The discourse on these marches tends to frame matters in terms of legality/illegality. Democracy, or pro democracy could offer more affirming angle. I appreciate the voices of children in this account. -Angela
MARCH FOR IMMIGRATION RIGHTS: SCHOOLS
Kids skip class to rally, be part of a life lesson
By Stephanie Banchero and Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporters Hal Dardick, Mary Ann Fergus, Jamie Francisco, Deborah Horan, Jo Napolitano and Andrew Wang contributed to this r
Published May 2, 2006
Students across the Chicago area skipped school Monday to march for immigrant rights, taking lessons in a giant outdoor classroom that they say went far beyond anything they could learn from a book.
"I can sit in class and read textbooks all day, but I don't think I understood how America works until I came here," said Bianca Crespo, 17, a senior at Chicago's St. Benedict High School who joined marchers at Ashland Avenue and Division Street. "Now I see it's a melting pot and this is democracy."
Students said they came for their parents, who struggled to make a better life in this country, and for their own futures. And they spoke in awe of the unprecedented experience.
"This is the most important thing I've ever done in my life," said Daisy Lopez, 16, a sophomore at Blue Island's Eisenhower High School who rode a bus for 2 1/2 hours Monday morning to participate in the march.
Mainly Latino schools in Chicago reported 30 percent to 50 percent of students were absent. But at Farragut Career Academy and Benito Juarez Community Academy, about 80 percent of the high school students didn't show. Suburban schools also were affected.
Classrooms and lunchrooms were noticeably thinned out, and school hallways were unusually quiet.
Public and parochial schools alike considered the student absences unexcused, but most administrators took an understanding view, citing the rally's educational value.
"This is alive and real and in your face. You can see a movie or read a book, or you can participate," said Sandra M. Fontanez-Phelan, principal of Chicago's Kelvyn Park High School, where nearly all students are Hispanic.
Even schools with very young children saw significant drops in attendance. At the pre-K through 2nd grade Ortiz De Dominguez school in Chicago, about a third of the pupils didn't come in Monday, assistant principal Silvia Saucedo said.
Many children knew about a similar rally held in Chicago in March, she said, because their parents and siblings attended.
"A lot of people think because [the children] are so young, they don't understand, but they know what's going on," she said.
In Evanston, 111 children were reported absent at Washington Elementary School, more than 20 percent of the school population.
"I hope parents were able to turn it into a civics lesson for the kids, possibly a historic lesson," interim Principal Karen Evans said.
Absences rose in suburban schools with large Latino populations, such as Oak Terrace Elementary in Highwood and Round Lake District 116 schools.
About 400 students were absent from Romeoville High School and about 800 from Bolingbrook High School, more than 20 percent of the student bodies.
Students at the march said they understood the consequences; too many unexcused absences could mean detentions, suspensions or even worse, but that didn't matter.
Sarah Marabillas, a senior at St. Benedict, said skipping school might mean a drop in her grade and the possibility of not being able to walk across the stage and pick up her diploma.
"What is walking with your class vs. walking with your people?" she said. "I'd rather risk not being able to walk across the stage to support this cause."
Other students believed they could make a difference as well.
"I think it's good for kids to march because I think they will listen to us," said Erik Martinez, 11, who skipped 5th grade at Bateman Elementary School in Chicago. "We didn't do anything wrong, so maybe those men in Washington will listen to us and do what's good for us and all the immigrants."
For some children, the march was a personal mission.
"I'm afraid my mommy will get sent back home," said Arturo Vaca, 11, a 5th grader at Eli Whitney. "If they kick out the Mexican people, my mom will have to leave. I want to help her so she can stay here."
Arturo's 8-year-old brother, echoed those sentiments but said walking 3 miles from Union Park to Grant Park was a lot to ask of a little kid.
As he marched down Jackson Boulevard clutching a red flag, Diego Vaca said, "I want to help my mom, but I'm tired too."