Natalie González

You might be wondering why I’m here speaking out right now. The reason is to speak my mind as a Mexican-American girl growing up on the Southwest Side of Chicago. I might be young but no mind is ever too old or too young to think about topics of community and justice. I am not only speaking for myself but for the people who feel undervalued because of where we come from. I am not saying this for people to have pity for us, but to show people we want to be heard and respected. What people don’t understand is that violence is not where I come from. I come from a community that is being told we “are the problems.” And if you let me, I will show you how each part of Chicago is actually the solution.

My class went on a field trip to the Chicago Architectural Foundation after reading the graphic novel No Small Plans, a novel about gentrification and development in Chicago. The instructor asked the question: “Do you feel safe in your community?” About ten students went to the “No, I don’t feel safe in my community” side and I went to the “Yes, I do feel safe in my community” with the majority of the class, but I wanted to hear why those students don’t feel safe. Apart from this, I don’t want you to think that I have never been in violence or dealt with it. Most of my classmates talked about violence or unawareness in their community, and I have to admit that there is some in my community also, but that does not mean that violence defines my community.

Our own Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in an August 2018 conference about the massive rate of murders that there are “too many people with criminal records” and “too many guns on the street.” Emanuel then asserted that Chicago has “a shortage of values about what is acceptable.” The moment I heard this I was angry, but I understood his perspective. I don’t agree with it but I understand that once you hear someone beat one drum it gives you this type of eagerness to beat along. I of course am not one of those people who take what they hear and accept it right away. I am someone who uses my own mindset to challenge another mindset.

The purpose of this essay is to clear the fog that is upon the South and the West Side. I want people to understand we can create solutions and we can be the next change. We did not want a mayor who would pick at us and downgrade us — we wanted a mayor who would see our value even when we couldn’t see it ourselves. We wanted a mayor who would shed light when this city was in its darkest times. We did not want a mayor who would make us feel unvalued. The violence in a community is not the big picture.

What do I want in a mayor? I want to see someone who will look at each part of this city and see our imperfections and perfections as one city. I don’t want a mayor who will say or pinpoint what we’re not capable of doing. I want a mayor who will create a place where each and every person in this city will feel appreciated and loved. I want a Mayor who will actually make a difference and set expectations and succeed in doing so. I want a difference in this city and I think the majority of people in Chicago want one too.

Right here, right now I am showing my value by taking a stand. My voice, our voices, will be heard until we make a point and show what we create. We do not create chaos but we do create sparks. We create the change and what people don’t know is that underneath that “hard cover” we have brilliance. Sparks are in our voices, in young and old people’s minds, and we show what we ourselves are capable of: to take on injustices against our communities in a city full of misunderstandings. We have the power to take care of our communities. We will speak louder than the hurricane of negativity from those in power that washes away our voices and we will show you we are here. We are ready to be heard and be louder than a wolf’s howl in the breaking of the moonlight.

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Keanna Figueroa lives in Gage Park and is a sixth grader at Sawyer Elementary School. She has a wonderful teacher named Ms. Gluckman here and a soon-to-be teacher named Ms. Taylor. She is using this essay as an opportunity to share her point of view and stand for the change she wants to see in her community. This is her first contribution to the Weekly.

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  1. This is so beautiful, and full of so much truth. If we focus on what we think communities lack, and never see what they have to offer us, we will not foster growth. Your writing is incredible! I hope to see more from you.

  2. So beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. It resonates with truth, strength of character, healthy pride, and wisdom beyond your years. Thank you for uplifting my spirit today Keanna, I needed it.
    Seems like you have a great teacher to support you! ????????

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