“At the bridge today,” explains a man waiting for the R train at 36th Street in Sunset Park on April 1st, “I been here eleven years. Luchando cada dia. Pero hoy, vamos a celebrar. It’s a day to show pride. To let people know we live here. We work here. No somos criminales. Somos obreros, and we love New York City. We love Mexico too. That’s why we got the flags,” he explains as he points to his two friends, who are both holding flags of red, green, and white. “My name? Emiliano. Emiliano Z., from Morelos, Mexico, home of the revolution.”
At the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge tens of thousands have gathered on a cold and rainy day to put together New York City’s first show of strength in the political and social debate over the fate of the many millions of immigrants who are currently in the United States without the official sanction of the government. But in downtown Brooklyn there is no debate at all. There is only agreement. An agreement that HR 447 must go. The controversial bill, constructed by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, seeks to make felons of all undocumented immigrants. It has woken up Latinos around the nation, and has reminded New York City, the town most closely associated with immigration, that it cannot sit on the sidelines at this crucial moment. That is why so many flags are waving and so many people are chanting “Si Se Puede!”
A human stream spans the length of the bridge as people march, chant, and wave to the cars that are backed up on the exit ramps. The Brooklyn bound drivers honk their horns in solidarity with those on their feet. A woman takes the blue and white flag of Barbados off the headrest of her car seat, and waves it out the window. “Somebody shoulda call me,” she shouts. “Why nuhbody didn’t call me. If you havin’ rally, next time, call me up,” she says as she honks her horn. The marchers wave and blow their whistles in response and then continue across the bridge. On the Manhattan side, the crowd is blessed by Reverendo Reuben Diaz, and everyone agrees to meet up once again on April 10th at City Hall.
On the 10th of April, at the 36th Street train station in Sunset Park, a transit worker, Ernestine Woods, explains that there is an immigrant on trial at the State Supreme Court building in downtown Brooklyn. “They prolly gone give ’im twenty five to life. ‘Cause that’s how they do,” she explains as she hoists a garbage bag out of a garbage can and begins to tie it up. “That’s how they do. Lock you up an’ throw away the key. They maybe don’t even have no key.”
Ms. Woods proves correct, in that there is indeed an immigrant on trial. On the seventh floor of the State Supreme Court building, a man from Trinidad, by the name of Roger T., stands in front of Judge Theodore Jones, inside of a packed courtroom. The front row and the jury box are filled with dozens of journalists, all of them white, except for Ray Sanchez of Newsday. The back rows are filled with transit workers, most of them black, many of them grandmothers. The lawyer representing the Attorney General of the State of New York, a towering man, stands and explains why we are all gathered together. “We are here because at approximately 3 a.m. on December 20th, Mr. Roger Toussaint announced a system wide strike. When asked about the legality of that strike, he said only, ‘There is the law and there is justice.’” The judge hands down a ten-day sentence for the man from Trinidad, and the courtroom empties out.
The many workers who had filled the back of the courtroom now fill an entire car on a Manhattan bound R train. Two female passengers riding the train look on in shock and confusion, as the sight of TWU Local 100 colors leave them wondering if the strike is on again. “Don’t worry darlin’. We just goin’ to the immigration rally,” explains a female transit worker, carrying a sign that says “We Are All Immigrants.” At City Hall the group climbs the steps to join the crowd that has gathered together to inform the government of their intentions.
Flags are waving everywhere. Ecuador, Mexico Haiti, Peru, Guyana, Panama, Puerto Rico, Pakistan, Russia, Honduras, El Salvador, Ireland, China, and countless other nations are all represented. The crowd shouts, “Si Se Puede!” and “Un Pueblo Unido, Jamas Sera Vencido!” Many famous politicians have already spoken and gone home for the day. Yet the crowd continues to grow. Large television screens and banks of speakers have been set up every few blocks so that the crowd can see and hear whoever is at the podium. The speakers at the podium express pride and call out to the various nations on hand.
