November 27, 2002

Latinos Speak Out Against War, Measures

By Marcelo Ballve
El Tecolote

Nov 13, 2002 – On a sunny, but cold morning on the corner of 24th and Mission streets, the sounds of drums and singing announced the beginning of a noisy neighborhood march against a war on Iraq.

The 100 protesters who gathered in the square rejected the “pro-war” position of the government with signs and slogans, calling for more attention to the problems they said were plaguing the city, especially the Mission District — the scarcity of housing, jobs and the lack of an accessible health care system.

“The most important issue is what is happening in our community, and that’s why we are here,” said Nancy Hernandez, 22, a San Francisco State University student and one of the organizers of the march down Mission St. “The government is not serving the needs of our communities,” she said.

As the organizers spoke over loudspeakers, the mostly young protesters — students, workers and professionals — gathered on the corner for the march on Mission down to 16th St., where the marchers board-ed public transportation to head for the main Oct. 26 anti-war rally in the Civic Center, where protesters from all over the city gathered to speak out against the war.

In this way, during the final days of October, the possibility of a war with Iraq was made palpable not only in the rhetoric of President George W. Bush but in the streets of the country and the Mission, where even a World Series featuring two California teams could not push the Iraq war debate from the public view.

As diplomats and politicians discussed the future of Iraq at the United Nations and in Washington D.C., the most widespread feelings in the streets of the country were confusion and fear.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion out there,” said Fernando Martí, 35, an Ecuadorian architect who belongs to the coalition Latinos Contra la Guerra (Latinos Against the War). “I think that people don’t realize how much opposition there is to the war. In many ways, it has been a silent opposition.”

There was also a generalized fear about what could happen. Both those who opposed and supported the war said they did so out of fear.

There is the fear that military action against Iraq could spark a regional war in the Middle East and could generate resentment against the United States throughout the world. Also, those who prefer diplomacy fear the war would have a catastrophic impact on the U.S. economy. Many workers in the Mission already have suffered pay cuts or lost their jobs because of the struggling economy or because of security measures implemented by federal authorities.

One security measure involved the mailing of letters to employers, informing them that social security numbers used by their workers do not match those contained in government archives. It is unclear how many workers have lost their jobs around the country, but in San Francisco’s immigrant neighborhoods there is constant talk of how the war on terrorism has generated a hostile environment against immigrants in the labor market.

“I hear the comments of so many people that don’t have work, who lost their jobs or had their pay cut and who do not want war or anything like it so that there can be more work and people can get ahead,” said Ignacio Reyes, 76, a retired laborer and guitar player.

Those who support a war against Iraq fear that Saddam Hussein, the country’s authoritarian leader, will use biological or chemical weapons against the civilian population, allies like Israel or U.S. troops. There is evidence that Hussein has also tried, without success until now, to develop nuclear weapons.

“If he has the bomb we have to take it away,” Francisco Hernandez, 48, said emphatically. He is the son of Nicaraguan immigrants and a U.S. war veteran. “The guy is crazy. He is a danger to all humanity.”

According to Jennie Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Mission Cultural Center for the Latino Arts, because of their Latin American backgrounds many residents of the Mission have well-defined feelings on the war and the U.S. domestic security measures, even if they refuse to speak for fear of being labeled anti-patriotic. “Most of us come from a common horror of conquest, of colonialism, of oppression and repression. For that reason, we are more sensitive to what is happening out there right now.”

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