Interview with Daniela, Part 1 of 2.
Steph: Okay. We’re sitting in here on a Saturday afternoon at the Fiesta Cafe, downtown Holyoke. Is this downtown?
Steph: This is downtown.
Steph: Yeah. And you’re on the Student Advisory Council for the Holyoke High Schools?
Steph: How does that work? You were starting to tell me.
Daniela: So basically we meet twice monthly and we discuss kind of the problems and the issues that we have at our high schools. Some things we discuss is the student handbook and curriculum and basically the things that we do at our school, and we kind of discuss the traditions that we have in Holyoke and how we can bring that and tie that into our community and our schools and how we can help students kind of get more interested in community work in Holyoke.
Steph: You said you work directly with the Superintendent?
Daniela: Yeah. So we meet him twice a month. He comes either to Dean or we have our meetings at Holyoke High. Either way, we always have it somewhere at each school.
Steph: And how many students are on the Advisory Council?
Daniela: Since our seniors have graduated already, I think there’s about 15 now. But before, we did have maybe 20 to 22 students.
Steph: So you’re building up more, bringing more people in?
Daniela: Yeah. We’re trying to recruit a lot more freshmen this year because our group is mainly sophomores, and we need a couple more juniors, maybe a few more seniors also.
Steph: Okay, so you want representation across all the grades?
Daniela: Yeah. So it’s kind of like everyone has their voice put into the conversation.
Steph: Cool. Very cool. And then you said you just did an event last Thursday?
Daniela: Yeah, we had a Peace Rally for an incident that happened at one of our middle schools in Holyoke. It was Donahue, and basically at that Peace Rally, we just had an open space for people to come in and just discuss the issue that happened and try to feel safe. We were trying to help everyone kind of get a sense of how we took it as a city and how we’re trying to react to it and make sure everyone feels safe in our community.
Steph: And you said it was open, so it was for the schools but also for anybody in town?
Daniela: Yeah. A lot of our students kind of came in and we took over the event and we basically presented the entire thing. We had the Superintendent. Mayor Morse was there. We had Eddie … oh, I forgot his last name, but he works at the sheriff’s department. We had a priest come. We had a choir. The Holyoke High School choir came to sing a couple songs. Yeah, it was just open to anyone who really wanted to come and just give a piece of their mind and what had happened. It was just a really open space for everyone to just pour their feelings out and for everyone to come together as a community.
Steph: What happened that made … That’s a big response, doing all that stuff.
Daniela: So Monday morning at Donahue, there was a noose found hanging in front of a tree at Donahue and so we took it as a threat because a lot of our students are African American. Donahue, their principal is the only African American Principal in our district.
Steph: That’s really awful.
Daniela: Yeah. We took it as something very seriously and we were very concerned about the feelings of everyone at that school. Everyone came out to support and show how we always stand as one and to protect each other no matter any of the things that go on. At both of our high schools, we had students make letters and we sent pictures to the Donahue students and for the Principal to show them that we’re supporting them and we’re all a community. All of our schools are tied as one.
Steph: I have a lot of questions about it, but I guess … You said actually, it happened like three weeks ago, so you had like three and a half weeks to plan the event?
Daniela: We planned this all in a week.
Steph: In a week. You just threw it together.
Daniela: Yeah. We already knew a sense of how we could react to it and there was multiple ways of reacting to it, but we felt that a Peace Rally was mostly needed because I don’t think a way of reacting to a hateful thing like that is to add more hate to it, so we kind of just need to bring everyone together and just try and make each other feel safer because that’s kind of a really scary thing.
Steph: It is really scary.
Steph: Did you get the kind of support you wanted from the rest of the community? I have a question, they haven’t figured out who did it, it sounds like.
Daniela: No. It’s still an open investigation but they did take it as a hate crime, so they’re still investigating it.
Steph: Right. I’m just thinking about … I wonder if people that live north of the tofu curtain, as they call it, further up the river, even know that it happened.
Daniela: Yeah. So actually, Donahue is very close to Tokeneke [apartment complex], and so there’s a whole bunch of homes there, and so there’s many people surrounded around the school. I’m pretty sure a lot of people know about it because all schools sent out a letter to the students and there was a bit more information in emails and stuff sent around to the families and the students so that everyone was aware that happened and there was going to be some kind of solution for what we kind of took in.
Steph: Right. Okay. Earlier, you were saying that there was some prayers and a choir and that there’s a religious base of people in Holyoke, and you brought that into the Peace Rally.
Steph: You listened to the podcast that Sam had made about the different religious groups at his school.
Steph: Do you see something similar to that here in Holyoke or what did you think about what he was saying? Do you have any ideas about that conversation about religion, maybe, I don’t know, tied into this noose thing? Are they related?
Daniela: I think it could be in some way because in Holyoke, there is a lot of religious people here. We do take religion very heavily and I feel like everyone kind of believes in God here. And so I don’t think it’s a huge conversation because in Holyoke, we’re very accepting of even if you don’t, we’re welcoming you and then if you do, you’re here to support us as much as we’re here to support you. I feel like that’s one of the good parts about Holyoke because everyone kinds of gets along, and when we do show out for things like this, when we do have religious parties or events that we do bring in religious traditions, everyone’s kind of comfortable with it. But we never know the true feelings of other people that show up or maybe they don’t believe in God or if they’re atheist or whatever, so you never know.
Steph: And you don’t see divisions of Muslims and … Well, I guess the dominant … I see Christian churches here, but are there also Catholic churches here?
Daniela: Yes, there are. In Holyoke, there’s many different churches, but I’m pretty sure that there’s mostly Catholic churches.
Steph: So that’s the normal that you’re used to, that you see the most.
Daniela: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steph: But you haven’t felt that there’s divisions about worrying about what different religions other people have?
Daniela: Not really. I feel like everyone just kind of goes along with it because there’s a lot of prayer here in Holyoke and so it doesn’t matter what God or what person you kind of believe in as long as you really just give your heart to your religion and your culture and stuff. Everyone’s kind of very accepting of that.
Steph: So there’s something about having some kind of faith, if you’re acting in faith.
Daniela: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steph: Interesting. All right. Is there going to be another followup?
Daniela: We’re not completely sure yet because after the peace rally, we kind of wanted everyone to just remain calm until we get news back from the sheriff and stuff. And so for now, it’s just being labeled as a hate crime, but we’re still going to continue to fight for anti-racism here in Holyoke and we’re going to continue to support our schools and districts and make sure everyone feels safe.
Steph: Cool. Awesome. If there were people outside of Holyoke, like I’m thinking about people that live in Northampton, Amherst, up north, do you think there’s anything they could do?
Daniela: I’m not quite sure yet, because I feel like everyone in their different cities and towns, it’s just different. The environment here in Holyoke could be completely different from anyone that lives in Amherst and stuff. But I feel like there could be a way that we could come together and just unite, just bring everyone together and build a strong community.
Steph: Yeah. All right. Thank you.
Daniela: You’re welcome.
Steph: I’ll stop it.
Recorded Friday, October 5, 2019.
Location: The Fiesta Cafe, Holyoke, MA