“This is beautiful. You can only love this,” explains David Abney, a 63-year-old guidance counselor from Crown Heights. “All these people. It’s a beautiful thing. They parta this country, jus’ like George Bush is. I was born here. But I’m glad to see these folks. Happy they could join us. And man, that border’s wide-open baby. People runnin’ for they lives. And I’m happy to see ’em when they get here. We gotta get ’em some rights now. But see, a lotta people don’t want that. They want business as usual. Jus’ happy makin’ money. They rely on indentured servitude. But we lookin’ to change all that. We out here for total amnesty. See, you gotta know your history brother man. This country is based on total amnesty. You got Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. They started a war in the name of slavery, and half a million people got killed. And you see what they got. They didn’t spend one day in jail. They got total amnesty. So we out here in the American tradition. Total Amnesty.”
Signs with political messages are spread around, interspersed among the flags and the faces of the young and old. “This is a family day,” explains Carmita Oquendo from Ecuador. “Everybody is out here in peace. Look, there’s more babies than grown ups. There’s whole entire families. I’m here with my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my nephew, and my niece,” she explains as she points to her brother who is wearing a shirt that says “End Deportation Now,” and to her nephew who is a baby in a stroller waving a Jesus flag.
“Kyan’t deport peace an’ love,” explains a man with a Jamaican flag draped over his back. “Kyan’t deport love. Y’undastan’ bruddah? Kyan’t deport love. All de people yuh see here. Dem ’ave only love. Look on de news bruddah. Is hijackin’an’ kidnappin’ all ovah de eart’. Is war everywhere. But de people on de street today. Dem don’ ’ave not one tank an’ gun. Yuh see dem bruddah? Dem don’ ’ave not one tank an’ gun. Dem ’ave only one love. My name? Mista Brown. Mista Dennis Brown, livin’ in Flatbush Brooklyn.”
Mr. Muaad Al-Hamza from Yemen has been here for three years. “I am living in one-furty-five streed. I wurdk in store,” he explains. “Evryday is haad wurdk. Evrybuddy wunt to play mega-meellion. Bacon, egg, and cheese. Shouting and screaming. Is haad wurdk. But this is my home. In one-furty-five streed. Muaad from Yemen.”
Bobby McCoy is a union electrician, who arrived in New York from Ireland six years ago. “Legalize the Irish. That’s what I’m tellin’ ya. Hell, legalize everything green. Bush seen how hard we work. How hard all the immigrants work. Legalize everybody,” he shouts as he is swept along with the crowd.
A man with a Puerto Rican flag wrapped around one wrist and a Dominican flag wrapped around the other, stands on a manhole cover, as the crowd streams past him on all sides. “Nah. I ain’t movin’, papa. I was born right here. They givin’ electric shocks in New York City. On the manhole covers son. You step on a manhole cover and catch a shock, then Bloomberg gives you a million dollars. It was in the Post. He gives you a million cash. He keeps it right in his pocket. That’s why I’m not movin’. Even when this is over. I’ll be right here, cars swervin’ around me. I’m not movin. Yo look at that bullshit,” he says as he gestures to one of the large screens, which is flashing the number 125,000. “You gotta be kiddin’ me. Its way more people than that out here. Cops hasslin’ people everywhere. Half these Mexicans just waved they flag then turned around and went home. Who gave ’em that number? Pataki? They brought Giuliani back so he could count people? They got that number from the New York Post. That’s why we gotta boycott the Post. They stay lyin’ all day and all night. Its no less than less than five million people out here right now. Maybe ten million. Somewhere between five and ten million people. No question papa. See everybody just does what Bloomberg says. Bloomberg says its only eleven people out here, then its only eleven people out here. Bloomberg says George Steinbrenner needs to use your livin’ room, then you just go outside an’ wait ’till he’s done. C’mon man. No. I’m not movin’ from this manhole cover. I’m tellin’ you that right now. Uh oh. Look at this guy. They brought this guy out here now,” he says, as he gestures to the screen once again. “Nobody move, nobody gets hurt.”
