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Immigrant Rights? Si, Se Puede!

September 29, 2007

Si, Se Puede!

By Kwan Booth (May 7, 2007-Oakland Post)

On Monday, more than a million protesters across the country took to the streets chanting “Si, Se Puede!” (Yes we can!), banging on pots and waving flags from the United States, Mexico, and various South American countries, to demand reform of U.S. immigration laws.

Local demonstrations, the largest of which took place in San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond, were heavily attended by the Bay’s large Hispanic population, with estimates of around 60,000, although people of all races were present for what is being compared to African Americans’ struggle for Civil Rights in the 1960s.

Since the debate gained national attention in March, African Americans have been split on the issue, reflecting the nation’s overall division – although many African American and Hispanic leaders are calling for solidarity. “In the haze of historical amnesia, we overlook the fact that these issues that we are debating today are nearly identical to the issues that confronted African Americans in our recent past,” said cultural commentator and Spelman College history professor William Jelani Cobb. “The point is this; our history in this country is the strongest argument for supporting citizenship for illegal immigrants.”

Other African Americans however, are taking a less sympathetic, more hard-line approach to the issue, as evidenced by a few vocal counter protests in Oakland and San Francisco.

Outside Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza, Dahlia Muhammad, flanked by two other counter protesters held a sign reading, “Go back to your countries and protest to make a better life for your families.” Ms. Muhammad initially engaged passersby in discussion but the scene devolved into a shouting match as the crowd around them grew.

Another of the counter protesters, Sadiyah Muhammed, who stood nearby recording the incident, explained the women’s frustrations. “If Mexicans and Panamanians went back to their own countries and did what they’re doing here, maybe their own countries would be better.” She went on to cite East Oakland, long a haven for immigrant day workers, as an example of what she sees as Hispanics taking away opportunities from lower class blacks.

Tondalayo Kolaquit, a lone protester at the San Francisco rally, echoed these sentiments but for slightly different reasons.

“It has nothing to do with race; it has to do with revolution. The freedom fighters here need all our resources in order to fight the government. We need our social security and our government assistance to help our poor while the strong amongst us go out and fight the good fight. The revolution is coming and we can fight this government, legally. You can’t,” She said.

Ms. Kolaquit stated that since illegal immigrants had no rights in the country, they would have more impact in the “global freedom movement” by returning to their home countries and fighting for change there. “It sounds cruel, but we have to say, ‘We can’t afford you anymore. We have our own war to fight here. Go fight yours.”

Many think any feelings of anger are misplaced, and that real problem is the government and large corporations’ biases against Blacks. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, in an April 24th article for New American Media writes, “Even if there was not a single illegal immigrant in America, that (corporate America’s) attitude insures that many black job seekers would still find themselves shut out.”

“We can look at each other as brothers and sisters or we can fall into the trap they (government and large corporations) have set up to divide us,” said Richard Becker of the International Answer Coalition, one of the groups that organized Monday’s protests. “The roving economy has destroyed much of the land in Mexico. It’s a very poor country. It’s been exploited, mainly by the U.S., and there is no opportunity there. The people go where the money is.” Peter Spannagle, an Oakland immigrants’ rights activist who has spent time in Latin America, agrees. “They don’t have anything there. Have you ever been to the third world?”

Despite slight opposition, Monday’s protests were seen as successful with most people coming together under the banner of equal rights.

This solidarity was demonstrated towards the end of the San Francisco protests. During the march to the Federal Building, a group of San Francisco drummers, who had been providing music throughout the day, stopped the audience and went into an impromptu version of Bay Area rapper E-40’s hit song, “Tell Me When to Go.”

The song, which is being called the Bay Area Anthem, had the entire crowd singing, and as a group of multiracial teenage girls took the center of the crowd and started to “go dumb,” all eyes were on them and all hands were in the air as the chant started – “Si, Se Puede! Si Se Puede! Si, Se Puede!”

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