Bi-lingual event organized around Immigration Reform
(Photos provided by Alicia Duque)
Last night, an estimated 300 people gathered at Nuevo Esperanza Church on Burton near Division in Grand Rapids. They came out to hear stories and get information about the struggle for immigration justice at an event that was co-sponsored by the Michigan Organizing Project, the West Michigan Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the national group Reform Immigration for America, which is sponsoring hundreds of events like this one all across the country this week.
The opening speaker was Martin Padilla, a leader with the Michigan Organizing Project (MOP). Martin said he was in the US without papers. He talked about how since he was eight years old he had worked, beginning in Mexico and then in the US.
Martin spoke with a shaky voice as he shared his story of coming to the US in desperation looking for work, which separated him from his family. He spoke about the difficulties of crossing the border and not knowing if he would live or die.
Martin has been in the US for several years and has always worked to support himself and to send money home to his family. The speaker then asked the audience why this government treats people who are immigrants as terrorists? He says that they live in fear and that “we all need to work hard to change how immigrants, both people with papers and those without are treated.”
The next speaker was a woman who works as a DJ at a local Spanish language radio station. She began by saying that now that the health care debate is winding down there no longer is a justification not to move forward on immigration reform.
Analuisa said that there is movement in the legislature, but more importantly we need to be organized and mobilized to make sure that there is real immigration reform. She asked those in attendance, “what are you going to do to make this happen? Are you going to be informed, attend rallies, and help get the word out?”
Another DJ with one of the Spanish language radio stations also spoke briefly about his experience as a migrant to the US. He came here with papers, but found out that once his visa had expired that the system was not very tolerant of his limited understanding of immigration law. The speaker recognized that there are people from all over Latin America, but “no matter which country we are from we need to create an alliance and work towards the common goal of living peacefully in the US.”
Other radio station representatives also addressed the crowd and wanted to assure people that they would use their station to support and promote the immigration reform. Yet one last Dj said, “If you look on the faces of those of us who are immigrants, we have that expression which says, Ya Basta! (Enough!) It’s time for a change.”
Next there was a group of people from three different churches who are studying this issue based on their faith and wanting to stand in solidarity with people living in fear of the current immigration policy. They want to stand with people who are being discriminated against and to speak out when they are being abuse. They also said they will participate in the campaign to pressure legislators to pass an immigration reform bill.
A woman named Gema then shared her story about participating in a program called democracy schools. It is an organizers training program that teaches people about US history, US laws and the rich history of civil rights organizing in this country. She said she learned that struggle for justice is never easy, never quick, but it is work that is necessary and important. She invited anyone in attendance to participate in the next round of classes that are being offered. Gema ended her comments by quoting the famous Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata who said, “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”
The last speaker Rigo Rodriguez, let people know about the ongoing campaign that is being organized locally for immigration reform. There is a text message campaign, so that people can get regular updates on the campaign. He also said there was literature that people were encouraged to take and put up around town in stores and coffee shops.
Rigo also encouraged people to make a commitment to bring three people to another rally that is being planned for this Sunday at Madison Square Christian Reformed Church. They want to fill the church and send a strong message to Congress that they want immigration reform. The event begins at 6pm and is located at 1441 Madison Ave SE in Grand Rapids.