By Peggy Slater, JCUA Board member
Writing from Washington about the rally on the National Mall, March 21, 2010
The speeches were inspiring, but most amazing was the crowd. When I got to DC the Spanish language stations were belting out the message that it was safe to come to the National Mall on Sunday to tell the President and the world that the people are tired of waiting, families are hurting, we need to fix our broken immigration system now.
The response was overwhelming; the mall was a sea of people from one side to the other and as far as the eye could see.
Yet a recent immigrant from El Salvador told me in excited conversation that many thousands more stayed at home with their hearts on the Mall but still afraid. I knew that; I was carrying a sign for a woman who has been looking down and lying low for 20 years. She is not illegal, she has Temporary Protective Status, known in the community as “permission,” a status in which she has no confidence at all. She has raised three children while remaining invisible to schools, hospitals and on college applications.
She works hard, night and day, cleaning houses and offices and pays her taxes. The sign I carried bore a quote from her eleven year old son “Citizenship is what I want for my mother.”
Many signs were personal, with messages like “24 years of hard work, paying taxes, no criminal record. Why take my husband now?”
For five hours people stood together in the hot sun and listened to speeches. An incredible rendition of the national anthem started the rally and Los Lonely Boys brought it to a close, but for all of the hours in between it was speeches — faith leaders, labor leaders, movement leaders, members of Congress — all speaking of the power of the people and the need to press forward on this, the great civil rights issue of our day.
In spite of the heat and the closely packed crowd, the only evidence of restlessness was an occasional spontaneous burst of “Si, se puede.” “Yes, we can.”
More than 200,000 strong by official count, the people were on the mall to bear witness to all that they give to our country and demand a full share of the bounty that they help to produce and the respect that they deserve. The March for America laid bare the foundation of a movement that will not go away.
Last night, health care reform was put to bed. Today, we take the message to the Hill: the time for comprehensive immigration reform is here.