Guest Author

We should have walked out!

We should have walked out!
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Text by Zelene Pineda Suchilt
Illustration by Blake Jones


Driving North on Shepherd, as you cross the train tracks before you hit the Katy Freeway, nestled between a church and a shed you will find a congregation of recent immigrants looking for work. I remember seeing them on the way to school one day, and asked myself if they were the terrorists Lou Dobbs was talking about. After the attacks of September 11th, as the U.S. headed for an economic recession, attitudes and conversations about Mexican immigrants began to shift. The people needed a scapegoat and xenophobia ran rampant.

In 2024, the Arizona-based vigilante group known as the Minute Men came into notoriety for staking out day laborer hot spots like the one on Shepherd and outside Home Depots all across the US. To the average Minute Man, a war veteran enjoying the comforts of retirement while watching Fox news, it made sense to blame immigrants for the perils of the nation — someone needed to be a hero and others the target.

When the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4437 in 2024 — one of the most xenophobic and anti-constitutional bills in American history — the masses began to mobilize. It was one of those rare moments in history when popular sentiment reflected that a great injustice was being formalized and committed against the most vulnerable: immigrants. Soon, groups working on anti-war efforts as well as labor and social justice issues came together against the oppressive piece of legislation and in support of immigrants and immigration reform. In Houston, since immigration and labor are so closely related — immigrants come here seeking work, after all — immigrant rights organizers worked in unison with the labor movement.

When moments like this come along, it is advisable to look at the actions of young people. They have the energy to escalate an issue into a movement due to their impulsiveness and natural state of rebellion. In Houston, where the majority of the population are people of color (historically of Black, Native and Mexican descent), young people began to walk out of school.

At Reagan High school the principal, Robert Pambello was talked into raising a Mexican flag below the American and Texan flags, by the majority latin@ student body, but was quickly ordered to remove it. The “Mega Marchas” or mass demonstrations started on March 10th in Chicago. 500,000 thousand people took to the streets, on the 24th, 20,000 marched to Senator Jon Kyl’s office in Phoenix, while in Georgia, tens of thousands of workers participated in a work stoppage, then LA, Ohio, Northern Virginia, Nashville….and on the 30th the Mexican flag was raised at Reagan.

HISD was forced to take a stand. They called for a press conference in which they touted two of the student protestors, one of whom was me:

“We want the media to have an example, of what students are capable of — organizing, being effective, making an impression” and Latina Club President: Tina Marie, “– without breaking rules and without breaking laws and working within the school system.”
Over 500 students at Lamar High School met at the flagpole before school began on April 6, a demonstration modeled in part on “Prayer on the Pole” actions organized by Christian students to protest the separation of faith and education. Most of the students who came to the rally identified as Mexican. They brought flags and were ready to walk.

Directly across the Lamar campus, on one of the busiest (if not the busiest) street in Houston, Westheimer, is the River Oaks Country Club. Tina Marie and I had decided that walking out would put students in physical danger from traffic, and we had learned the financial strains that police issued tickets placed on low income, under-educated youth from the other recent walk-outs in Houston and other cities.

The rally was promoted through MySpace and mass text messages, and we flyer bombed the school throughout the week. We asked that everyone wear white in solidarity. We even sent out a press release, and several media outlets came to the campus but were escorted by school security across the street to the commercial strip in front of Lamar. The plan was to hold the rally before school and walk in to class as a political act in support of immigration reform. I began the rally by letting people know what H.R. 4437 was, and what actions were being organized by the national movement to reform immigration law.

Principal McSwain came down from his office balcony and asked to use our megaphone to speak about his Irish grandparents and faith, he was supportive of immigrants and “Prayer on the Pole.”When the bell rang, we all walked in, in our white shirts. Mexican students were disappointed that we hadn’t walked out, that we gave McSwain the megaphone, and when the school broadcast channel interviewed Tina and me immediately following the walk in, they christened us Timon and Pumba.

McSwain invited us to the HISD press conference that was being held that same day, to which we drove in a limousine. We were the stars of the press conference and were granted permission to make a statement. Our action became known throughout the city because of the local and international coverage it had received.

Looking back, I wish we had walked out and caused a real stir. Down Kirby…towards Shepherd… to where? I don’t know. That was for the masses to decide.

  • Jaycee

    If my kid walked out of school they would be grounded for life. I think the kids should let the adults handle this situation. I’m pretty sure most of these kids have never even been to Mexico. Let them spend an hour in a border town and see how much their country loves them. These kids whose parents or grandparents came to America for a better life, they wanted to be American, and wanted their children to be American citizens. A riot or “walk out” by teenage kids is a slap in the face to their parents or grandparents who cared enough about their wellbeing to leave Mexico and move to a land of more opportunity. I don’t know about you but I’d never intentionally disrespect the sacrifices my family has made. And my child would be punished for this kind of disrespect. You cannot ask any other country to fly a different countries flag next to their own. I agree, if you want to see the Mexican flag flying high, then go to Mexico. You’ll find plenty of flags flying there and I doubt any of them are American flags.

