Immigrants Speak Out
Coast to coast, thousands march for immigrant rights
Revolutionary Worker #929, October 26, 1997
"For many people in our community, the problem of immigration laws will prove to be devastating to their lives. We are a people who have had to struggle all our lives. But we're not going to lie down and die because of these draconian immigration laws. So we are out here today. And nobody gonna call us illegal. Nobody gonna tell us that we are illegitimate, that we do not have a right to be. We come to this country, we work like everybody else, we pay our dues, we make our contribution to this country. We will not be treated like dirt. We will not be stepped on. And we gonna fight."
A Jamaican woman at the Oct. 12 march in New York City
On October 12, the March of Immigrants and Poor, sponsored by Coordinadora 96 and other groups, brought together 1500 people in New York City. On the same day, there were marches for immigrant and Latino rights in several other cities across the country. Last year on October 12, tens of thousands of people from across the country participated in the Coordinadora 96 march in Washington, D.C.
The New York march went from Columbus Circle to the United Nations. People came from Chicago, Toledo, Boston, Lawrence (Massachusetts), New Jersey and all over the state of New York. A leaflet for the march listed a number of demands: "amnesty for the undocumented; no more police abuses; education for our children; labor protection; increase the minimum wage; citizenship without bureaucracy; respect for human rights."
As the contingents formed for the march, it was clear that this was a very diverse gathering. The majority were Latino immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador. There were also Latinos from many other countries and immigrants from Haiti, Bangladesh, Poland, Albania, the Caribbean, West Africa, Korea and other places. Members of the Latin Kings street organization marched at the front with Iris Baez, whose son Anthony was murdered by a cop. There were people from various indigenous groups and organizations, and a "Free Leonard Peltier" banner was carried in the march.
The breadth of political views represented at the march was striking. People who believe in voting marched alongside those who don't. There were chants against imperialism and la Migra, while some people waved U.S. flags. Some came with church groups or carried religious banners.
Refuse & Resist! had a contingent, as did the October 22nd Coalition Against Police Brutality. Supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party distributed the "Killed In Cold Blood by the NYPD" broadsheet and RWs. There were contingents from the Worker's World Party, supporters of Mexico's Zapatista guerrillas, and many other different political groups.
The biggest reason people came was to demand amnesty for undocumented immigrants. There is widespread worry that the new immigration laws will force many immigrants to become separated from their families (see accompanying article). One Polish woman said, "Many people have roots here. If you live here, you don't know what happens tomorrow." A man from the West African country of Gambia told us, "We have kids here. We are here to work hard, to feed our families. So we need papers to legalize to stay in this country." A sister from Trinidad-Tobago said, "I am here fighting as a woman. I'm fighting for my mother, for myself and for my daughter. I'm fighting for all mothers who have had pains of separation from their children through police brutality, through immigration, sickness or any brutality of their husbands...."
There was a group of Mexican teenagers from Chicago who came to "support our people." These kids had mostly come up in this country--they were not new immigrants. Everyone in this group was covered with stickers for the October 22nd Day of Protest Against Police Brutality. One of the youth said, "We're against all this police brutality and everything that's happening. Everyone's being unjust to the immigrants and we just want to change this. We want everyone to realize that we can't do stuff by ourselves. If we join in a group, then we could do stuff better, like what we're doing right here. Now everyone's getting together for one purpose, and then hopefully it'll make a change....We want everyone to realize what the cops are doing and what we need to do about it. We need to get together and we need to speak up. Because if we don't speak up then nothing's going to change. Everything's going to stay the same--and it might even get worse."
As people were set to march, a Haitian brother took the bullhorn. He talked of the need to build a movement that unites immigrants with people born in this country: "The kind of movement to put an end to the nonsense of treating immigrants as scapegoats, of treating women as scapegoats, of treating Latinos as scapegoats, of treating the people of poverty that has been the most oppressed in this country, the Afro-American people, as scapegoats. It is time that we all come together and understand that we are the majority. We are the strength and the wealth of this country. And we'll be damned if they will push us aside. We'll be damned if they'll dictate to us what our future and that of our children will be."
