McKinley Primary Center: A Beacon for Diversity and Inclusion

McKinley Primary Center in South Bend, Indiana is a one-story building made of brick and reinforced by the devotion and compassion of the staff members who make the place, in many ways, a second home for both staff and students.

“We’re like siblings,” laughed third grade teacher Ron Ward, “We’ll be all huggy one second and the next we’re like ‘ugh.’ But we always stick together.”

McKinley has a very diverse student population, majorly attributed to the influx of international students and professors in the area whose children attend the school.

“I arrived at McKinley four years ago,” said school administrator Nicole Smith. “The one thing that struck me immediately was how diverse the population of students was at that time. We had life skill students and then we also had refugees from the middle east, and then we had several families from Bosnia, China, and Korea, and as well as our students that may be here from Mexico or Latin American and South American countries.”

Led by Principal Jesus Pedraza and his desire to give back to his own Latino community, McKinley Primary has introduced a Dual Language Immersion program for two kindergarten classes this year. Roughly half of the students are native Spanish speakers, and the other half are native English speakers.

The plan is to continue this dual language program for the current kindergarteners as they get older, and add two more kindergarten classes each year. In four years, the entire primary center will have DLI classes for each grade.

“It’s always been a diverse culture here,” said Smith, “and that is one of the things that I love about McKinley and still love about McKinley.”

 

 

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“This House Stays.” Meet the Man Notre Dame is Building Around

Johnnie Johnson, sitting in his Graceland-inspired African room in his home, is much more than a retired school teacher with a delightfully alliterative name. He is the one constant in the evolution of the northeast neighborhood in South Bend, “the yardboy” he calls himself, who transformed a tiny room he bought in 1982 into a 2,500 square foot labor of love.

“That right there I call ‘God’s halo.’ Have you ever seen a tree so straight?” Johnson said as he admires his favorite maple in front of his house. He still remembers the day he found the seed in the forest 25 years ago.

In his garage sits a ‘62 Thunderbird he’s had as long as his prized maple tree. The car’s sierra rose paint is perfectly polished and detailed, just like the artifacts he has collected for what he calls his “African room” – a themed living room complete with animal print blankets, dazzling green plants, and tribal masks hanging on the walls that sing of an ancient time.

On game days in the fall, Johnson can be seen perched in his yard amidst a sea of parked vehicles. If the garage door is open, you might be able to sneak a peek at the poster sitting next to his Thunderbird – a sign painted with Olympic rings and the name of the Olympic sprinter he coached at LaSalle High School, Leroy Dixon Jr. If the door is shut, you can still enjoy the view of Johnson’s exquisitely manicured lawn in full, glorious bloom.

“I’ve had cash offers from people in Colorado, Florida, Ohio,” said Johnson. He knows better than anyone how desired his property is. “Some are alumni, some are just plain developers.’

“Sometimes people just send me a postcard: ‘I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for a month and you don’t even call me back! How can we talk?’ And all this stuff, all mad at me,” Johnson laughed.

Notre Dame has offered to buy his property on “several occasions,” said Johnson. In terms of wanting to sell, he said, “Some days I do and some days I don’t. I think about Florida and I think about somewhere warmer.”

When asked what his magic number is to sell, Johnson said, “(It’s) in my head. I won’t even tell anybody, but if somebody’s not close to where I want to be I’ll just pass it on to my son and grandson.”

Johnson said his property is the largest privately owned piece of land within a half-mile of Notre Dame Stadium, occupied by him and his darling 10 year-old Tibetan Terrier,  Sprocket. When asked if he’s had the property appraised, Johnson responded with a smile. “Don’t really need to,” he smirked.

Johnson would not disclose the exact amount the university offered him, but simply stated: “The money is out there. It’s a lot of money. It’s up there.”

Greg Hakanen, director of the Northeast Neighborhood Redevelopment said in an email that the university’s goal was to “find an arrangement that was acceptable to both parties, including making provision for Mr. Johnson to continue to live in the neighborhood if he wished to do so.”

“We made several proposals to build him a new residence in the immediate area, but obviously did not reach agreement,” Hakanen said.

The rest of the properties surrounding Johnson in the northeast neighborhood were purchased by the university to begin developing the first phase of Eddy Street Commons in 2008. Notre Dame and Indianapolis-based Kite Realty, their partner in the project, recently broke ground on the second phase of Eddy Street in December 2017.

