Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"We Are All Immigrants"

What a glorious day! Thousands of people (who would try to estimate?) filled the streets of Santa Cruz yesterday with chants of "Si Se Puede!" ("Yes we can!") and "El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido" ("The people united will never be defeated"), waving American flags, and carrying signs in English and Spanish -- "Nosotros Somos Immigrantes" ... "We Are All Immigrants" -- to voice their joyful hope that a new day is dawning for human rights in this country. Oh, that Martin Luther King were alive to see it!

You can read the story about the march and rally in the local Sentinel here.

Even the weather shared our optimism. People were even passing around tubes of sun screen. I was particularly struck by the numbers of children. Babes in arms, on shoulders, tots in strollers, young kids walking proudly with their parents. This wonderful feeling of solidarity will mark them forever. This coming generation will will surely not permit the oppression and cruelties we have wrought on the unfortunate earth. And marches like this were taking place all over the United States, with millions gathering in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Closer to home, Watsonville, Salinas and Seaside all had huge marches and rallies to mark "Un Dia Sin Immigrantes." If these folks would join the antiwar movement, we would be invinceable!

Santa Cruz was curiously quiet yesterday morning. Planet Fresh was closed, and even Chocolat, the cafe where Molly works, in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz, was shut. The boycott was working. Business could not be conducted as usual while the human rights of immigrants (of anyone!) are threatened. One "reform" bill before Congress would criminalize charity to
those without the proper papers. I saw several signs on the march that read: "I am Not a Criminal!" At noon people began to gather at the Town Clock. Someone beat out a drum beat, others began to chant. Two boys on the shoulders of their fathers waved a Brazilian flag (immigrants know no borders). Anticipation built to a crescendo. The police blocked off streets. And up Pacific Avenue came a huge tide of people, the entire population, no doubt, of the Beach Flats. And down Mission, led by a flotilla of bikers, came another huge crowd, students from the University. We all met in the intersection, a happy, screaming mass of human beings who knew their time had come. I couldn't stop crying to take a photograph.

I arrived early and noticed a man standing on the corner by the Post Office with a large sign that read: "Redwoods (in red) or Open Borders? (in black)" As a fan of the redwoods, who has written a history of the movement to save them in Big Basin State Park, I was curious. But I couldn't make sense of his sign. So I went over and asked him what it meant. He was in his 50's and wore a Big Basin tee shirt, and he was clearly agitated. "Those people" -- he pointed across the street at the crowd gathering by the Town Clock -- "want to open our borders and let billions of people in. I've spent my life trying to save the redwoods and overpopulation will make that impossible." So it's a choice, I asked, the redwoods or open the borders to anyone that wants to come in? He nodded yes, as if I was an idiot to not understand his point. "First," I argued, "I don't know anyone here who's advocating open borders. And second, many of us are environmentalists and agree that the trees are valuable." At that moment an older woman with an "We Are All Immigrants" sign came up and supported me, saying that she has 30 acres of redwoods she's trying to save. But he didn't want to hear any qualifications to his claim. To him it boiled down to the Deep Ecology argument that sometimes nature is more important than people. He is also probably in favor of Draconian limits on the birth rate, such as in China. I felt some sympathy for him, but he seemed to have a death wish, carrying a sign like that among people he obviously considered the enemy. But later it occured to me that probably many of the marchers couldn't read it, and others, like me, didn't understand what it meant.

The marchers, most of whom wore white and waved small American flags, spread across all lanes on Water Street and slowly surged across the bridge over the San Lorenzo River before turning down into the park. I saw one man holding up a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe and recalled that she adorned a banner in the Mexican Revolution. I also saw her image on the back of several shirts. She was an appropriate icon for the day when immigrants, legal and undocumented, flexed their muscles and declared both their love for this adopted country and their desire to be treated as human beings. "This is the new civil rights movement," shouted one speaker over the bullhorn. The mostly inaudible speeches at the rally were an anti-climax to an event which will be long remembered in Santa Cruz.

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