Last Monday, I left work early to attend the massive immigration rally on the National Mall. When I want to make my voice heard, I usually prefer other avenues over large demonstrations, but three reasons compelled me to skip class and join 180,000 others in a peaceful rally for the rights of immigrants: I’m an immigrant, I’m a naturalized American Citizen and I’m a New Mexican. I was also compelled to join because what these people from a foreign land were doing couldn’t have been more American.
I threw on my favorite t-shirt from home that reads “Nuevo Mexico,” met up with my friend and fellow Hatchet columnist Tim Kaldas – the son of Egyptian immigrants – and headed down to the Mall. As we crested the hill topped by the Washington Monument, the amazing sight of throngs of Americans in solidarity for immigrants’ rights greeted us. Tim and I joined a growing crowd of thousands streaming onto the National Mall.
Everywhere I looked, I saw American flags; from tiny flags clutched in the hands of small children, to massive flags like the ones at home above car dealerships. I was immediately reminded of the criticism that the large immigration march in Los Angeles had an overabundance of Mexican flags. This would not hold true for this rally. Today the message was clear: “We are America.”
Marches by vocal activists are so common today, and it’s common for the public to ignore them. But if you pass a law that affects enough of the population, a movement might just come along that gets people to take a stand. This is exactly what is happening now, as those who remained in the shadows for so long reacted in the most American of ways – they stood up.
They did it all over America, not just in heavily Latino areas like Los Angeles or Dallas, but in Minnesota and Kansas – an indication that this issue affects the whole country. They weren’t motivated solely by fear, but also by the realization that perhaps this was the time to finally address the issue that had been so long ignored.
Yes, America’s immigration policy has its flaws that need to be addressed, but it also has had unparalleled historic success in integrating newcomers to this country while retaining their individual identities. What these immigrants are asking for is something we all would want if we were in their situation. It’s reflected in a Time Magazine poll that shows an astounding 78 percent of Americans surveyed favor citizenship for illegal immigrants who have a job, demonstrate proficiency in English and pay their taxes.
Already, the political impact of these marches is becoming apparent. There are 40 million Hispanics in America, and they are the fastest growing minority in the country. Throughout the rally, the chant “Hoy, marchamos; ma?ana, votamos” could be heard. It means, “Today, we march; Tomorrow, we vote.” On its face, this chant may just seem like a desire for more participation in government, but it also reflects the emerging power of immigrants’ sons and daughters who are mostly American by birth. Many of them are the ones who walked out of class last week, and when they vote, you can be sure that moment will be remembered.
On Monday, Tim and I watched as the entire crowd joined together to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember reciting this pledge in Spanish and English in my third-grade classroom at Barranca Elementary School in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Fourteen years later, on the National Mall, I watched everyone around me recite the pledge in only one language: English. It was then that some long-forgotten words came back to me: “con libertad y justicia para todos.” “With liberty and justice for all.”
I am America. We are America.
-The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.
This article appeared in the April 17, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.