The second phase includes a grocery store, a revamped Robinson Learning Center, 22 single-family houses, 17 “flex” units, more than 400 new apartments, and 8,500 square feet designated to restaurant space, according to Notre Dame News.

“This used to all be the hood,” said Johnson, “From what this neighborhood used to be, what they built, and one thing about Kite and Notre Dame… they do it first class.”

Despite the ongoing transformation of Eddy Street, one original feature will remain: Johnson’s house.

“This house stays. The plan is to build up to me unless something else happens,” said Johnson. The property will remain untouched where it sits on the corner of Napoleon St and N Eddy St, but his residence will soon be cushioned by newly constructed townhomes and retail space.

“One thing I know for sure is my western sunlight is going to disappear,” Johnson laughed, “because those big buildings are going to be over there, but it is what it is.”

Hanaken said in an email, “Johnnie Johnson is an institution in the northeast neighborhood. He takes meticulous care of both the house and the grounds. Over the years he extended himself to elderly neighbors, helping them with homeowner tasks that were difficult for them to address. In short, he is a wonderful neighbor, and we are glad to have him in the neighborhood.”

Johnson said he has witnessed these neighbors gradually disappear in the last decade as Notre Dame bought up the properties in northeast neighborhood one by one to develop Eddy Street Commons. He watched as a new demographic moved into sparkling townhouses where familiar sights and people used to be.

“The most obvious change is that people who bought property around here, some don’t even live here in some of those townhouses and just come for the games,” said Johnson, “They’re super, super expensive so that literally changed the population – the income and the whole bit.”

“It’s like ‘People moving out, and people moving in, all because the color of the skin. Run, run, run but you can’t hide,’” sang Johnson, quoting the song “Ball of Confusion” by The Temptations. “Basically it’s the money people that moved in. We went from literally rottweilers to fluffy dogs like Sprocket.”

Johnson joked that he would consider selling his house in exchange for Maui. In reality, it’s impossible to put a price on the love and labor that went into his beloved home of 36 years. Johnson’s decision to stay amidst the expansion of Eddy Street is not about the money.

“Some girl came up to me and said ‘You’re a hero, you didn’t sell to Notre Dame,’” said Johnson, “and I said ‘No, I’m not a hero, i’m just living.’”

Put best by Johnson himself, “Where are you going to get a place like this?”

More Progress Needed: Latinos in the Media


Meet Maria Villalta, a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Born in Venezuela but raised in Mexico, Villata is no stranger to the way media portrays Latinos and how these portrayals have shifted and expanded over time.

Villalta prefers to be addressed as Latina. She says, “I feel like Hispanic is too broad and more of my identity relates to the Latin American culture rather than just the Spanish language.”

When asked about her take on the image of Latinos in the media, Villalta said, “Right now it is a very interesting moment for the representation of the Latino minority in media. Thanks to the 2016 Election the issue of immigration is constantly being discussed and that puts Latinos in a negative spotlight.”

Whether it is calling all Latinos undocumented citizens or lazy or saying that they are taking American’s jobs, there is a constant portrayal in news media of Latinos as the enemy which is not good.”

Along with this harmful connotation of Latinos in the media, Villalta points out that there is also more involvement of Latinos in the media as a whole. Shows such as “Jane the Virgin” are introducing Latino leads into mainstream audiences characters who are unlike “Gloria during the first couple of seasons of Modern Family,” Villalta says. She said her  character type “tends to perpetuate the harmful Latino stereotypes.”

There has been a significant shift of media becoming more inclusive and progressive, but she said there are still advancements to be had. As a child, Villalta said her favorite Disney princess was Pocahontas because she looked the most like her. Despite improvement in the media, she still finds it hard to totally relate.

“I also have a personal problem with the fact that when we finally get a Latino character in media they tend to be more ‘European,’” says Villalta, “meaning that they tend to have light skin and green or blue eyes, which does exist in Latinos but I as a darker Latina I do feel like there are little to no examples of people that I could identify with or look like.”

The American Dream: South Bend, Notre Dame, and Beyond

By Alexis Daugherty and Sara White

Cesar Estrada, a senior at the University of Notre Dame who lived undocumented for the first eight years of his life in the United States doubts the American Dream, saying it “is not the same for undocumented people in the US.”

Estrada remembers his mother working an “eclectic combination” of jobs in Fort Worth, Texas, taking whatever employment wouldn’t require proof of citizenship. He wouldn’t see her for several days at a time; she’d leave for work before he got up in the morning and return after he was asleep at night. Unfortunately, jobs are even scarcer now in our economic crisis.

