Latinos walk for dignity
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 6, 2005
Protesters target Ariz. anti-immigrant bills
Yvonne Wingett


They walked for different reasons, but they all had the same goals: opportunity and dignity.

For themselves and their parents. And for those that will follow their paths and cross Mexico's desert for work and opportunities in the United States.

More than 300 mostly Latino residents, students, day laborers, business owners and elected officials walked 25 miles on Tuesday in protest of proposed state legislation that they say would drive many undocumented immigrants deeper undergroundDignity Walk leaders hoped the march would bring international attention to the plight of immigrants in Arizona. Opponents said they should go home and march for rights there.

The walk began at 7 a.m. and stretched for a quarter of a mile. Demonstrators chanted si se puede, it can be done, as they walked from Mesa to Arizona State University and finally to the state Capitol.

"What's occurring in the Legislature should not go on," said Maria Alba, 25, of Mesa, who carried a poster in support of day-labor centers. "Our community has finally said 'enough is enough.' "

So have some Republican state lawmakers, who said they have sponsored legislation targeting the undocumented in response to the public's approval of anti-illegal immigration initiative Proposition 200 and to the federal government's unwillingness to "secure the borders."

Several bills advancing in the Legislature would deny public housing, a college education, publicly funded child care and utility assistance, among other services, to undocumented immigrants. Other bills would ban publicly funded day-labor centers and require immigrants to pay out-of-state college tuition.

"I will not pander to people in this country illegally," said Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa. "Just like in hostage situations. You don't negotiate with the bad guys. You don't negotiate with illegals."

The mobilization comes at a crucial time. When tensions mount among recently arrived Mexicans, Arizona's Hispanic community and the general community over immigration and who should receive public benefits. When self-appointed border police camp out on Arizona's border to keep undocumented immigrants from crossing. And when voters, fed up by illegal immigration, passed Proposition 200 by a comfortable margin.

"I don't get (public) help, and I was born on this dirt," said Eddy Moscickis, 33, an El Mirage resident who watched the trail of marchers along Mesa's Main Street amid whistles and boos from passers-by.

"That right there," he pointed to the marchers. "To me, (that) is a waste of time."

The Dignity Walk was reminiscent of protests and marches in California after voters passed Proposition 187, similar to Proposition 200. The protest may not change the minds of lawmakers or their supporters, experts said. But its symbolism will likely raise awareness among segments of the community and gain momentum across the region, political experts said.

"What social movements always have to be concerned about is lasting attention," said Dan Brouwer, an assistant professor of communication at ASU and an expert in social movements and political tactics. "A march by itself can quickly fade in the public imagination. But a series of events that continue to bring the issue to people's minds is the most effective way to create the potential for persuasion."

The marchers came from all segments of the community. Some were undocumented, some legal permanent residents. Others were high school or college students whose parents brought them to the United States when they were children. Still others are first-generation Hispanics born out of the Chicano movement.


"As long as they're doing the dirty work, it's OK for undocumented immigrants to be here," said Dorelyn Kunkel, director of a charter school who joined the walk at Apache Boulevard and Rural Road. "But if they want to get an education, no? It's creating an underclass of people."

March organizer Salvador Reza said through a bullhorn that he will call for businesses and corporations across the nation to boycott Arizona and book their conferences elsewhere if the bills become law.

"We'll make them stop," said Reza, operator of north Phoenix's Macehualli Work Center "We have an economic power that they fear. Somos un pueblo sin fronteras, we are a people without borders."