Mexican flags that dotted several Valley protests last week were absent Saturday during a Mesa rally that drew about 150 people of all ages.
“It’s not Vicente Fox we’re petitioning, it’s President Bush,” said Magadelena Schwartz, vice president of Imigrantes Sin Fronteras (Immigrants Without Borders). She came to the U.S. from Chile 18 years ago.
Schwartz and other demonstrators carried U.S. and Arizona flags instead during a peaceful demonstration to commemorate the birth of labor activist César Chávez. Although Saturday marked the sixth year of the Chávez march, the majority of participants also came to protest various immigration bills that they view as a threat.
Marchers chanted “Sí, se puede” (Yes, we can) and banged drums. Leading the procession was the Westwood High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Honor Guard, which bore the American and Arizona flags.
“We’re just out here to support the community,” said Jay Bartram, a Westwood ROTC instructor. “This is not a political statement by us.”
Bartram’s cadets were among a large number of schoolchildren at the march. Many said they would rather participate in demonstrations on their own time rather than walking out of school. Others said they would participate in a walkout, but still thought the immigration issue merited the sacrifice of a Saturday afternoon.
“It’s more important than education,” said Daniela Garcia, 18, a student at the East Valley Institute of Technology. “But I’m still out here today.”
Schwartz said that as the controversy surrounding immigration legislation grows, she is urging students to attend school and obey the law.
At CARE Partnership before the march began, she crossed the street and encouraged a group of five Hispanic men to join. Several of them admitted they were living and working in the U.S. illegally.
Juan Cisneros, one of them, said he is now a legal U.S. resident and has lived in the country for the last 20 years after emigrating from Durango, Mexico. Eventually, after a somewhat heated discussion of Chávez and immigration reform, Cisneros and his group of friends agreed to participate.
“We have the right to be here,” Cisneros said. “Our people come here to work, not to collect welfare. Most of them pay taxes.”
Other groups of people ran out of their homes to join the ranks — or at least to watch from their front yards — as the long line of protesters filed down Horne.
“It’s not right to show the Mexican flag,” Schwartz said. “The only flag we have to show is (that of) this country.”