For a country of immigrants, undocumented people in America have had their rights and economic opportunities greatly reduced, just as Estrada described. It is often forgotten that the American dream was intended for immigrants – the very people our country and President Trump are stigmatizing and threatening to deport out of country.

The shortage of jobs, however, is a result of diminishing industry that reaches across racial lines.

When Studebaker went out of business in 1963, the loss devastated the economy of South Bend, where the company and its factories were based. Overnight, South Bend transformed from a company town into a ghost of its previous manufacturing glory.

Karen Richman, professor of Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame told the story of an auto worker turned taxi driver that she knows who could go to another factory in the city, apply, and be hired for a new job during his lunch break if he was dissatisfied with his work on a production line in one company.

“But all those [manufacturing] jobs are gone,” Richman said.

Estrada explained that Latino immigrants are not fighting for jobs held by white Americans,

“We are about to enter a depression, so we have less jobs,” Estrada said. “We don’t want your jobs. We’ll take a job, but we don’t want your jobs.”

Added Richman: “There’s this sense, this drumbeat – ‘we have to address this crisis. The actual situation of migration, of the integration of immigrants might not correspond to this sense that we need reform and that we sense that there is a crisis.”

Richman said there have been periods in American history, not too long ago, “when we were calling for immigrants.”

But now they are the scapegoat to economic insecurities. President Trump claims that immigrants are a threat to American jobs, but Richman said the facts state otherwise.

“We can’t just assume that because of certain changes in economic opportunity for the mainstream population, that that means there’s an immigration crisis,” Richman said, “So immigration is a part of global capitalism, it’s totally integrated into it and if you look at the making of the world capitalist system, which began in the sixteenth century – the migration of people and also of money and products, commodities, that’s essential to the system.”

Before the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), immigrants were free to enter the country and begin work, raise their families and spur generational wealth – due to the era of Ellis Island, which freely welcomed over 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954.

“You’re strangling the American dream by not allowing current immigrants to have the same opportunities as the previous wave of immigrants,” said Estrada.

Although sympathetic to the immigrant experience, Estrada agreed there should be rules to regulate immigration.

Despite not classifying himself as a “privileged” immigrant, Estrada said he feels mostly satisfied with his experience at Notre Dame as a previously undocumented immigrant and minority on campus. Active in Glee Club and the Notre Dame Marching Band, Estrada admits that his positive experience at Notre Dame is due in part to his engagement and involvement with the majority of the student body.

For Estrada, assimilation was a part of blending into predominantly white high school, not escaping his Latino culture. From movies and media he perceived those ‘white things’ were “what rich people did.”

This ‘white privilege’ included citizenship for Estrada, which he achieved in middle school. This privilege was also acknowledged by 100 residents of South Bend and surrounding areas on April 18th.

The newly welcomed US citizens gathered in Washington Hall. Credit: Alexis Daugherty

The largest naturalization ceremony in Saint Joseph county since 2011 took place earlier this month in Washington Hall on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

Hilda Loubser, a chef from South Africa, came to the US for the variety of produce, equipment, and jobs in culinary work. However, obtaining citizenship was a long, arduous journey that included being separated from her sister who already lived in the US.

Hilda Loubser, proud to become a US citizen. Credit: Sara White

“The process took 18 years since the first time we applied,” Loubser said. “It’s just nice to be a part of a good country.”

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was the guest speaker at the ceremony. Buttigieg contextualized the ceremony in national conversation about immigration in the U.S. saying, “We are living in a moment when the nature of being American is, in many ways, politically contested.”

Buttigieg works against the stigmatizing rhetoric from our president saying, “America gets stronger today by your being here. America grows stronger, America grows more inclusive, America grows more intentional and our community, too, is better off.”

The League of Women Voters set up a booth outside Washington Hall to register the new citizens to vote. Credit: Sara White

“We make sure that we are supporting economic opportunity for anybody who is able to participate, with little regard to their country of origin.” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg is holding to his word on creating economic opportunity for South Bend residents in his plans for transforming auto alley into modern, high tech industry.

Transforming South Bend industry, Mayor Buttigieg recognizes the true crisis in America today: economic opportunity, not immigration.

“We need a new sense of patriotism, something that brings us together more than the fact that we are all within the same borders,” Estrada said.