Silenced Voices

Told by: Powerful Voices

“With liberty and justice for all” – the last words of the pledge I recited everyday since I could speak. I always saw school as my second home, but never did I think I would have to face a school that saw me as different for what I looked like. My school preaches inclusivity, equality, acceptance, but I rarely see it. I see hate, I see fear, I see disgust, I see so many things a growing teenager shouldn’t see in her high school. 

It was January. It was the first day I wore my bandanna to school. I wore my bandanna because my friend Pancho was forced to take it off. He had many encounters throughout the week he was wearing it, but one day he was approached by a security guard who demanded he take it off. He refused because he saw white girls wearing bandannas as headbands, shirts and around the wrist, so why did he have to take it off? After trying to explain why he didn’t want to take it off, the security guard told him he had to take it off because it covered his face. But it didn’t, it was only on his forehead. Finally, he was forced to go to the vice principal’s office, where he was told he had to apologize for “calling the security guard out.” He was told he could not wear a bandanna because of the negativity it brought to us as Hispanics. Isn’t that crazy? The person who is supposed to lead us with his example tells my Mexican friend that bandannas cannot be worn by people of our complexion only because it marks us as dangerous. The funny part? The principal called Pancho in to apologize and tell him he could wear his bandanna whenever he wanted. 

I can say that I appreciate the effort he put forth in trying to rectify a mistake he did not commit, but when did he apologize? After Pancho began telling his story and other witnesses started telling theirs? After other students began to wear their bandannas? After the principal realized the effect the story could have on the school image?

January 16th, 2020, I wore my bandanna for the first time. Now, one thing has to be said, I am only 4’11”, so I can’t really intimidate anyone. I mean, how uncomfortable can I make someone feel? Seeing people stare in fear made me feel tense but also made me laugh. Why in the world would I go and beat someone up?

I walked out of the English building, and the same security guard who demanded Pancho take off his bandanna followed me all the way into the library. Coming out, the same security guard was there, but this time I walked out with my six-foot-tall boyfriend and a bunch of feisty friends. Everyone looked at us as if we were a gang ready to pounce on someone for looking at us funny. Everyone walked around, stared in fear. It only reminded me of the injustice. How could the white girl wear it as a shirt, as a headpiece? When we wore it as a marking. 

I am not a person to stay quiet when it comes to injustice. My bandanna didn’t mean I was a gang member, nor did my skin color. They should know the way I carry myself is because of them. I always feel under attack, so I have to behave a certain way so I am ready for the war they make me face everyday. You either hear the whispers or feel the stares. You’re constantly being watched because everyone is waiting for you to mess up. The bandanna gave me strength. It gave me the strength to finally walk with pride. Pride. Something I had never felt at this school before. 

Wearing the bandanna brought so much attention. The ones who looked different stared in fear, stared with a pale, blank face, scared a shoot out would happen. The white people were always scared. I was only 4’11, who could I harm? Yet, I am the predator. We are the predators. We are a group of criminals looking for our next victim. They tell us we belong here, but where?

Pancho was told to apologize for wearing a bandanna due to the invisible mark my school placed on us because our skin color does not match theirs. We were marked as hazardous, which means we had to watch ourselves so we didn’t wear something “inappropriate.” No more. I will not brush it off or look the other way. I do not write this to pat myself on the back, but rather to encourage others with stories to speak up. It is time we speak, time we finally share our voice unapologetically. So we can finally see the truth about the school that made us pledge “with liberty and justice for all.”

Yaritza Ortiz is a junior at Newport Harbor High School.