As people set off on a long march to the United Nations, chants in Spanish, French and English filled the air: "Qué queremos? Justicia!"; "Aquí estamos y no nos vamos!"; "Que boule bou? Amnesti!"; "Hey Hey, Ho Ho, The INS Has Got To Go! We're All Immigrants!" There was a stark contrast as the demonstration--including many workers who make below minimum wage--wound its way through the glittery skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan.
At the rally at the U.N. with many speakers. Miguel Maldonado of the Latin American Immigrant Workers Association and Coordinadora 96, the main organizer of the march, welcomed everyone and introduced the speakers. Among the many who spoke were representatives of the various contingents and groups who attended the march; Vicente "Panama" Alba; Iris Baez from Parents Against Police Brutality; Carl Dix, national spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, who talked about the October 22nd National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality.
The most emotional part of the rally was when Lolita Lebron stepped up to the mike. Lebron was one of four Puerto Ricans who entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954 and fired shots to oppose the U.S. colonization of Puerto Rico. She spent more than 25 years in prison and continues to struggle for Puerto Rican independence as President of the Nationalist Party. Lebron said, in part: "Let's challenge [the U.N.] to enforce and obey all resolutions and international laws to free all peoples who have been subjugated by colonial regimes, like my country Puerto Rico. And all of us who are committed to struggle, we must defeat this great monster. Yes, this imperialist monster, the USA of North America. This planet earth must be returned to the working people, the immigrants and to humanity with human dignity...."*
Earlier, a member of the Haitian Mobilization to Defend Immigrants Rights spoke: "Most of us, particularly from Latin America, are here because of systems in our country that are created by the very people who are telling us that we are `aliens' and that we are not welcome. We are here because they have taken over our societies. They have supported dictatorships in our countries that forced us to be here....It is time we put an end to this state of being. Let's make today a true kick-off, a true beginning. Let us make sure that the next time we are here, we are 10 times, 100 times the numbers that we are here today."
In Austin, Texas, over 1,000 people took part in the Dia de la Raza march organized by Coordinadora 2000. A large part of the crowd were youth, many from college campuses around the state. The march started in the barrio and went to the state capitol. The speakers at the rally included a Black youth from Austin and a resident from Redford who is active in the protests against the killing of Esequiel Hernandez, Jr. by a Marine patrol unit.
Over 800 people marched through the streets of East Los Angeles to the City Hall on Dia de la Raza. The march traced the route of the 1994 protest of 100,000 people against the anti-immigrant Proposition 187. One focus of the march was the recent changes in the federal immigration laws. But the sponsors of the march, Coordinadora 96 and other groups, made clear that they demanded "amnesty for all the immigrants of the world." Another demand was an end to Migra and police brutality against immigrants.
A young man with a Mexican flag draped over his shoulders told the RW: "I was discriminated against when I was a kid going to school because I was Mexican. The teachers would put you down. They wouldn't teach you the right stuff.... There's injustice about everything going on in this country. So I feel really good to be a part of this. But even though people protest and march, it still doesn't really make much of an effect on the political system. It takes more than that. It takes for everybody to unite and do something about it--revolutionize."
In San Francisco, thousands gathered in the Mission District to celebrate Immigrant Pride Day/Indigenous People's Day/Dia de la Raza. The festival included two sound stages with music ranging from traditional Mexican songs to rock en español. The celebration was sponsored by the Immigrant Rights Movement (MDI) and others, and the theme of the day was "Papers for All."
Immigrants from Central America and Mexico, Chicanos, white and Black youth mingled as they listened to the music and speeches and checked out literature tables and displays from groups like MDI, Planned Parenthood, S.F. Women Against Rape, and the October 22nd Coalition. The Coalition's Stolen Lives wall listing victims of police murder had a powerful effect on people.
A week earlier, another Immigrant Pride Day celebration was held in the Tenderloin district. One of the main organizers of this event was the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights, and the goals of the day included "protest and resist attacks on immigrants' rights." The Oct. 22 National Day of Protest was announced from stage in Vietnamese, Chinese, Spanish and English.
* Thanks to Ana M. Lopez of the National Committee to Free Puerto Rican POWs for translating this passage into English.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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