By Mariza Dávila
Originally published in Tribuna CT
On the afternoon of Sunday, March 21, tens of thousands of people descended upon the National Mall in Washington, D.C., stretching for nearly five blocks, calling for comprehensive immigration reform – this year. The growing coalition – with activists, politicians, community, labor and religious leaders, sought legislation that would provide legal status formillions of undocumented immigrants. They hope to apply enough pressure for President Obama to keep working on this complex issue. Crowds chanted, “Obama, keep your promise!” recalling the 2008 presidential campaign, in which he had promised overhaul of the immigration system would be a first year priority.
Tribuna’s Mariza Davila was at the nation’s capitol for the march. The following is her firsthand account.
By Mariza Dávila
Originally published in Tribuna CT
Protesters traveled from all across the country for the “March for America,” with dozens of buses arriving from virtually every state in the union. There were a handful of heated exchanges ofcomments with some anti-healthcare Tea Party protestors, who had managed to gather a couple hundred supporters, but the tone of was overwhelmingly one of hope – flowing amidst a sea of American flags and smiling children.
Tribuna’s Mariza Davila was at the nation’s capitol for the march. The following is her firsthand account. For some of the marchers, the journey started Saturday or days before. Babies, children, young, adults and elderly people from all over the country came together in solidarity on one day with one purpose – the promise of comprehensive immigration reform for everyone – and this was the time to raise their voices.
I woke up at 4 a.m. to be part of this cause. Many local businesses in the area donated most or all of the food and supplies for the long trip to Washington. My expectations and thoughts as we set out that morning were about making history and fighting for a cause. Many people had waited so long and it was time to show ourselves as a unified body that would help pass muchn eeded reform.
One of our leaders was Lisa Velasquez from Puerto Rico, a mother of three children who volunteers to organize the meetings of the Hudson Valley Patriot in Brewster, N.Y. She has also worked in other non-profit organizations helping immigrant families. Although she did not speak Spanish, with the help of two other members of her team, she was able to support the group with her experience and her deep commitment. Her oldest son, Cody, was also on the trip to support his mom’s wishes for reform immigration. William, originally from Guatemala, is another area leader, who started the group Reform Immigration for America. The message we all wanted to bring to Washington was clear: “We’re marching because we’re done waiting. It’s time for us to deliver on a real, comprehensive immigration reform solution.”
Even our bus driver supported the cause. He was from Cuba and he really knew what this march meant. Community leader Norma, already a legal resident, echoed the sentiments of so many other immigrant residents and U.S. citizens – she felt the need to make a difference and to fight back because, “The time is now.” It was enough suffering, she said – for not only the families, but also the children left behind when a parent is deported.
We were all given instructions about the appropriate behavior as good citizens of the United States. In addition, we received strong encouragement about taking part in the 2010 Census. Lisa had volunteered her time in one of the local stores to help anyone who had questions or needed help filling out the census form. If we are not counted, she said, our voices will not be heard.
We also joined a conference call with U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) and other leaders and members traveling in buses from throughout the nation. The lines were saturated, so only one person was allowed to participate.
The five-hour trip did not seem so long, especially because the people who had come together began to share their personal life experiences. One told the story of how one of his family members had worked at an airport, but the company was bought out by a bigger one. In the process, they wanted to get rid of all employees who were not legal. He was detained and put in prison immediately; fortunately, his wife had already started requesting his residence. He was set free on an extremely expensive bail and today the whole family is supporting the many others who have undergone such inhuman and unfair treatment. “We are all humans; why should they classify us as ‘illegals’?” he asked.
Arriving at the stadium, we saw lots of buses piled up, and people getting ready to take the train or walk to the Mall. The wait was too long due to the high volume of people so our group decided to walk the 18 blocks to the National Mall. Along the way, people in houses and vehicles encouraged the energetic walkers, who were singing and chanting their powerful messages. I was amazed to see so many different organizations coming together as one to petition this cause! In a way, we had done two marches, and we were all tired, but we knew that our efforts would help bring about change.
After hearing President Obama speaking by video, saying he would do “everything in my power” to get a bipartisan deal within the year, and “You know as well as I do that this won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight,” the crowd cheered. But they were most excited by what Rep. Gutierrez had said before: “The wait is over. The time is now.”
We all had such incredible faith. We believed that if at this very moment healthcare reform was being passed, we were ready to fight for enough votes to support the president and the momentum that was now building for a new law to change and reform America’s broken immigration system.