Today I attended and participated in a march protesting SB1070, the new law in Arizona that will make it a crime to be illegal/undocumented and will make it legal to ask a person to show proof of their citizenship based on the way they look.
This was the first protest I have ever participated in and I am proud that it was my first. As someone who strives to see both sides of any situation I can name on one hand the reasons that I would actually protest for. Arguments and debates happen every day, but this debate stirs me from the inside out.
The call for the protest came through Facebook from someone who attends Duke University. He asked that we wear our school colors and meet in the Pit at UNC.
I don’t know what I expected, but I was nervous. I found out that none of my friends would be able to attend due to finals or previous plans they could not break, so I was left to join the protesters on my own.
I arrived early and prepared. The sky looked like it would open up at any minute so I brought my umbrella and plastic bags to put my personal things inside of.
It wasn’t long after I arrived that people began showing up. UNC students wearing their prided blue and laughing loudly stood in the Pit awaiting the crowd, and it did come. Students began trickling in one-by-one and then groups from different schools began showing up. The students from N.C. State quickly outnumbered the others and red shirts were everywhere. The red seemed so appropriate that I almost wished I had worn it.
Red, the color of pain, strife and passion. Red is such a bold and powerful color and it stood out against the light and navy blues from the other colleges.
At the crowd continued growing a girl with a megaphone began getting everyone hyped up with chants like “What does Democracy look like? Democracy looks like this!” and “Shame on who? Shame on you Arizona!”
As the march began I fell into the crowd and softly began repeating the different chants. It was overwhelming for me to be with such a huge of people without knowing anyone. It is not easy for me to participate in events such as these and while a part of me just wanted to run, a greater part made me stay and march.
We marched across campus and the stares and looks from some of the students and faculty reminded me of the day laborers that stand on the corner in Carrboro, waiting to be chosen for work. Day after day they stand there and stare at the road. They wait with hope to be picked up, they pray to be asked to join a crew.
But while they wait cars drive by, parents tell their children to shield their eyes and people look away in embarrassment. And yet these men return every day….with hope.
After leaving campus grounds we headed into downtown Chapel Hill. People stared out through the windows of restaurants, boyfriends held their girlfriends tighter as we passed, and children looked completely confused. As I listened to our chants and the words we were yelling into the evening, I wondered how it is that we have gotten here – to this place in our country. Who’s fault is it? Why hasn’t immigration already been dealt with?
The protest chose it’s landing place at the courthouse in the middle of Franklin street and the speakers began. The first two speakers were both undocumented students who were sharing their stories and struggles. A girl about 22 years old said she wasn’t ashamed to say that she was undocumented anymore and the boy, still in high school, read us quotes from an Arizona representative entailing how illegals could be picked up “because they will stand out, they will look the part.” He then asked the crowd if it looked like he was wearing illegal shoes or if his clothes made him look illegal.
It is a profound thing to realize ones place in an event such as this. I could not find my voice in the chanting and I felt numb as I watched the speakers. I almost felt useless as a follower – I wanted to be a leader and I wanted to do something. But for now all I could do was be there. I was falling in and out of reality, back and forth between memories and the protest.
A third girl has just returned from a long trip to Arizona and told us what was happening there. She said that a prayer vigil had been going on since the law had passed. Families were praying from five in the morning until ten at night, taking turns, but always leaving at least one representative of their family to pray.
My mind raced and I remember walking the dusty streets in Panama. I was headed to the store for some fruit. I was starving and craving a mango. I had left the house quickly. I entered the supermercado and began hunting for my mango. At that moment I became aware of several policia standing close to where I was. They were whispering and looking at me. The second that one of the men began to walk over I realized that I had left my passport. My heart began beating so loudly I knew everyone could hear it. “Hola senorita, como esta usted?” the smiling officer said. My mind rushed and I uttered, “No hablo espanol, solo frances.” I told him I didn’t speak Spanish, I spoke French. He then began to proceed to try and flirt with me while the other officers laughed and pointed.
I knew he could easily have asked to see my passport and if I had not produced it, then they could have thrown me into jail and I would have been lost. Lost in another country. And believe me, women have no rights in their jail. This is a taste of what immigrants will feel in Arizona and are already feeling on some level.
The speakers finished up and no one stepped forward to speak so we returned to the streets. Lights changed and we walked and chanted. Different colors of clothes and different nationalities, all wearing signs taped to our clothes that said, “Do I look Illegal? No To SB1070.” Arms and fists in the air, the voices grew louder and louder and I began to find my voice.
As my voice grew my spirit began to understand the energy of the voices surrounding me. Their shoes skidding across the pavement and their hearts in unison. We were a group, a sole beginning of hope. African American, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, Indian we marched side by side and felt for that time as though we were united as one family.
The protest ended back at the Pit where one last speakers stood in front of us. She received her degree from a community college, but is unable to use it. She has volunteered for the crisis unit in town from over two years, yet her driver’s license has now expired and she can no longer participate. Tears on her face she told us how much she wants to be a part of our country and be considered one of “us.”
I have always said they work harder than I ever will and they appreciate my country more than I ever have-why can they not be a part of this country? Our nation stands on the edge of ruin and yet we do not educate the intelligent minds of these people and their children. Our nation could be amazing.
America needs to wake up before this law takes effect and before other states begin implementing similar legislation. Our rights as Americans are diminishing along with these immigrants and the people who do not see that are fools.The extent of this law is much greater than I have outlined and is even reaching into Arizona’s schools where teachers with accents will no longer be able to teach.
Is this America – the land of the free?