Featured on the giant screen was the man from Trinidad, who had recently arrived from downtown Brooklyn. “I just came from the State Supreme Court,” he explains. “They say I’m a criminal, and the leader of 35,000 criminals. I am to go to jail. There is something wrong with this country when 11 and a half million people are called criminals just for trying to do an honest days work and take care of their families in the richest country in the world. Everybody here today should think long and hard about what is happening here in America. We have a government that creates immigrants by the millions, and then mistreats them when they get here. If you have tyranny and oppression and famine and poverty around the world, you are going to have immigrants coming to the US. No wall is going to stop them. No fence with barbed wire on the Mexican border or frozen moat on the Canadian border. It will just make it easier to arrest and brutalize them. We don’t need a wall. We need a new foreign policy so people can make a decent living and live in peace in their home countries. If we are all criminals, America needs a new set of laws. That’s why we say, NO JUSTICE! NO PEACE! Say it with me. NO JUSTICE! NO PEACE!”
“You know what’s gonna happen to that guy right,” said manhole cover man. “See, he told Pataki to go fuck himself. Now he’s out here shoutin’ with all these Mexicans. Man, he’s gonna be in Guantanamo Bay. That’s where he’s headed. Guantanamo Bay. I’m not playin’ wit’ chu, papa. For real. And I ain’t movin’ from this spot for nobody. That’s between me an’ Bloomberg. I want total amnesty. Total amnesty for all these people out here. Bush and them clowns started a war, and killed all those people, and they got amnesty. They shoulda got the electric chair. But they got amnesty. They said they did it so the Iraqis could vote. Guess what. These people right here wanna vote too. But chu don’t need no goddamned war about it. We want amnesty like Bush and them got. But man, you got this guy on TV every night. The fat guy on CNN cryin’ about immigration. Yeah, Lou Dobbs. Exactly. Yo this guy, maaan. He’s too much. Let him mow his own motherfuckin’ lawn. You know what I’m sayin’. Let him deliver Chinese food on a bicycle. Ridin’ around Brooklyn an’ shit. Gettin’ robbed for tips in the stairwell. Fat bastard. Lou Dobbs ain’t no damn Indian. Everyday on TV shoutin’ call the police. Stop cryin’ arready man. Damn! You could write that down. You could tell ’im I said that. He could look me up in the phone book. My last name is Perez. If its more than one Perez in the phone book, I’m the one that’s in the Bronx,” he concludes as he remains planted on the manhole cover, while the crowd continues to flood past him
Pablo Picatto, an immigrant from Mexico, is a professor of Latin American history at Columbia University. “We are seeing something very important,” he explains, as he looks at all of the faces around him. “People are asserting themselves. They realize this situation of having no rights cannot go on indefinitely. People are realizing this on a massive scale. And we are witnessing something that goes beyond this day. Something that goes beyond this year. Something historic.”
Perhaps he is right. After all, we got Emiliano Z. from Morelos, Mexico out here. And we got Roger T. from Trinidad who announced a system-wide strike at 3 a.m. on December 20th. And we got Ecuador, Mexico, Haiti, Peru, Guyana, Panama, Puerto Rico, Pakistan, Russia, Honduras, El Salvador, Ireland, China, countless other nations, and evryday is haad wurdk. They givin’ electric shocks in New York City, and its five to ten million people out here, an’ dem don’ ’ave not one tank an’ gun. The border’s wide-open baby, and people runnin’ for they lives. Bring your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your nephew, your niece. Don’t worry about Lou Dobbs. He ain’t no damn Indian. He sees the baby with the Jesus flag, and he shouts call the police. He needs to learn the words. Si Se Puede! Total Amnesty New York City! One Love! No Justice, No Peace!