They came to march on a sunny and promising May Day in Los Angeles from different places, literally and figuratively. Arizona's passage of SB1070 had buoyed many out to the streets, but it was the hunger for justice, dignity, and respect that that served as the primary reason for their every step this historical day.
Mrs. Paulita, 73, came to march because she fears "dying without my daughter's future secure." She was accompanied by a young woman who said they live in Lynwood. I asked her if she had brought enough water to hydrate herself. "I'm ready for today. The only thing I didn't bring was fear," she told me emphatically.
Joey, 28, was in a hurry to get to the front of the line. "Immigrants have waited long enough for an answer. In addition, our same-sex partners are just as part of our family as anyone else, and a new law should not ignore our suffering," he said. He was marching alongside a sizable contingency of lesbian and gay Angelenos representing a true ethnic rainbow. He hailed from Montclair.
Cristina, 35, was not so keen to talking about why she's marching or where she's from. "How will you be using this information?" she wants to know. She is from San Bernardino and today she took a day off work to come to the march accompanied by a friend of Filipino descent. "These days I don't want to talk to anyone because all they want to know is your immigration status. If I say the wrong thing, what will happen? I don't know..." This is her first march ever.
As these three Americans-in-waiting--as Pablo Alvarado of NDLN accurately calls immigrants without documentation--marched northbound on Broadway, inching slowly towards the main stage located just one mile and a half away, thousands and thousands of others joined the massive chorus from the side streets. If asked, each marcher could have shared a slightly different story, some painful memories, some courageous moments, and many dreams of a better future here in the United States. And we were all here, 250,000 of us, united by a sea of white t-shirts, American flags that seemed to float on their own atop the crowd, and the dream that one day "America" will truly mean home for our families.
I often march on the sidelines videotaping, snapping pictures, or catching up with a news crew or a reporter to ensure their needs are being met. At today's march I repeated my routine but within the march, alongside marching families, crying babies, old and wise men and women, young Koreans, African American and European students, and the ever-present ice cream vendors. I love the sound of the bells on the carts, the urban equivalent of chirping birds announcing the advent of something very sweet to come. I felt such rush of optimism yesterday as I walked past my doubts that something great can take place in Congress. I am convinced the echoes of our collective voice will lift the spirits of any dormant god for many days to come, and will surely encourage President Obama and Congress to courageously and intelligently take on immigration reform as soon as possible.
The route for this year's May Day rally was for all intents and purposes a straight line. We are very aware that contrary to the smooth developments this weekend, the road to immigration reform continues to be far from a straight line or a smooth ride. From the left to the right and from the so-called center to the depths of uncertain positions, elected officials thrive on politics and ploys not courage. Delaying further on immigration reform, however, can threaten to derail any good faith effort by President Obama, Senators Schumer, Reid, and Menendez, and keep away any of the 11 Republican Senators that have voted in the past in favor of immigration reform. This is where we believe the President can be a very effective, passionate, and courageous leader. He knows why people march as we did this weekend, he knows why citizens allow themselves to get arrested for a cause, as Congressman Gutierrez did on Saturday, and he knows why real change cannot wait and why paralysis infects the soul and the body politic.
I spoke to a few marching this weekend. It was truly an honor for us at CHIRLA to help coordinate this march, one of the largest in the nation, alongside our friends and colleagues in labor, faith, education, and civil and human rights and other service organizations. Time will tell whether our unity is crazy-glue togetherness or just Post-It collaboration. Whatever the case, what is important is that most immigrant rights coalitions in Los Angeles have seen the necessity to unify voices to give our leaders in Washington a soft but well-rounded kick in the rear so that they deliver on their promises to America not just complain about the other side of the aisle.
The marchers came by car, bus, bicycle, rail train, walking, and some even flew to be in Los Angeles on time for the march. They came from hundreds of communities throughout the Southland. We spoke with one voice and we expect one result: immigration reform now.