Monday, May 01, 2006

Immigration March, Chicago

I'd never been part of a political demonstration that felt more historically significant, politically urgent or personally important. I marched from Union Park on Chicago's westside into downtown with no ambivalence at all, no vacillation about the issues and no doubt about whether or not this was the best action to take. I spent my first hour of participation (which didn't involve much movement) looking at who was there -- families, teenagers, students -- and listening to the chanting. I read signs that invoked Emiliano Zapata, Che Guevara, Lenin, the bible. The crowd was so thick it took an hour just to leave the park. Marchers alternately moved at a slow crawl and stood still, until we finally cleared the first corner. Only when we got on Randolph Street could we really be said to be walking.

I'd never attended a demonstration with more strollers. How those kids were content to sit in their tiny vehicles for the duration of the two to three hour march, I don't know. American flags outnumbered Mexican flags, people passed fruit and sandwiches, almost everyone was there with someone else (I attended alone, but I didn't feel alone). All of the marchers looked and sounded Latino until we got downtown, where I saw people of other backgrounds joining us. I didn't hear anything but Spanish for the first hour, and it was only at the end of the second hour that I noticed marchers who weren't speaking Spanish or English. I think they were Russian (or maybe Bulgarian or Slavic). We were lucky that the pathetic Chicago forecasters got it wrong again and although we marched under a solid cloud canopy, it never did rain on us.

It was only when we reached the financial district that I got a sense of the numbers. In the canyon of Jackson Street, lined on both sides by steep granite buildings, the chanting and gritos echoed. I closed my eyes and stretched my hearing, reaching for the boundaries of the noise and energy. There were none. As I moved in that flow of enthusiasm and sound, it sank in that this march was about an issue so much more fundamental than jobs or health care or education. It was about who is allowed to be here.

People who believe immigrants are taking over, gutting the system and ruining American culture want to shut down the border (as if that's possible), send as many Mexicans "back" as possible and make sure that the only immigrants who get to come don't bring their traditions or language with them. It's an opinion that stuns me with it short-sightedness and paranoia. To truly consider the power and violence of that fear is overwhelming to me, but I believe I can take it when I consider the raw strength of the spirit I saw today. If we have to counter that paranoid fear -- muscle for muscle, argument by argument -- I believe we can do it. We're big enough. And today I'd like to think that in the course of American history fear has reigned, but it has never won.

Anybody else have 1o de Mayo experiences? I'm checking blogs right now.

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