Photo via Marist High School Chicago/Facebook

Recently, an incident happened at Marist High School–a private Catholic school in a the Chicago neighborhood of Mount Greenwood–that made junior Elizabeth Pacheco reassess her relationship with her classmates.

At the school’s homecoming dance, the DJ chose to play a Spanish-language song, “Payaso de Rodeo” by Caballo Dorado. Instead of having fun and dancing like they’d done with previous songs, a large group of students knelt during the song in “protest”.

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Shocked at the disrespectful behavior, Elizabeth Pacheco, who is of Mexican descent, took a video of the students kneeling and posted it to Instagram.

“You send us emails asking for pictures of our families during Hispanic Heritage Month. You hang up our banners of papel picado throughout the school,” she wrote. “If you love our food, ethnic fashion, and energy so much… why do you resent us. How would you like it if we kneeled to your country music?” Later, Pacheco told The Chicago Sun-Times that she also heard some classmates make disparaging remarks about Mexicans while the song played.

The video went viral, quickly racking up 15,000 (as of this writing, it has almost 300,000 views) and stoking outrage online. Commenters and viewers alike were frustrated that, even now, after the events of 2020, students could be so blatantly and flagrantly intolerant of different cultures.

“Absolutely disgusting. Preach about equality and change and still do nothing when the oppression is happening right in front of them @maristchicago,” wrote one Instagram user on Pacheco’s post.

“They’re equating a kneel that represents social injustice and racial inequality to kneeling for a song just because it’s not in their language? Sad,” wrote another.

Even comedian George Lopez got in on the action, reposting the video to his Instagram page and writing: “Hate & Discrimination are TAUGHT AND LEARNED. You can’t separate US from the things in OUR culture you choose to embrace. It saddens me @elizabethpacheco93 had to experience RACISM when she should be enjoying herself, but I’m also proud at the way she handled herself.”

In response to the public outcry, the Marist High School administration released a statement condemning the students’ behavior.

“We acknowledge and apologize for the hurt this incident has caused our students, staff, alumni, and the many others who have expressed their feelings related to the video posted on social media,” they said. Later, they defended the incident, explaining that students had been kneeling during songs throughout the Homecoming Dance, protesting a myriad of songs they didn’t like. “Payaso de Rodeo” was one of many songs they “protested”.

But the events already sparked a small revolution at Marist High School. Latino students were impassioned, ready to make their voices heard in light of this viral incident. Some students at Marist organized a march and protest in front of the school, holding up signs and waving Mexican flags to show off pride in their heritage.

Still, Pacheco is shaken by the incident and views the events of the past few days as somewhat of an awakening.

“I never thought that that would ever happen to me, especially in a school where I felt safe and appreciated and with friends — who I considered friends,” she told The Chicago Sun-Times. “Seeing them kneel and disrespect what I am … and the culture I represent … it doesn’t feel good.”

What Pacheco doesn’t want is this whole thing to be swept under the rug. She wants the incident and public outrage to being a teachable moment for her fellow students who disrespected her culture. “You can say I’m sorry [and] be punished, but then you go home and do the exact same thing,” she told the Sun-Times. “They need to understand and be educated that this was wrong. I want them to open their hearts to us and our culture.”