More than 60 pieces of legislation that target immigrant communities; state-wide cuts to education, health care and others social services; teachers laid off while students struggle to receive even basic help; pressure placed on local law enforcement to do the job of federal immigration authorities; immigrants’ fear of local law enforcement increasing. All these decrease the strength and safety of our communities.
And the 8th Annual Cesar Chavez March sent a loud and unified NO to each one of them. Over 600 marchers accompanied their unified NO with many yeses: yes to immigration reform, to better schools, to support for teachers and students, and to more protection for workers. The many yeses came from organizations representing students, colonia residents, civil rights, workers, teachers, and voters.
The spirited march began at the San Juan Municipal Park, where marchers received their Cesar Chavez March shirt, United Farm Worker flags and signs denouncing the attack on immigrants and low income workers and families. A few lucky participants had the opportunity to listen to long time UFW member Antonio Carrizales sing a corrido about the life of Cesar Chavez as they picked up their flags and signs and began to line up to march.
At the front of the line gathered women and their children, who wore graduation hats and signs around their neck saying “Students need support to achieve success.” Students are one of the primary groups being targeted by the right wing attack on our community, with state funds for public education being slashed and a handful of anti-immigrant bills aimed at immigrant students. There’s an old Mexican saying that goes “When a woman advances, no man takes a step back,” and with women and children in the lead, all marched forward con mas ganas.
The march route followed Old 83 through San Juan. Spirited chants led by the most vocal LUPE leaders kept the group’s animo up. Participants who marched next to local son jarocho group Son del Valle march to the beat of a different drum, called a cajón, a traditional instrument played in various Latin American musical traditions.
Once the march rounded the corner of Cesar Chavez Rd into the LUPE San Juan grounds, march energy quickly turned into rally energy, while marchers gathered to wait for the rally to begin.
The rally provided occasion for the community to reaffirm its commitment to working for the social change our families need to live healthy, dignified lives and for our communities to be strong and safe for all. Sareth Garcia, LUPE member and leader from the Alton area, recounted the occasion when she had to pull out her own tooth because she doesn’t have access to a dentist. Through sharing her own experience, Sareth called on participants to reaffirm their support for equal access to health care. ARISE youth leader Ismael Melendez called the community to stand up against the anti-immigrant bills that target students and children of immigrants. Right now there is an amendment to the Texas budget bill that would deny financial aid to undocumented students struggling to gain the education they need to succeed.
Poetry, art and music have always been a major part of the fight for justice, recounting stories of bravery, lifting spirits, and giving the community ganas to continue the fight. And Saturday’s rally was no exception. Community member Antonio Vicencio Mendez shared a poem inspired by the life of Cesar Chavez and his role as an important community leader. Children from the Pharr area shared dance routines prepared for the special occasion and gave us a preview of the next generation of youth committed to justice. And Son del Valle sung the traditional song “La Bamba” but with verses about crossing the border and uniting for justice.
The rally ended with a call to action, inviting the community to make this year’s May Day event bigger than ever.
Despite similar shows of support across the state for strong and safe communities, the right wing continues on a rampage, with the State legislature slashing services that humble, hardworking people depend on. Additionally, Governor Perry is targeting the little security our communities have left with his SB 11, the bill that would make it illegal for local law enforcement and city governments to refuse to enforce immigration law.
We have a chance to increase the pressure we put on Texas lawmakers by making this year’s May Day event more powerful than ever. May 1st is International Workers’ Day, and encourages international brotherhood; the idea that all people, whatever their language, their nation, their color, their religion, are brothers. That kind of unity is important, especially this year, when workers and their families in all sectors are facing attacks. Please make plans to attend this year’s May 1st event. And if you would like to help plan the event, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To be able to carry out a march with such success, the help of many people was indispensable. And for those people we are exceedingly grateful. First and foremost, thanks to the march organizing committee, that worked to collect donations, created the theme and coordinated much of the march’s logistics. Thanks to the six organizations that sponsored the shirts. Special thanks to the LUPE organizers, leaders and teachers who worked so hard to bring together so many members of the community for the march.
Thanks to Mr. Mena, who donated the materials for the 150 new flags we marched with. Many thanks to Richard’s Pharmacy for donating water to keep the marchers hydrated, Proyecto Azteca for transporting drivers to the march and keeping the marchers safe along the route, ARISE for additional transportation, the Sanchez family for the sound equipment and donation of the living room set for the raffle, el Señor Narvaez, Mary Scully, Ismael Melendez and Jacqueline Joy Ho-Shing for helping document the march with their beautiful photos, Lilly Cazares and the students of Food Not Bombs for helping give the kids a fun time and allowing their parents to participate in the rally, Norma Herrera and Maria Diez for sponsoring marchers, the many individuals who gave from their hearts and helped us cover the costs of the march, and to the many other individuals who contributed their granito de arena toward making the march and rally a huge success. And extra special thanks to the hundreds of community members who committed themselves to march and rally for this important cause. La union hace la fuerza! Si se puede!