the book we were assigned to read last night. I don’t need to pay attention, I guess. Plus, this stupid bird is more entertaining than whatever she’s rambling on about.

 

Now thinking about it, It would be oh so satisfying to walk to the front of this classroom, look right into Ms.Binkle’s droopy, wrinkly eyes, and walk out in defiance. Maybe I will join Mariana, but only out of spite.

 

I wonder, who else is risking expulsion for the slim chance that things might change here? Maybe Noel, but that’s not that surprising since he always likes clowning around and doing crazy things. He says it’s because he’s “bored”, but he’s been like this ever since we were kids.

 

Marcus, Mariana, and I all live in the same neighborhood, It’s how we became friends. I’m pretty sure we met at some carne asada one of our neighbors was doing. The adults were mingling, the men talking around the bbq holding a beer in one hand, their phones or food in the other. The women, at the table talking their chisme and about how someone did whatever they did. I don’t know, it was always the same though. As they mingled, we kids played around, played whatever game came to our minds.

 

Mariana and I would almost always team up in whatever we did, and Noel would be with us too for as long as he could. It wasn’t long before he did something that got him in trouble by his mom and he’s forced to sit with them and listen to whatever it is they talk about. Of course, though he’d find a way to sneak away eventually.

 

Yeah, he’s definitely going, Mariana probably didn’t even need to do much to convince him. Speaking of Mariana, is she reconsidering now that the teachers are directly threatening us with expulsion? I mean, it was implied before, but now they’re telling us to our face. Maybe she’ll back down? What if I just don’t go? I mean, she’ll forgive me for it and I won’t risk anything.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy with how things are, not at all. Just last week I asked Binkle here to approve my course sheet. I wanted to take AP literature. I’ve always been good at English, I know I’ll ace that class.

 

When I placed the paper on the floor, she took one look at the course I had written down and with no hesitation or any thought at all, she looks me dead in the eyes and tells me my work in her class shows that my English does not meet whatever stupid standards she just came up with in her head to justify her denying my request. I know my work is more than enough, and I know I would do well in that class if she just gave me the chance. Except, she didn’t.

 

She’s not talking anymore, we’re supposed to be reading a few pages before she moves on with the lesson. I’m not going to do it. If she doesn’t take me or my work seriously as she should, then why even bother taking her or her lesson seriously? What if she and whatever she’s teaching doesn’t meet my standards? This school doesn’t meet my standards. I need more from them and the district. Honestly, I just need them to care about my education as much as I do. I want to graduate and maybe go to college. Am I not as deserving of that as the white kids here are? I put in the work and the effort. I do deserve it.

 

Breaking away from the window I look above Binkle’s ugly head and look at the time. The bell is just about to ring signaling the passing period and the walkout. I guess that stupid bird distracted me for a lot longer than I thought. All that time wasted and all it’s done is make small attempts to approach the chip and the bird who for some reason keeps nibbling it. It’s like it’s taunting the other bird, doing it on purpose. I want the other one to go for it, take what was originally his. He flew all the way there, why did he have to go find some other food? Maybe I’m just taking out my frustration with these poor birds as the time is almost going to hit 12. The alarm is almost going to blare through the school and I have no idea what to do.

 

Do I risk expulsion for the slight chance that change will happen? God, I started this class convinced that this is futile, but now I want to defy Binkle and this school. I guess I do want the board to hear my voice. Maybe then, I can get into the class I want. Oh how I would love to come back next year to this very classroom and shove my passing grade in Binkle’s face. Proving to her that I do meet the standards, and that I am deserving of something more.

 

Putting my things away and picking up my bag from the ground next to my chair, I hear the signal. The alarm begins to blare and for a fraction of a second, everyone stills. Binkle’s eyes widen slightly and she eyes the entire class as she heeds her final warning of what would happen to us if we walk out of the school. I look at her now, she looks almost scared. Scared of defiance? Or is it that she’s scared that something might actually come out of this? Does she fear our success that much?

 

Only one way to find out. As much as I am hesitant to do this, I know one thing and that is that change needs to happen. Whether it happens after today and after this walkout, or with whatever this will inspire in the future. I guess Mariana was right to be excited about this, we are finally doing something to make sure we are treated the way we deserve in school.

 

Alarm still blaring, I grab my bag and stand up out of my seat. Many are still sitting, still debating for themselves what they’re going to do, but I’ve made my decision. I follow behind the few who stood up ahead of me in my row and slowly approach the front of the classroom. Binkle’s stare doesn’t break, if anything, it intensifies. I walk past her and towards the door, but as my foot approaches the doorway I turn my head around just enough to look into her eyes and mockingly return her stare before something else catches my attention.

 

Behind her big, ugly head and outside the window on the street, I see the bird. He went for the chip, snatched it away from the one taunting it, and ate It himself before flying away seemingly satisfied. Amused and slightly smiling now, I turn back around, not giving binkle another look, and walk out of the classroom before joining the crowd of students walking out of the school.

 

Danica Compean is a senior at Fremont High School.

 

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