Teaching to Change LA > Youth Voices > Vol. 5, Issue 1 > Electoral Politics
Electoral Politics > Features > Student Work

PhotoArt & Politics:
A Letter of Thanks to Rage Against the Machine

Gilberto Valle is a senior at South Gate High School.

Dear Rage Against The Machine,

Living in a society of conflict where everyone wages some sort of war with one another makes one grow up questioning almost everything. When I was younger, about 7-years-old, I didn’t know much about politics, society, or even the reasons for the problems that my family and I faced everyday. My father was laid off from the factory that he worked at and my mother had just finished giving birth to my little sister. One of my brothers had barely finished graduating high school and my other brother was about to. Three of my other sisters were still attending high school and jr. high and I was still in elementary school. Being as we had a relatively big family, it was hard for us to survive. With my parents struggling to make ends meet, we didn’t have many opportunities to get essential things necessary for school. I was still a young kid and didn’t know much about financial debt or anything that concerned money for that matter. All I knew was that there was something wrong because my dad was home all the time and my mom was constantly stressed out. All I could do was stay in the room that I shared with my two brothers and turn on the music. The music that I chose at the time was Rage Against The Machine because my sister had the CD’s and I was into rap and barely getting into the rock scene at the time. I would only listen to the sounds like the way Zack would flow, the way Tom would make those weird sounds on the guitar, the way Brad would make those head-bobbing beats with the drums, and the way that Tim would make his head shaking sounds with the bass. It was all very appealing to me. But the problem was that I was too young to realize that the lyrics were preaching to me about my life style and the reasons behind my struggle.

I learned that in order to succeed in a democratic society there has to be exploitation of the needy, exploitation where poor immigrant women come and work in sweat shops for about fifty-cents an hour and develop products that get sold for about 18 to 20 dollars each.

As I entered Jr. High I continued listening to RAGE and many other artists such as Tupac Shakur, The Fugees, Santana, Ozomatli, and Metallica (…And Justice For All Album) and many more. These artists and this type of politically influenced music helped shape my epistemology and ontology. I grew up in a neighborhood where I couldn’t walk safely to school in the morning without the fear of getting my CD player stolen at gun point. I saw people of my own race and those of others mistreating, beating, shooting, and trying to put each other down all the time. So I started questioning and asking why this happens in my neighborhood and hardly not in others where there are less minorities. I thought that by going to school I would come to a deeper understanding of the issues in my society and how to deal with them. Instead, I was learning about how the Greeks came up with the concept of democracy, the potential form of government, which would create a “utopian” society in which all men are said to be created equal. I saw no equality in the streets, schools, even in the lifestyles of my community, and the lifestyles of the rich and the famous. I learned from Rage Against The Machine and the others what true democracy is. I learned that in order to succeed in a democratic society there has to be exploitation of the needy, exploitation where poor immigrant women come and work in sweat shops for about fifty-cents an hour and develop products that get sold for about 18 to 20 dollars each. Such was the same in my school. The administration demoralized us by giving us cheaper lunches and making us clean the school when we would arrive late to our classes because our poor-shaped lockers were jammed, all to avoid hiring extra janitors to clean the school up. The school tried getting people to repair or replace the lockers in order to save some money that probably didn’t go to school use because we were always strapped for cash and in need of paper. But if it weren’t for RAGE I probably wouldn’t have seen it that way.

I was angry that the schools would lie to us; yes, they would teach us what we needed to learn but it was selected teaching.

During the transition from junior high to high school I was somewhat excited. To think I was going to enter a facility where people got turned into mature, intelligent and potential college students. However, I entered a facility where most people were thugs or at least thug “wannabees,” people who didn’t have a clue as to what was happening in society or the outside world. It wasn’t their fault entirely; the school was to blame for not providing us with that knowledge. I realized this by listening to the song from RAGE called “Take the Power Back” whose lyrics said, “a teacher stands in front of the class, but the lesson plan he can’t recall, the students eyes don’t perceive the lies mounted up every f-----g wall.” That line sparked a match in my brain that caused a huge fire of anger. I was angry that the schools would lie to us; yes, they would teach us what we needed to learn, but it was selected teaching. This taught me how to have a critical eye and to research things critically. It taught me to look for the things that weren’t there, to look for the hidden agenda. Or, in the words of Friere, “how to read the word and read the world.” After that, I started looking into people such as Emiliano Zapata, Che Guevara, Malcolm X and many others. I saw how they struggled worse than I have struggled and I then related them to my worldview. I took pages from their books and added them to my life. I learned to shape my future and how to become a good citizen by thinking of the struggles of others. Rage Against The Machine taught me of revolutionary groups such as the EZLN and the Sendero Luminoso who fought for social equality in their countries and dedicated their lives at any risk. I learned to research them and spread the word for support. I found out reasons why these people’s countries are struggling.

It is through listening to Rage Against The Machine and all those other revolutionary bands that weren’t afraid to tell the truth that I learned to have a critical eye. Those bands inspired me to research critically in order to gain knowledge of the world around me. RAGE inspired me to look for alternatives to the capitalist government that affects my people in such a negative way. You taught me the necessity of civic engagement and critical civic research and literacies. You taught me that without those attributes people such as Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, and many others would never have made the ever-lasting impact on all minorities for the better. Bands such as you are the missing pieces in youth’s lives that help shape what kind of citizens they become. It is bands like you that make me realize what I want to do and become. It is bands like you that will help me help others. It’s just too bad that bands like you aren’t a band anymore.

Teaching to Change LA is an online journal of IDEA, UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, & Access