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Immigration Rally Shakes Up Chicago

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At Chicago's May 1 immigration march and rally. Photo by Marie-Jo Proulx

By Emmanuel Garcia

Although the day was coined 'A Day Without Immigrants,' the presence of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants and their allies made their presence felt throughout the city of Chicago May 1. Some skipped work while others protested at lunch breaks, school walkouts or at rallies after work.

It had been weeks since posters, flyers and word of mouth had begun on a boycott in response to a bill in Congress that would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally. The flurry of activity culminated in the immigrant rights march that began on the morning of May 1 with participants assembling at Union Park in the West Loop. By the end of the day, the Chicago rally, which ended at Grant Park—along with similar rallies in major cities throughout the country—had become the biggest news event of the day.

After listening to various politicians, including U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the crowds moved down Jackson east towards Grant Park. The sea of protesters drummed, clinked pots, waved American flags and chanted 'Si Se Puede! ( It can be done! ) ' as law enforcement officials looked on. Many supporters along the way provided water to the marchers. ( Latino businesses let their presence be known as Latino grocery chain Supermercado El Guero provided bottled water by the truck loads. ) Many marchers carried signs that read, 'We are workers, NOT criminals!' and 'Deportation equals broken families.'

'There are over 40,000 men and women of Latino descent fighting and dying in Iraq, and the anti-war protesters joined the masses. The majority of people who are targets of pro-military advertisement are people of color and immigrants, so it makes no sense that the government doesn't support people who they call on to fight their wars,' said political artist Brenna Conley-Fonda.

The LGBT community also made their presence known as Pride flags were sold and in some cases distributed to help create more visibility. 'The immigration debate is as important to the LGBT community as marriage. It is a big part of why many gay families cannot obtain legal status. It's important that we recognize that our LGBT community is diverse and being queer and being an immigrant are not exclusive. We need to support people's multi-identities and come together as one community,' said LGBT activist Tony Alvarado-Rivera.

'I don't mind helping out … I'm not Latino, or an immigrant, but I'm gay and I feel that this is a good cause,' said Ryan Gauthier as he marched with friends holding Pride flags.

Some openly gay and lesbian marchers said they felt harassed along the route, while others reported no troubles. It might have depended on who they were marching near.

Many LGBT immigrants seek asylum because they are persecuted or their life is in danger based on their sexual orientation. For the first time, many Americans of Latino descent organized against a bill being proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make the presence of these immigrants unlawful.

The diverse crowd carried flags not only from Central and South American countries, but also from other places such as Ireland and Poland. Randy Esparza—just one of the many marchers—summed up how many of the participants felt: 'I support this cause, because my great-grandparents were immigrants to this country and it's because of them that I am here. I come to pay respects for their hard work and future immigrant generations.'

Other Illinois rallies took place in Joliet, Elgin and Aurora, among other places.

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