By Christina Shaman
What do an earthquake and a SoundCloud rapper have in common? You’re about to find out.
[SHAMAN]: This is True Stories in Sound. I’m Christina Shaman. And right now, I’m talking to Luis.
NATURAL SOUND Birds
[Shaman]: What is that sound in the background? Sorry, it’s just like–
[Luis]: It’s the birds. Parakeets?
[Shaman]: Oh (laughter).
[SHAMAN]: Luis is a junior at Dimond High School in Anchorage, Alaska. And, he said, it all started with a school dance. The social event of the season.
[Luis]: November 30, we were supposed to have the Crystal Ball dance. Everyone was hype. And I remember this because that’s, that was a big day.
[Shaman]: Were you excited for the dance? Like did you have a date?
[Luis]: No, I wouldn’t really want to date. I don’t really want to go through none of that, like high school crap. I’m going to stay out of it and go out with my friends, my bros, as I call them.
[SHAMAN]: And, in an effort to fit in, almost as if I was back in high school myself, I tried to speak to him in his language.
[Shaman]: So, did you have a group of bros that were like hyped to go?
[SHAMAN]: He did. And they were. But then something happened.
SFX: Earthquake sounds
[Luis]: Everything starts shaking. It was like the most violent shaking I’ve ever experienced. Everything was just going everywhere.
[SHAMAN]: An earthquake hit. 7.0 Magnitude, which is major.
[Luis]: There was like a bunch of bookshelves behind me, just like everything was collapsing, everything was falling. And it was a pretty big, bad thing.
[SHAMAN]: So, it’s probably not a big surprise, but the Crystal Ball dance was cancelled. Student Government issued refunds to some. Told others – if you want to go to the upcoming Sadie’s Hawkins dance, consider your ticket paid for. And the school got some damage. But luckily, not too much. But that’s not what this story’s about. It’s about what happened after. When Luis, a sixteen-year-old kid who doesn’t even have wifi posted a surprisingly popular petition online.
[Luis]: It’s uh, to change my school name to XXXTentacion High sShool. It’s kind of a joke. Because it’s like a meme right now that he’s like a god or something. Uh, even though he’s just a, he’s just a pretty good, decent SoundCloud rapper.
[SHAMAN]: You might be wondering what a SoundCloud rapper and an online petition have to do with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Or maybe, you’re just wondering what a SoundCloud rapper even is. I assume you know what an earthquake is. Okay, let it go. On with the story.
Well, in his petition, Luis made what can only be classified as a bad joke about the earthquake.
[Luis]: Since uh, November 30 is the birthday of the person who Dimond is named after, A.J. Dimond, I used that as an excuse. It’s like, joke about it was Dimond’s fault who made that earthquake and Dimond is a very bad person. He should not be named–the school should not be named after him. It should be named after X instead.
[SHAMAN]: Now, there are a lot of these joke petitions going around online. Specifically, petitions to rename high schools. Even more specifically, petitions to rename high schools after the recently deceased rapper XXXTentacion. Whose name by the way, I had to look up so I wouldn’t sound like a total idiot talking about him.
And these petitions are coming out of high schools and middle schools all over the country. From Pinnacle High School in Arizona. That one’s got about 400 signatures. And from Hardin Valley in Knoxville. 42 signatures. And Huntington High in West Virginia. That one’s got twelve. There’s even a petition to change the name of one the football fields at Miamisburg High from “Holland Field” to “Jah Field,” after X’s given name. But Luis’ petition is special.
[Luis]: I It has 16,000 signatures as of like a few days ago. Haven’t checked right now. It’s probably at 17,000.
[Shaman]: Let me check. I have it. Let me pull it up.
[Luis]: Oh geez.
[Shaman]: Uh, 16,128.
[Luis]: Oh, it’s slowed down a bit. Like, personally, I’d like to get 200,000 because that’s like half the city.
[SHAMAN]: But not everyone in Anchorage is all that happy with Luis and his petition. Including some of his classmates. I asked two of them, a junior named Lina and a senior named Quency if they’d ever heard of the petition.
[Lina and Quency]: Yeah. We have.
[Lina]: I, I personally…
[Quency]: (whispers) Disappointed.
[Lina]: Uh, I was disappointed, well. Okay. Like a lot of my friends were, you know, just seeing it as a meme. That doesn’t mean that all of the students at Dimond want to make that petition happen.
[SHAMAN]: Lina and Quency said, the main problem with the petition is that, some adults on Twitter took it seriously.
[Chris]: I remember seeing it and thinking it was probably a joke, but, um, you never know with these things.
[SHAMAN]: That’s Chris.
[Chris]: So, my name is Chris Dimond. I am the great grandson of A.J. Dimond.
[SHAMAN]: Chris is pretty active in Alaskan politics. Even ran for a spot in the state Legislature. And when he saw Luis’s petition, he couldn’t help but take it…personally.
[Chris]: And I’m sure I’m very biased because it’s family, but, um, you know, my great grandfather and my grandfather did a lot for this state. And to see the, to see that sort of statement that we should be changing the name because of the earthquake and whatever. It was a little shocking as a family member.
