by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – FilAm Mike Pedro waved a Philippine flag as he marched down Broadway Street in Downtown, Los Angeles.
Wearing a white MIWON (Multi-ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network) shirt that read “Filipinos for Genuine Immigration Reform,” the outreach specialist for Search to Involve Pilipino Americans wanted it to be known that Filipinos are just as involved with the immigration issue as their more highly publicized Latino counterparts.
“I don’t think a lot of people know that undocumented Filipinos are also under attack,” said Pedro standing behind a group of FilAm activists holding a “No Immigrants = No Economy” banner. “They need workers’ rights as well. Most people think that this is just a Chicano, Latino or Mexican American thing, but all different ethnicities [like] Filipinos, Asians, Chinese should be included.”
Pedro was part of a large contingent of FilAms that were part of the estimated 30,000 demonstrators that filled the streets of Downtown Los Angeles calling for comprehensive immigration reform.
The protest was part of a nationwide effort to condemn the increase of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) work-site raids, to demand a path to citizenship for more than 12 million illegal immigrants in the US and to stop the deportations of those swept in the raids. Across the country from San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Washington DC., protestors joined in solidarity.
Filipino groups Filipino-American For Immigration Reform (FAIR), Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) and Gabriela-Network-LA were among the many immigrant groups that joined together for this one common cause.
Strella Cervas of PWC said she’s marching for undocumented Filipinos. As a case manager for PWC, she said there is a rise in the number of Filipinos being swept up by these ICE raids and being deported.
“It’s a very serious issue in our community,” she said. “We’ve seen ICE go into their business and their homes. We had one case where a Filipino was taken as she took the Greyhound bus. She was later deported.”
In 2007, ICE arrested more than 4,077 undocumented workers through nationwide raids, according to its website. It is believed that the number of undocumented Filipinos continue to increase dramatically.
Jollene Levid of Gabriela Network said she was also marching to make people aware of the plight of Filipino immigrant women in the US.
“It makes me feel real good to be part of this,” said Levid. “As the daughter of immigrants, I understand that in order for us to make any change, we not only have to fight in a legal forum but [also] here on the streets.”
Despite the low turnout of protesters compared to last year’s, the groups spirits were high. Three large groups of protestors met in different areas of Downtown LA before converging on Broadway and 7th Street. From there, the groups marched together towards City Hall where a stage was set up.
The mood of the marchers was festive. Like Pedro, many immigrant activists waved flags from their home country. Some had US and Mexican flags, others held up banners that read, “Stop the Raids,” and a majority carried pickets with other immigrant slogans like “My Dream, The American Dream.” The FilAm groups chanted, “Makibaka! Huwag Matakot! (Join the Struggle! Don’t be afraid!).
The smell of bacon-wrapped hot dogs and the sound of party poppers were in the air. Street vendors lined the curb of Broadway and 1st Street anticipating the arrival of the immigrant groups. Children sat on the curb similar to a parade route.
Police officers also made their presence felt. A number of officers marched along with the activists. Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said that more than 500 LAPD officers were deployed to oversee this event.
Last year, a melee erupted when officers and demonstrators clashed at MacArthur Park, the site of the rally. Because of the disastrous incident, the LAPD had been training for months to prepare for this year’s immigration rally.
“We had a really tough time [last year] and made quite a few mistakes,” said Paysinger. “Since that time there’s been an enormous amount of training…and based upon that we’re going to see a different result.”
As the first batch of immigrant groups marched their way past Spring Street on Broadway toward City Hall, Neil Diamond’s fitting song, “America” blared from the speakers.
Far, we’ve been traveling far… only want to be free. We huddle close. Hang on to a dream. On the boats and on the planes, they’re coming to America. Never looking back again. They’re coming to America.
“The march over here was long,” admits Pedro, who marched for two miles with a group of protestors starting from MacArthur Park. “It was long and hot but it’s well worth it. We have to fight for our brothers and sisters out there.”
Police Chief William J. Bratton told the Asian Journal as the last groups of marchers settled in, that to his knowledge no one had been arrested this year.
“As you could see, the crowd is very orderly, very enthusiastic,” said Bratton. “There have been no problems at all. And there [have been] no arrests made up to this point.”