May 5, 2006

Aqui Estamos, pero ¿A Dónde Vamos?

Immigrants can mobilize, but the direction remains to be seen

by Raymond R. Beltrán

Students, teachers, activists, and more importantly, working immigrants cheered and waved various South American flags Monday, May 1st, as organizers of the “Day Without An Immigrant” boycott spoke out against yet another legislative attack on immigrants in the form of House Resolution 4437.

An estimated 5,000 people participated in the march that began at the Cesar Chavez Community Center Park in San Ysidro.

“They say the Sleeping Giant has been awoken, but we’re here today to prove that this giant has never been asleep … It has been working to keep the American economy running smoothly and cheaply,” shouted guest speaker Roberta Alexander. “This day, the giant has taken a pause from working for dollars and has begun to work for social justice.”

Although the economic and legislative impact of the nationwide boycott remains to be seen, the working immigrant community is erasing the ‘inferior’ label that has been placed on them and say they will continue to strike while the iron is hot.

If so, the real question should be: by what means?

“It is American to risk your own comfort to show solidarity with those who are less fortunate,” stated City College Professor and former Black Panther Party member, Roberta Alexander, to an early crowd of 2,000.

Some educators support a voter oriented movement, while others have seen no hope in a democracy where, more often than not, people only vote to oppose a slew of anti-immigrant propositions like 187, 229, and 209, which clearly target the Latino community.

City College English Professor Elva Salinas, a member of the March 25th Coalition, supports the issue of social justice through the voting system.

“There’s going to be an unprecedented voter registration,” predicts Salinas. “We need to appoint certain politicians… we need to start a new chapter in our history, but this time we are writing it.”

Salinas denounces the “path to legalization,” and instead demands legalization now in seven demands being submitted to Congress through a Los Angeles based organization called No HR 4437 Network, who will be holding regional and national forums in the coming weeks to educate immigrants on voter rights.

The demands, to name a few, include stopping House Resolution 4437, which criminalizes undocumented immigrants with a felony count. They also demand a path to citizenship, initiating family reunification measures, and providing some type of worker protection plan.

Along with many others, they denounce a guest worker program that does not protect immigrants from poverty wages, inhumane working conditions, lack of healthcare, and like the 1942 Bracero Program, a social security system that has proven to dupe them in years to come.

Isaac Zamora, who works as a waiter, attends the marches in honor of his family’s immigrant history and admits he has no faith in politicians. He says that during the March 25th rally downtown, he heard many “boos” from the crowd when local leaders, like Juan Vargas and Denise Ducheny, were being lauded on stage.

“It would have been nice to hear some of the students and workers speak but they didn’t give them the microphone,” he says, referring to the March 25th rally.

Like Zamora, CCAP (California Coalition Against Poverty) member, Fernanda Ríos, perceives voting to be a mainstream movement that has been “engraved into our minds” to discourage people from alternative avenues of action.

“I’m not telling people to vote or not to vote, but to me, only we can understand our issues without having a representative making all of our decisions,” she says.

Among many local organizations that attended the rally, CCAP held a popular impromptu workshop that allowed many immigrants to speak about their personal grievances and how they relate to the general immigration issue, a practice that Ríos says is their goal.

Though she says they don’t have all the answers, members of CCAP meet every Monday evening at Chicano Perk in Sherman Heights and encourage all to attend and analyze “the root of the problem,” or the economic issues including low wages, lack of affordable housing, and the high cost of education.

From this point in immigrant mobilization, City College Chicano Studies Professor and former Black Panther Party member, Roberta Alexander, believes that a composite of the two practices would be most beneficial.

“We need to do both … while we get people to vote, we must also get progressive people to be candidates,” she says. “It is the grass roots movement that can help [clarify] for the politicians who their true constituency is, the people, not the corporations or the status quo.”

Alexander encourages all people to attend Chicano and Labor Studies classes at City College in order to educate themselves about the history of the struggle and how the movement has made it this far.

“People in this country don’t know our history, and this is not an accident,” she says.

Businesses hung “Closed” signs on their doors, as did the nation’s busiest international port of entry, while thousands of pro-immigrant activists marched down E. San Ysidro Blvd and proved that with steadfast organizing and unity, the power of the people can be heard.

“As long as there are people who are forced to work 12 hours a day and are not earning enough to feed their families, all workers are threatened … we must all be ashamed,” shouted Alexander to a group of at least 2,000 early on in the rally. “It is time to unite. In English we say ‘All Power to the People.’ In Spanish we say ‘El pueblo unido jamás será vencido.’”

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