[SHAMAN]: Chris found out about the petition online and tweeted in response. Something along the lines of, “this is why education funding should not be cut in Alaska.” So, he’s talking about policy here but, nevertheless it’s still a definite dig at Luis. The thing is, overall, Luis seems like a pretty good kid. Well behaved. He tries hard in school.
[Shaman]: Would you say you’re a class clown or?
[Luis]: Jeez. Okay, I’m not, I might be a class clown. But I’m not loud, I’m not. There is a class clown but uh, but his grades are low because he’s being a class and I really can’t let that happen. I have to keep my grades up, just be focused on what’s important and save the jokes for later.
[SHAMAN]: And, to his benefit, Luis said he felt bad when he saw Chris’s tweet. Said he realized that he was “degrading” the late A.J. Dimond. But it’s not like that’s made him take down the petition or anything. And, it’s still getting more and more signatures every day.
[Shaman]: I guess I’m kind of curious like why try so hard?
[Luis]: Um not really hard because like this only took me like…the petition itself took me like five minutes to make. So, like I didn’t, I didn’t take the time to make citations or put any URLs.
[Shayne]: So you can tell right away that this was a joke.
[SHAMAN]: That’s Shayne Nuesca, a communications specialist in Anchorage. I talked to her to figure out why Luis’ petition would be doing so astronomically well.
[Shayne]: Whoever wrote this is like going to be a star writer somewhere because they absolutely have like 100% grasp of like, voice.
[Luis]: I just wrote two simple paragraphs.
[SHAMAN]: Shayne said, when she first saw the petition, she thought it was hysterical. Even tweeted about it herself.
[Shayne]: Um, but then I realized, oh, you know, at face value, this is really funny. But at the same time, this person that they, you know, have this petition for and are saying has more influence on their life is actually not a good person.
[SHAMAN]: She’s talking about XXXTentacion.
[SHAMAN]: This meme god people seem so obsessed about? Well, he doesn’t exactly have the cleanest history. Before he died, he was accused of getting into fights with fans and abusing his pregnant girlfriend. So, not exactly the ideal role model. But that doesn’t really seem to bother Luis.
[Luis]: Yeah. It’s just, it’s just a weird thing.
[SHAMAN]: But it seemed like, between praising the controversial XXXTentacion and putting down the historic A.J. Dimond, Luis’ petition was somewhat of a perfect storm for the Twitter world. Luis said he got a lot of hate online. There was even a response petition. Calling to ban him…from Alaska. Here’s Chris again.
[Chris]: Oh really? To ban him from Alaska.
[Shaman]: Yeah, it says, “Please ban Luis Sanchez Ulloa from Alaska for trying to change Dimond High schools name to XXXTentacion High School. Trying to send dishonor on all of the alumni and the whole community. Furthermore, for blaming A.J. Dimond for the earthquake, not knowing how an earthquake works.”
[Chris]: Oh my God. Does it say who started that?
[SHAMAN]: It was some college student from Anchorage. A Dimond High School Alum. Her petition only got 11 signatures. But, the real-world consequences for Luis were pretty anxiety inducing too. Like, at one point, one of his teachers found out.
[Luis]: I was like, oh no, am I going to get disciplinary action or something? Am I going to get in trouble? Cause if I said I was serious about it, then yeah, I probably would be, like, lectured.
[Shaman]: Why do you think they would lecture you if you were serious about it?
[Luis]: Because I would be like, it’s kind of like being a traitor to like the school spirit because like, so I’m, I go to Dimond and if I’m like trying to like make it not Dimond, it’s kinda like, it’s like kind of like betraying the country. Like if you just think about it.
[SHAMAN]: That might be a bit of a stretch. Even Chris Dimond kind of got over the whole thing already.
[Chris]: Honestly, I’d forgotten all about it, so.
[Shaman]: Until I drudged it back up.
[SHAMAN]: But I had to ask.
[Shaman]: I wonder if as someone who does community organizing and who ran for office and is in the public eye, if there’s any part of you that saw the number of signatures and was a little impressed?
[Chris]: How many signatures did it end up getting?
[Shaman]: I think there are over 17,000 now.
[Chris]: Oh, wow.
[Chris]: Yeah. That’s impressive. Good for him though for you know, being able to garner that sort of attention for something. Um, you know, hopefully he can turn that into, uh, hopefully once, you know, he sort of figures out his direction, career path in life, you know, maybe he can utilize that sort of, uh, uh, ability to, you know, do something good for the state, so.
[SHAMAN]: But talking to Luis, I got the sense that this was part of the issue, what Dimond mentioned. That career path. Luis is young still, obviously. Still in high school, and he made this silly petition almost out of boredom. It wasn’t a big deal to him, and he wants to do much more in life than this kind of thing. But…
[Luis]: I’ve always been motivated. But the problem is…I don’t know what to be motivated for.
[SHAMAN]: And knowing what to be motivated for… that’s the challenge for Luis and actually, for every kid in America. Whether they go to Dimond High School or XXXTentacion High School, or whatever their school is called.
And by the way, last I checked, Luis’ petition had over 22,000 signatures.
Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions.