Human Rights

Can Marches Stop the Scapegoating?

Immigrants who took to the streets are to be applauded for breaking a silence kept too long.
I was moved as I watched thousands of immigrants marching in the streets through the center of Los Angeles, carrying their story of their daily fight, the one we are all familiar with, and the hope that this country will see them as valiant human beings. But I also couldn't help but remember another march which didn't have the desired effect.

The other one was much smaller, perhaps reflecting the fact that today, 12 years later, there are many, many more of us, and perhaps we're more conscientious. But I remember that after the march in 1994 against Proposition 187, after the flood of emotion at witnessing 100,000 people asking for dignity, came the blows: year after year of laws and more laws, attacks and more attacks, blows and more blows.

God willing that won't happen again.

Because although the United States, the country, the nation, receives us with open arms, gives us jobs and opportunities, sometimes this country's politicians and some of its people -- we know this -- don't see us in a good light. And since the theme of "national security" has given this position a new name, with a new sign, nothing good has come out of the discussions about immigration in Congress.

Don't label me a pessimist. Maybe something good will still come of it. The most probable thing is that some piece of legislation will be labeled a partial "triumph," some guest worker program, a path to citizenship, but little else.

Maybe it is the fact that I've seen and heard too much politicking to believe that Congress will wake from its lethargy on this issue to create reform that would be worth anything, reform that for 20 years has not even been attempted.

President George W. Bush's tepid support for the issue is considered progress. That he speaks well of immigrants, that he asks for a reasonable dialogue, that he supports a guest worker program -- you can't call that progress. At least he's not screaming, like Congressman Tom Tancredo and some of the other weaklings, that we are all potential terrorists. But he could have done more.

The ones who do deserve some applause are the immigrants themselves, the hundreds and thousands who took to the streets, and those who helped to organize them, who saw their expectations trumped by the reality that people walked into the street for their rights.

In that regard, something has already been won. A mobilization, a scream from the conscience of a population that is tired of being scapegoated for all of this country's ills.

That the workers who build your homes, take care of your children, harvest your land, serve you your food, cut your lawn and do every type of service and labor job imaginable, went out into the street to demand that they be allowed to live in peace and with a tiny bit of respect is a call for attention that the country will have to listen to.
Pilar Marrero is a columnist for the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion, where this commentary first appeared.
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