On May 1, 2011 I went to downtown San Jose, California to participate in a march for immigrant rights. It is an important issue for me as the child of Filipino immigrants to support the rights of latino immigrants, especially since many of these immigrants have been exploited for their cheap labor while being denied many rights to redress injustices inflicted upon them. It’s something that other immigrant groups from past have suffered through as well, from the Chinese and Irish immigrants of the nineteenth century to the Filipino, Japanese and Mexican immigrants of the twentieth century. I only began attending public demonstrations about two years ago, when I first attended a vigil for health care reform, and I’ve learned a lot from walking with activists and listening to their stories. In American history, there is a proud tradition of grassroots activism, of the early abolitionists, women suffragists, labor organizers, civil rights protesters, antiwar activists, and feminists. I think the people who partipated in the immigrants rights march are in the spirit of the early Founding Fathers who wanted an involved and active citizenry willing to petition for their rights.
Before I went on the march I took a side trip to San Jose State University to see an arch that is dedicated to Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union. I had seen this in a friend’s facebook page and wanted to see it in person. In the arch is a mosaic of Cesar Chavez, Gandhi, and Dolores Huerta. A quote from Cesar Chavez reads
A word as to the education of the heart. We don’t believe that this could be imparted through books; it can only be imparted through the loving touch of the teacher
I had never been in a march this long before and was excited by the various groups that were participating. We walked down Santa Clara Street for what seemed like a few miles. It didn’t seem that long to me. The participants were in a very good mood and in the sidewalk, various people were gathered in support of the march. Most of the crowds in the sidewalk were Hispanic and they waved American and Mexican flags, and they seemed very proud of the display of national pride at both Mexico and the U.S. Intermingled were Vietnamese, Indian, and Caucasians, all cheering their support. The San Jose Mercury had an article by Lisa Krieger that talked about the diversity of the march:
But San Jose’s march was equally passionate, and more ethnically diverse, compared with the original event, with Native American, Chinese, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant activists joining in song, chants and placard-waving. They were joined by clusters of union activists who vowed to fight the spread of anti-labor efforts seen in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
“They all have perseverance in common,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, who has spoken at all five San Jose rallies. “There’s frustration, but not resignation.
“We’ve been asking for five years. These are hardworking men and women, and we need to create a path to citizenship,” he said. “The federal government has failed to tackle this.”
Among the marchers were Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. The same article stated:
Amid a sea of Mexican flags, clergy members offered voices of support.
“It is a test of a society, how it treats its immigrants,” said Rabbi Melanie Anon of Shir Hadash synagogue in Los Gatos. The Rev. Jose Pedigo of San Jose’s St. Julie Billiart Parish said, “We are the foundation of change. “… We are all in this together.”
Samina Sunas of American Muslim Voice said the Prophet Muhammad instructed his followers to give half their food and water to newcomers.
“There should be no ‘illegals’ here,” said Yasmin Vanya, also of American Muslim Voice. “We’re here to show our support on behalf of the whole Muslim community, to ask President Obama to honor his election campaign promises.”
During the march, I weaved in and out of the marchers taking photos and occassionally striking up conversations. One of the things I was most proud of was finding the Filipino American group Anakbayan Silicon Valley. According to their website, Anakbayan Silicon Valley is a national democratic youth and student organization that fights for education, employment, land, democratic rights, and social services for Filipinos in the U.S. and the Philippines. Anakbayan Silicon Valley believe all youth are agents of social change and works with Filipino youth of all backgrounds — immigrant, US-born/raised, student, working, LGBTQ, women, artists, etc — to create systemic change. I wanted to join them in their chanting but I don’t know tagalog and couldn’t follow what they were saying.
Much as Mexican workers are coming to the United States to work, Filipinos are going out of the country to find work and many are exploited in their overseas jobs in Asia, the Middle East, Canada and the United States. The exploitation of Filipino domestic workers and nannies is prevalent in the U.S., Asia, and Africa, as typical labor protections most workers enjoy do not apply to Filpino immigrant workers. Attorney Ivy Suriyopas of the The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund said of a recent case that typifies many Filipino workers:
The prevalence of human trafficking cases involving domestic workers is striking. They are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse due to their isolation in the household and reduced protections under federal and state employment laws. In this case, our client was a recent immigrant with little knowledge of her rights, no familiarity with her surroundings or access to public transportation, and no known friends or family in the United States.
Here are some other groups that I found in the march.
