Hayward High School and the Power of Brown Spaces

Written by Alejandro Jimenez


I met Adi after reading my short story at the MCC (Multicultural Community Center at UCB) during Undocunation. She was a young enthusiastic high schooler from Hayward who came because her cousin—a Cal undergrad—had invited her to the event. Her excitement about being at such an event was inspiring. She wanted to bring some of the energy at Undocunation back to Hayward High School and energize their Latino brown space on campus. Right then and there we agreed to stay connected and plan something to happen during spring break.

When spring break came around her cousin Natalie and I came to Hayward High School to do a lunch time talk about our experiences at UC Berkeley. Natalie and I spoke during the car ride about our topics of discussion at the presentation. We wanted to speak about the challenges of being a first time college applicant, about being first generation college students and the journey of making it to the finish line. Our goal was to be brief but to share our personal experiences with the high school class in hopes of making an impact, yet their reception and kindness to us impacted me as well.

I was supposed to read my piece from Undocunation but we ran late and had to save it for another day. The students seemed like they really wanted to hear the piece so I offered to help organize a follow up event where we could have a night of culture and poetry. The students really liked the idea, as well as the teachers but first we had to go through the campus bureaucracy just to find an appropriate time and space for such an event. It was frustrating to think that they had no place like the MCC at Cal. Yet I also realized the students are young warriors and they use whatever is at their disposal even if it is only the Puente program classroom and the two or three teachers always giving them support.

I came to the realization that Hayward High School Raza students may have a hard time finding a space for our night of culture and poetry, yet they are cultivating something very fundamental through their Puente class. They are learning to craft a space of their own.

With excitement they showed us their classroom decorated with Raza iconography. It may seem like just a room full of posters and books, but the aesthetics are an expression of agency so powerful it brings fresh air and a guiding light into the lives of the young Raza students. Their space stands in opposition to the history of white privilege in high schools everywhere. I remembered that Arizona’s recent institutional racism binge tried to eliminate Ethnic Studies spaces, yet Hayward High School is a reminder that Ethnic Studies is not a book or a class, but a way of thinking and the desire to know more. In this sense Ethnic Studies can flourish in brown spaces anywhere.

I left the high school wondering if we’d find a place to host a night of cultural resistance, but I felt at ease knowing that Hayward High School at least has a classroom and a hand-full of teachers and students willing to transform their classroom into a brown space where students can cultivate their minds and their sense of Raza empowerment.


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