  • SuperHappyFamilyFunGuy

    Great article by the way.

  • SuperHappyFamilyFunGuy

    Mexican immigrants were the only ones to face mass deportation out of this country. No other races were subject to this. You can thank the us labor force board for the very first propaganda lies spread In the 30’s like the taking jobs thing and most of them are criminals. Great article by the way.

  • JayJay

    The masses to decide?

    Like a herd of sheep with no shepherd to lead them? That’s not bright.

    The reason people can’t find jobs is because of illegal immigration, not legal immigration. The reason people were mad was not because of legal immigration, it’s because of illegal immigration. People (no matter where they’re from, Mexico or not) without the right documents. Without having the right manner is a bad, bad, bad idea. For if “good” people can come through so can (and so have) the very bad people. And if these “good” people are all about being good, then they should care more about the security of the country they are sealing away to.

    OH, and walking out isn’t about any issues. It’s about spoiled brats that are doing more for themselves than for anyone else. Self evident in Baltimore. The city that’s going to be called the second Detroit. Well done.

  • John Blake Arnold

    Mexico lost a war with Texas, an independent country founded to bolster slavery and the slavery economy already extant in the Southern United States. At that time, slavery was illegal in Mexico. Yet Mexico still LOST the war, and the consequence of that DEFEAT was a loss of geopolitical and legal control over more than half of Mexico’s former territorries, including the current State of Texas where these protests occurred at a public high school designed to educate. Why would anyone assume that individuals with an allegiance to a foriegn power– in this case people identifying themselves as “Mexicans”– should be welcomed as anything other than politically-motivated invaders attempting to foment inconvenience– especially after the ongoing terror attacks against the U.S. of A.??? What makes these people assume their personal opinion that a foriegn National’s natural right to work illegally in the U.S. somehow ethically trumps the collective right of the U.S.A. to defend itself against actual violence?? And how was an organized protest on Westheimer expected to affect those that actually make laws in Washington D.C.? Why should any U.S. citizen value any thesis posited by an ungrateful inhabitant now identifying with a foriegn power? You and your posse should have headed back south across the Rio Grande in your Che teeshirts, because if you don’t like the way you are treated in this country, go somewhere else. A tremendous amount of blood and treasure was spilt for the very rights you enjoyed in assembling, protesting, and now pampleting the H.P. with your political assumptions, and these rights are guaranteed by the U.S., not “Mexico” or somebody’s romantic idea of what “Mexico” is. If you really feel unliked in the U.S., rather than ask us to become mediocre so that you will feel better about your “treatment”, why don’t you actually go to Mexico and fix the endemic violence, graft, and corruption there, since you identify with Mexico. Being a U.S. citizen in the United States was never the problem, it has always been the spurious ethical assumptions of foriegn nationals and those that identify with foreign powers, and then assume on top of everything else that the U.S. veterans and tax payers should foot the bill.

    • Nicholas Hansen

      John, I hesitate to respond to that vitriol because I suspect you may be too entrenched in your position to take a deep breath and really examine the things you said, But, if not, I have a couple of questions. Why does Texas winning a war, in defense of slavery as you say (with American aid and intervention), negate the rights of people who live here more than 150 years later to speak up when they feel their government and their society are behaving unfairly? Why is identifying as Mexican a problem? Is identifying as Irish the same problem? Nearly everyone in the United States with any money or influence comes from an immigrant family; why is it a problem to identify with your cultural heritage? Should we rename all the little German and Czech towns in central Texas? Why do you assume the kids in the story are not American and should go somewhere else? Somehow, I doubt that you are a registered Native American tribe member. The U. S. is a country of immigrants, plain and simple.

      As an aside, I live in the Czech Republic at the moment. If I notice something that I believe to be deeply wrong here, should I not have the right to speak my mind just because I’m not a citizen?

      If a “tremendous amount of blood and treasure was spilt for the very rights you enjoyed in assembling, protesting,” etc. then why are you so angry when students exercise those rights?

      • Ivan Cunningham

        Thank you! Could not have said it better myself.

      • JayJay

        They’re not exercising rights that they have. They’re exercising rights they think they have. If you’re not here legally, you have no legal right.

        And if you’re allegiance is to another country and you identify yourself as Mexican before American, you also should be questioned. Why bother saying you’re a Mexican-American? You can’t be both. You can’t live in both. You either live in America or you live in Mexico. There’s no living in both locations.

        No one can take your past. No one can say that you can’t have culture, but it is a fact that you cannot be both Mexican and American. It is not possible. You can’t eat at two tables. You can’t work two jobs at the same time. You can’t.

