As I stepped off the plane from JFK to Oakland, I admit that I was a bit scared. Normally sitting behind a desk, I was about to embark on a ten-day journey across the United States, sharing a van with eight people I had yet to meet, trying to rally people against the wave of discriminatory “show me your papers” laws in the very states that have adopted them. I was in unfamiliar territory.
But then I saw the tour van – plastered with ACLU logos and pictures of people using their freedom of speech and assembly – and my fears vanished. After all, it hadn’t been that long since my parents, running from totalitarianism and poverty, stepped into unfamiliar territory of their own and moved from small country towns in Spain to New York. If they could make that change, I could certainly spend a few days in a van.
We hit the ground running with a kick-off event in San Francisco followed by stops in Stockton, Fresno, Santa Ana, Los Angeles, and San Diego. We also worked to heavily promote the campaign’s Twitter and Facebook pages, uploading pictures, statuses, and videos at each stop. At each place we shared information about harsh state-based anti-immigrant laws and asked passersby to sign a petition to President Obama. The petition calls on Obama to fight these hurtful discriminatory laws with us, in the spirit of our campaign name, Estamos Unidos –Spanish for “We Are United.”
But it wasn’t until we hit Arizona on April 25 that I really felt the impact of what I was doing. There, we met people who were being directly affected by the Arizona SB 1070 law which was being argued in the Supreme Court at that very moment. The arguments in the Supreme Court may have been about federal versus state powers, but in Phoenix I heard how this law is drastically impacting communities.
People leave for work in the morning without knowing if they will get deported that day. Citizens and permanent residents have to prove their status time and time again because they look a certain way. Communities are organizing to ensure that if parents do get arrested or deported, their children will be looked after. I felt the fear, hurt, and anger of the residents of Phoenix when we all marched with them that day and protested outside of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) headquarters.
When we talked with people at an ACLU Know Your Rights workshop in Clanton, Alabama, we could sense that everybody was scared. Their Arizona copycat law, HB56, was even harsher than Arizona’s itself. But they had strength in each other.
In Alabama, I met Brandon, a 13-year-old whose video plea for help, along with his friend Jocelyn’s story, inspired the cross-country tour. I was floored by Brandon’s eloquence and humble attitude. This eighth-grader described in Spanish his fears of deportation, and also talked, with a tinge of genuine Southern drawl, about his hopes for a better Alabama. Clearly, this is his home.
Now back at my home in Jersey City, I will not forget the faces I saw and the stories I heard. The tour continues with a new crew coming in to take the van back to California. Today, they will be in Springfield, Illinois for a Lobby Day with the Immigrant Youth Justice League. On May 9th, there is a community workshop in Kansas City. On May 11th, they will be in Denver, at the Auroria campus. There are many more events coming up- go to www.miaclu.org to see if the van will be stopping near you. Estamos Unidos!