By Raymond R. Beltran
Preliminary meetings held by organizers from Si Se Puede, a City College-based immigration rights group, already had an idea that matching last year’s historic turnout for May Day pro-immigration marches would be a feat. Obviously.
David Schmidt, who helped Si Se Puede organize this year’s downtown march, said with the Sensebrenner Bill, or HR 4437, having been laid on its back (by the 2006’s economic boycott, student walkouts and religious leaders’ opposition), the public’s attention could be averted this May 1.
Was he right? Not necessarily, according to some who attended the three o’clock march from City College to Pantoja Park in downtown.
“The turnout is definitely not as big as last year,” said Logan Heights resident Isaac Zamora, “but it’s definitely pretty good.”
He joined with hundreds of protesters down Broadway, accompanied with fellow students from City College and later departed to join another rally of 1,500 at Chicano Park later that evening.
San Diego filmmaker Miguel-Angel Soria expressed a feeling of let-down with attendance (compared with the 150,000 in Chicago) and noticed that the downtown march had split in two as some demonstrators headed to the Federal Building on Front St, where a group of forty San Diego Minutemen were expecting the entire march to end.
But in the actual end, the number’s seemed to decline for several reasons. There was an insurmountable pressure from the school district to avoid student walkouts, which sparked last year’s ‘political awakening.’ HR 4437, which would have made undocumented migration a felony, has since last year been abolished and instead of a united front among organizers and demonstrators walking down Sixth Avenue, many of the rallies were segregated.
Morse, San Diego and Hoover campuses stood alone in campus walkouts. All rallies were scheduled for afternoons so that high school students could avoid truancy. Vista had one. The City College march split downtown and Chicano Park was the foundation for the most populated.
“Me personally, I really think the Chicano Park rally was better,” Zamora said. “Downtown was good, but we got love from the barrio and everyone came out and marched with us instead of stared at us like they were disgusted.”
Twenty one year old Tiffany Williams attended the downtown march and felt that, though the numbers were smaller, there was still much to be opposed and people expressed that.
“I think it’s ridiculous how, unlike prisoners of war, we don’t have the right to be treated justly,” she said. “People are living in fear right now … the feeling of fear that you don’t belong, that your committing a federal crime.”
Originally from Sinaloa, México, Williams is a citizen now and a political science major at City College. She says that her activism in school and at the passed two May Day marches will definitely have a life long affect on the way she makes decisions.
She’s studying to become a lawyer one day, a district attorney for that matter, and says the immigration issues will probably contribute to the way she practices down the road.
“If it affects it [her career], it affects it,” she says. “My culture and my morals is not going to differ with my career choice. Law is all up to interpretation.”
Organizers led the march to Pantoja Park, blocks away from Horton Plaza and in the midst of condominium spectators peeking out from their high rise windows.
“When the Democrats were voted in last year, many people saw it as hope for some sort of comprehensive immigration reform,” said speaker Marcos Perez. “Well, these anti immigrant reforms are out today and we know them as the Bush Proposal and the STRIVE (Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy) Act, otherwise known as HR 1645 and both of these bills contain racist draconian measures just like HR 4437 of last year.”
March organizers denounc-ed current bills being proposed because of their expensive path to citizenship, the bulking of enforcement at the border and the return of a guest worker program, like the historic Bracero Program of the 1940s, which taxed migrant workers social security without any type of benefits or retirement, a battle that ex-braceros are still fighting today.
Alma Gomez attended with members of Si Se Puede with her three children to denounce the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids which left her and her children without an income.
“I’m disabled and don’t have the use of my hands,” Gomez says. “My husband used to do all of the cooking and the work, but he’s gone now and we don’t have an income.”
Others at the march stated that many avoided attending due to fear of being swept by officials.
ICE agents arrested thirty men and four women later Tuesday evening, supposedly at a gas station, in Murphy Canyon. Six men are said to have been arrested and will be charged with “illegal human smuggling.”
Si Se Puede organizers are calling for immediate amnesty for migrant workers.
“They associate undocumented workers with the terrible notion of terrorists,” Perez shouted, losing his voice after minutes. “Well, if that’s the case, then they weren’t listening last year … no somos terroristas!”
Williams, who was one of the first to depart from the rally, said she was somewhat dissappointed that being so closed to the border, not more people came to represent. She says, though some might get discouraged, people should still speak out for those who can’t and that the black community in San Diego should take a stand with the Latino community.
“The majority of them don’t support the Latino movement because they feel like their being treated with less equality than us,” she says. “They say they feel this burden of slavery but it’s as if they don’t relate it to ours.”