Acceptance and Love in the Face of Bigotry and Hate
By Brent E. Beltrán
On the evening of July ninth approximately 200 people from San Diego gathered for a rally and vigil at the Federal Building Downtown to show their solidarity with the refugee children of Central America.
The rally, called Demonstration in SOLIDARITY with the National Action for the Children and a Vigil for Love, was part of a series of actions across the US showing support for the children.
The refugees came to the forefront of America’s consciousness after bigots decided to block the buses these children were riding in. The buses were transporting these unaccompanied minors to get processed at an immigration facility in Murrieta, Ca.
The blocking of the buses unleashed a moral crisis in Murrieta and across the country as angry, mostly white people, let loose their bigoted ways against children whose only crime was to escape the violence of their own countries, much of which was instigated by past US policies in the region.
The vigil at the Federal Building was organized by San Diego activists Birdie Gutierrez, Hilda Graciela Uriarte, Nancy Cruz and the various groups they work with. Some of the organizations that endorsed the event included Angeles Sin Fronteras, Colectivo Zapatista, San Diego Immigrant Youth Collective, Af3irm, DREAMers MOMS USA, American Friends Service Committee, Anakbayan San Diego, Unión del Barrio, and us here at San Diego Free Press among many others.
Though most of the groups that endorsed the event were Latino-centric there were many people in attendance of various ethnicities and backgrounds. All were there to show their support for the children.
The event started off with a moment of silence to honor the children who died along the journey north and for those that are lingering in immigration detention centers awaiting their fate. Danza Azteca Colibri followed by singing a prayer and dancing and a son jarocho group followed with a song for the children.
One by one various speakers gave testimony, in English and Spanish, about the harsh conditions the refugees faced at home and on their journey to the US.
During the rally Enrique Morones of Border Angels showed up briefly with a just released child holding a large teddy bear. They soon left for the airport so the child could be reunited with family members who are already in the US.
As the rally progressed I walked around and interviewed a handful of activists that I knew in the crowd. I asked them, why is it important that people are gathered here today? Here are their responses:
“I’m overwhelmed with happiness. We’re showing a different face of acceptance, not racism and hatred. We needed to give a response. It’s got to be a response of acceptance and love for these children. We need to make sure that we show our loving face here. That’s basically what’s needed. We have to counter the racism. The children deserve to be here. The United States created [this situation].” — Birdie Gutierrez, demonstration organizer
“I think it is important because it shows that the communities of San Diego care about this issue. They care about migrant youth that are looking for a better situation. Folks here in San Diego are saying we support these migrant youths who are just trying to survive.” — Enrique de la Cruz, Colectivo Zapatista
“It represents the voice of the majority of people who are against the bigotry that was on display in Murrieta, California. It represents the solidarity of communities coming together to stand for the rights of people, Central American refugees, the rights for people to cross borders and have security, peace and justice. It hopefully shows the beginning of something that can push back on the narrative that dominates this issue of people crossing borders. The narrative of enforcement only, tough on immigrants, and to push back against that towards something that stands for justice and rights for people to cross borders.” — Justin Akers-Chacon, professor at San Diego City College
“It’s a reminder that there is humanity. The hatred of the people that were protesting these children is disturbing but my heart is enlightened by the many people coming here in support, that are not afraid to show their support. We do have numbers and our voices are loud.” — Cathy Mendonça, Af3irm San Diego
“I think it shows the new Latino politics where you have a Mesoamerican population now that expands beyond what we traditionally think of as Chicano. So you have Central Americans here reacting to the abuse of their children and the violence created by US policies in Central America. I think this is a very important beginning of a new more expansive Latino politics.” — Jorge Mariscal, Director of CLAH Program at UCSD