In downtown Fresno, hundreds marched for immigrant rights on May 1, 2017. Read the article on this page to find out why. Photo by Richard D. Iyall, Cowlitz.

How Do We Build on the Marches for Immigration Reform?

By Leoncio Vásquez Santos

In downtown Fresno, hundreds marched for immigrant rights on May 1. Read the article on this page to find out why. Photo by Richard Iyall
In downtown Fresno, hundreds marched for immigrant rights on May 1. Read the article on this page to find out why. Photo by Richard Iyall

For seven consecutive years, the May Day Coalition for Immigrants’ Rights has successfully organized the May Day March to continue forcing the issue of immigration reform at the local level. We demand immigration reform for the millions of immigrants who already live in this country. We have clearly seen that this march along with others across the country are not enough to influence the debates in Congress. Congress responds only to the interests of the opposition to immigration reform with rigid security measures on the southern border.

We also clearly understand that this issue has been controversial and will continue to be because of human nature. On one hand, there are persons with political, social and economic power who want to maintain the status quo and do not have the least interest in sharing their privileges with persons who are different from them. On the other hand, as workers, minorities and immigrants we unknowingly accept everything and continue our lives without question or protest. Many times we support the very system that oppresses us.

While the organizers of the march in Fresno utilized all available media to announce the event and invite the community, most of all we wanted to reach those who are most directly affected by the problem. During this outreach, we hear from people who considered the marches as antagonistic and felt they did not have to march in the streets, nor bother anyone, but accepted that they benefit from the Immigration Reform of 1986. This statement is true, many people benefited, but of course they did not move a finger or looked around them at others who fought for years to obtain the benefit. They just think that the government granted them documents. Others said that despite all the marches we organized, nobody paid attention.

The worst was something that I personally witnessed during the promotion for the march. I attended an interview on a local radio program that focused on soccer games. What a tremendous impression I took from this program. The four phone lines did not stop ringing for an hour! The program announcers were so enthused with the discussion that they did everything possible to ask questions regarding the march and immigration reform. The four lines were flashing at the same time and when the announcers picked up a line, they had more conversations about events around soccer life and even predicted what would happen during the next game. None of the calls had anything to do with immigration reform. What a surprise to find that our society had arrived at the point of living in the fantasy world of football and soap operas—a pastime that dumbs our senses to the stress of daily life.

We argue and prognosticate with passion about football and telenovelas while powerful interests plan our destiny and the future of our children. They are making sure they will continue their lifestyle at the expense of our sweat and cheap labor. When the situation becomes more difficult, we complain without confronting with human dignity our vulnerability.

Nonetheless, it is not all bad and this makes us not lose hope that someday our children will live a life of dignity that millions of undocumented immigrants and their children are not living at this time. The hundreds of people in Fresno who took to the streets on May 1 prove that all is not lost. Many have awoken and are committed to going the distance in pursuit of the ideal life in which men, women and children are treated equally in all aspects without concern for color, race or gender. Hundreds came with their children to shout, “What do we want?” “Immigration Reform!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” And, “From north to south, from east to west, this struggle we will win, cost whatever it costs!” They demonstrated their bravery and determination to confront and struggle against injustice.

So we continue to march, although that is not our only form of struggle. We shout in the streets and carry our slogans to demand justice. We work to educate the sectors of society that oppose humane immigration. After all, it is their fault for allowing their government to intervene and treat the governments of our countries like puppets in order to extend their capitalist enterprises and drain the strength of our communities and in the end they force us out of our communities. We meet with federal Congressional representatives to continue pressuring them to not stray from the path that would carry us to a true and just reform this year.

On May 20, a busload of activists left for Sacramento to participate in Immigrant Day and show our presence outside as well as inside the State Capitol. We pressed the state government to work just as hard to implement laws that are less hostile to immigrants and that they halt laws that have affected us negatively statewide. We sought passage of drivers’ licenses for undocumented persons and approval of the Dream Act to stop collaboration between the local police and immigration authorities. We also sought the suspension and revocation of the Secure Communities and 287G programs.

One week ago, a coalition of Oaxacan organizations passed a resolution of support for the process and endorsed the proposal of the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB), encouraging representatives from all organizations to mobilize their members to provide direct support for the actions around this issue.

Today, despite those who live the fantasy that society offers, there are many others who are conscious of our reality and are committed with their labor to the task and contribute their support to finding a remedy to this situation.

*****

Leoncio Vásquez Santos is the executive director of the Binational Center for Indigenous Oaxacan Development Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño. Contact him at lvasquez@centrobinacional.org.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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