The Immigrant Worker Justice Walk, a 50-mile, four-day mobilization for immigrant rights, marched through Chicagoland to House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s office in Batavia, Ill., on a Labor Day weekend that served to emphasize the difficulties the immigrant and Latino communities face.
An apartment fire in Chicago took the lives of six Latino children in a household that was relying on candles due to lack of electricity. Meanwhile three nationwide immigrant raids arrested close to 200 immigrant workers.
A core of 100 marchers, joined at times by as many as 2,000 supporters, subjected their bodies and time to what March 10th Coalition organizer Jorge Mujica compared to “the three or four days an immigrant crossing the border, through desert fire, might face only to come out the other side for hard labor — at minimum wage and in fear.”
“I march because human dignity dictates that I be here, because oppression anywhere threatens freedom everywhere,” said nurse Marisol Mireles as chants demanding legalization for all and an end to all deportations thundered across the suburban sprawl around her.
The march, mostly Mexican and Chicano, also included other Latinos like Cubans, Argentines, Salvadorans and Chileans, and was rounded out with a Korean gong player, African American SEIU members, white Teamsters, Jewish and Middle Eastern activists, Filipino singers, Aztec dancers and members of diverse houses of worship.
“Why am I here? Why wouldn’t I be here in this effort for protection of basic human rights? They thank me, but I should be thanking them,” said an unidentified white woman from Oak Park.
“It is this that I believe in,” said Park Jae Hyung, of the South Korean activist group the May 18th Memorial Foundation. Smiling, he pointed to Mexican housewives and aging white hippies doing a “Si Se Puede” dance to the rhythms of traditional Korean percussionists. “Freedom,” he said, adding, “This is how America might be — beyond the government policy, beyond the media images.’
The opposition to this “new” America that the march allowed space for was a small but highly publicized force in parts of the suburbs —small bands of 2 or 3, often outnumbered by their media, the marchers mostly ignoring them.
Obed Lopez, 68, veteran of the Latin American Defense Organization (LADO) of Chicago, called the march as much an extension of Chicano movement of the 1960s and ’70s as it is part of the northern theater of the struggles for equality and democracy being waged all over Latin America: “Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, riots in Mexico, left governments in the Southern Cone, it is one epic struggle for human dignity which man has a need for and will do anything to achieve or regain. That is why I am here — though I am not an immigrant — in the struggle.”
Hastert would not show up for the culminating rally in front of his office.
The future remains uncertain for the 11-12 million strong immigrant community in the U.S.
It is clear that success of the movement is not dependent on the mobilization of the immigrant so much as it is of the non-immigrant if this new-old sincere face of America is to break free from its fetters in the evolution of human liberation. Continual alliances must be established with groups and individuals in an offensive against xenophobia, jingoism, racism and bigotry, if events such as the tragic Chicago fire and immigrant raids are to cease.
Cesar Chavez said, “We can bring the day when children will learn from their earliest days that being fully man and fully woman means to give one’s life to the liberation of the brother who suffers. It is up to each one of us. It won’t happen unless we decide to use our lives to show the way.’