The United Farmworkers of American was founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez and is the nation’s first successful and largest farm workers union. The UFW continues to organize in major agricultural industries in 10 states. Recent years have witnessed dozens of key UFW union contract victories, among them the largest strawberry, rose, winery and mushroom firms in California and the nation. In two years after being fired from Napa Valley’s Charles Krug-Mondavi winery, the UFW helped 24 employees get reinstated with back-pay with an 18 percent pay increase over the four-year contract and the workers will have the same seniority and classifications they did at the time they were discharged. The UFW signed a three-year contract with Dole Strawberry covering 1,500 California workers in the Oxnard and the Salinas/Watsonville area, giving them 3-4% annual wage increases and the company agreed to pay increased premiums to the union’s RFK Medical Plan to keep pace with the increased cost of providing health benefits. The UFW helped 6 women win a $1.68 million lawsuit against Kovacevich 5 Farms for refusing to hire women.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represent workers in supermarkets, meatpacking and meat processing plants, food processing plants, poultry processing plants and retail stores.
The Community Homeless Alliance Ministry ministry headed by Pastor Scott Wagers that tackles the issues of homelessness, gangs, mental illness, drug addition, broken families, and hopelessness that cripple many communities in our society.
Unite Here represents workers throughout the U.S. and Canada who work in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, and airport industries. Unite Here has a diverse membership from many immigrant communities as well as high percentages of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American workers. The majority of UNITE HERE members are women.
Laborers Local 270 is chartered by the Laborers International Union of North America, AFL-CIO that provides representation and support for employees in both construction and industrial occupations in both the private and public sectors in the San Francico Bay area. These workers range from heavy equipment operators to laboratory technician, from city workers to policemen. Their geographic jurisdiction covers the California counties of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz and they offices in San Jose and Santa Cruz, California.
The San Jose Peace and Justice Center was founded in 1957 by individuals profoundly concerned about peace and justice issues, especially the growth of nuclear arsenals and atmospheric nuclear testing. The Peace and Justice Center continues to educate and engage the South Bay community around critical issues of peace and justice, through teach-ins, film showings, book discussion groups, and mass demonstrations.
The Service Employees International Union is the fastest-growing union in North America. Focused on uniting workers in three sectors to improve their lives and the services they provide, SEIU is the largest healthcare union, with more than 1.1 million members in the field, including nurses, LPNs, doctors, lab technicians, nursing home workers, and home care workers. They are also the largest property services union, with 225,000 members in the building cleaning and security industries, including janitors, security officers, superintendents, maintenance workers, window cleaners, and doormen and women SEIU is also the second largest public services union, with more than 1 million local and state government workers, public school employees, bus drivers, and child care providers
Here are other photos from the march.
I end this blog with a description of the Dream Act that Senator Richard Durbin is reintroducing to this session of Congress. It is an important bill in the immigration reform movement.
The DREAM Act would allow a select group of immigrant students with great potential to contribute more fully to America. These young people were brought to the U.S. as children and should not be punished for their parents’ mistakes. The DREAM Act would give these students a chance to earn legal status if they:
Came to the U.S. as children (15 or under)
Are long-term U.S. residents (continuous physical presence for at least five years)
Have good moral character
Graduate from high school or obtain a GED
Complete two years of college or military service in good standing
The DREAM Act would benefit the U.S. Armed Forces. Tens of thousands of highly-qualified, well-educated young people would enlist in the Armed Forces if the DREAM Act becomes law. The Defense Department’s FY 2010-12 Strategic Plan includes the DREAM Act as a means to help “shape and maintain a mission-ready All Volunteer Force.” Defense Secretary Gates, who supports the DREAM Act, says it “will result in improved recruitment results and attendant gains in unit manning and military performance.” General Colin Powell has also endorsed the DREAM Act, saying, “Immigration is what’s keeping this country’s lifeblood moving forward.”
The DREAM Act would stimulate the American economy. A UCLA study concluded that DREAM Act participants could contribute $1.4-$3.6 trillion to the U.S. economy during their working lives. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supports the DREAM Act, says, “They are just the kind of immigrants we need to help solve our unemployment problem. It is senseless for us to chase out the home-grown talent that has the potential to contribute so significantly to our society.”
The DREAM Act includes important restrictions to prevent abuse. DREAM Act participants are not eligible for Pell and other federal grants and are subject to tough criminal penalties for fraud. DREAM Act applicants must apply within one year of obtaining a high school degree/GED or the bill’s enactment; and must prove eligibility by a preponderance of the evidence. To be eligible, an individual must submit biometric information; undergo background checks and a medical exam; register for the Selective Service; demonstrate the ability to read, write, and speak English; and demonstrate knowledge of the history and government of the U.S. An individual cannot qualify if he or she is ineligible for immigration relief on criminal or national security grounds.
The DREAM Act has broad bipartisan support in Congress and from the American people. In the 111th Congress, the DREAM Act passed the House and received a strong bipartisan majority vote from 55 Senators. According to a recent poll by Opinion Research Corporation, 70% of likely voters favor the DREAM Act, including 60% of Republicans.
The DREAM Act is supported by labor, business, education, civil rights and religious groups, including the AFL-CIO, the National PTA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the CEOs of Fortune 100 companies like Microsoft and Pfizer, and dozens of colleges and universities.