        And students never fight for rights. They fight for ego.

        • Nicholas Hansen

          I’m sure people viewed your ancestors the same way until they struggled for the right to be called and treated as Americans. As far as objecting to the the terms, I don’t really see the point. It’s a normal way of speaking to identify Irish Americans, German Americans, Polish, Chinese, etc. Why should Mexican Americans be any different?

          The metaphor about tables and jobs I don’t get at all, even as an analogy. I currently work three jobs and eat at family and friends’ tables all the time. Many people, whether recent immigrants or not, illegal or not, have ties of family, language, cultural habits to their country of origin. Of course they still identify with their origins. The United States only exists as a conglomeration of ethnic and cultural identities, as much as we have tried to suppress those the majority have found undesirable.

          I’m not sure why you would assume that all the students referred to in the article are illegal immigrants. But even so, illegal immigrants certainly have rights in any civilized nation, the right not to be abused or murdered, for instance. They just don’t have the same exact rights as full citizens.

          Students may not always stand up for issues they care about in the most productive of ways, but I’m not sure adults do much better, and some of the time, students seem more thoughtful and engaged than our elected officials.

          • JayJay

            Oh, so there’s American-Mexicans for the very, very few who move from America to Mexico? Yeah, no. Same for any other country. There’s no American-Germans. So no it’s not a working thing or an identifier as you state.

            Where do you live? America? Okay, if you’re anything you’re American. If you identify yourself by a location you don’t live in, then maybe you should move there. You can’t be a Mexican if you don’t live in Mexico. It’s a fact.

            You can have Mexican heritage. You can have Mexican background (which is just a Spanish background, though Spain hates Mexicans far more than anyone in America ever could…oh the things they call Mexicans would make your dead great-great grandmother blush). The only reason for a hyphen is cause people want to have both. They can’t let go. They can’t admit that they don’t wanna live in Mexico. Well, guess what…if you can’t live there, you aren’t one. For if you could, you’d be one. But cause you ran away you can’t claim. Nor can you claim to love a country you do not live in. For if you loved it, that’s where you’d live.

            You can’t claim to love your family if you moved away from them. Love isn’t about leaving. It’s about staying. IT doesn’t matter what you claim you’re creating, your missing more than you’re fixing.

            Uh, no. Mexico only exists because of Spain. So if we’re to play your dumb game of where people com from, no one can have anything for everything came from somewhere else. What a dumb reasoning.

            The table thing works. You can’t eat at your parents’ table and at your friend’s table at the same time, can you? No. You have to pick one. So simple.

            No illegal immigrants do not have rights. Civilized nation means what? That if things aren’t going your way that it’s no longer civilized? They’re not citizens therefore they don’t deserve rights. If you steal to get what you want, then you don’t care for what you got.

            NO. Students NEVER riot (stand up is a nice way to lie about what actually occurs. Nice words to cover up terrible behavior) for issues unless it’s a selfish win in it. Baltimore wasn’t about what the students didn’t like that occured, it was so that they could steal things from business. There was no anger for a death. That was just so they could get what they want. Very thoughtful in Baltimore. So thoughtful they want to destroy the city and become Detroit 2.0.

          • Nicholas Hansen

            Well, it’s clear you don’t find my perspective compelling. And your arguments seem to be mostly just bald-faced prejudice and xenophobia mixed with some assumptions that don’t even begin to make sense.

            “You can’t love your family if you move away from them”? Really? To what distance? I’m sure your surviving relatives all live under the exact same roof. And no immigrant or kid who moved out of their hometown for work/ school ever loved their parents. What utter nonsense.

            And by the way, I currently live in a flat-share with a good friend and a relative stranger, so technically I share ownership of a table with a close friend and a neighbor. We share the table often, usually eating different meals. Your “table thing” is still ridiculous, as well as pointless. Might I suggest a book of poetry? There may be hope for your metaphors, if not your attenpts at political thought.

            I’m done with this.
            Good day,

          • JayJay

            It’s clear you need people to think like you.

            It’s clear you rather use terms you don’t understand in ways that don’t fit in order to sound as if you care.

            If you’re a father and you move to a different country away from your family to work, that is not love for your family.That’s love of money.

            Uh, no. The table thing is quite simple. If the table is in your home, it’s your table. Therefore you cannot be sitting at your parents’ table at the exact same time. Done.

            You’re done because you are too emotional and not logical.

            Not good day, you condescending person. You have no love at all.

  • Jeff

    You can keep walking back to Mexico for all we care.

    • ari9999

      She can, but she won’t. Unlike bigots, she’s too savvy.

      Zelene, you go, girl! Uh, I mean, stay!

      “Well behaved women rarely make history.” —Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

      I wish my own kids were as socially conscious as you.

    • blah

      ha…. maybe everyone should just stop all the racist articles and we wont have racial tension or stupid conversations.