Families, laborers and other members of Grand Rapids’ immigrant community took to the streets on Tuesday to march for immigrant rights at Roosevelt Park in Grand Rapids.
The Gran Marcha del Puente del 1o de Mayo (Grand March of the Bridge of May 1st), led by Movimiento Cosecha GR (Harvest Movement GR), expected to raise awareness about the immigrant population in the United States and show the impact immigrants have in our community.
Over 1,000 people showed up to Roosevelt Park to march for immigrant rights. Parents, children, immigration advocates, pastors and nuns held signs in support of varying immigration issues haunting those who are undocumented. With their signs in hand they chanted, “Listen my people, my condor, my eagle, no human being can ever be illegal,” and “The people united will never be defeated” in English and Spanish.
“We’re here marching on May 1st, International Workers’ Day,” said Jose Jimenez, 32, of Grand Rapids, a march volunteer and participant. “We’re marching for the dignity, protection and respect for all immigrants here in the United States.”
The march focused on demanding the state of Michigan provide valid driver’s licenses for everyone regardless of their legal status, a major concern for those undocumented living in the U.S.
“We’re here launching the campaign on driver’s licenses for all here in Michigan no matter what your status of immigration is,” Jimenez continued. “We are tired of our community having to drive with fear. Fear of dropping off their kids at school and not seeing them ever again. Fear of going to work and not being able to return to their homes. We are tired of that fear, and we want everyone to know that we are Americans just like everyone else. We contribute to this economy, and we’re going to keep fighting until we get it.”
Jimenez also shed some light on Movimiento Cosecha, and their objective.
“Movimiento Cosecha is a very positive movement,” Jimenez said. “We’re a nonviolent movement, and we’re just trying to show that we’re not ‘bad hombres.’ We are a fun, hardworking people that just want to be able to drive without fear and be able to have the same rights as everyone. We contribute, we pay taxes, we’re a part of this community. We want to feel that we’re a part of it without being separated from our families.”
Movimiento Cosecha is led by Carla Barberi, a Guatemalan immigrant and activist for immigrant rights. Kris Lee, Barberi’s sponsor through her high school years, is proud of Berberi and her accomplishments with Movimiento Cosecha and the immigrant community.
“I see how much the people I’ve met through her contribute to the (community),” Lee said. “Her kid is now going to Harvard. Her husband was a refugee from Cuba. She has worked and volunteered for translating and anyone who needs help. They just go out of their way to help people. They work day and night. And the people I’ve met through her, I just realized what a struggle it is for people who, for some reason or another, left where they were to try to get a better life for their kids, and that’s all I see.”
Lee isn’t blind to the other issues plaguing immigration reform, but remains positive about immigrants.
“I mean, yeah there are some bad eggs, but the average family just wants their kids to do better than what they did and obviously Carla’s daughter did.”
The march for immigrant rights was held during a crucial time in U.S. history as a caravan of more than 200 Central Americans traveled to Mexico last week to reach the U.S.-Mexico border requesting asylum in the U.S. The migrants are determined to stay outside of the immigration processing center at the San Diego port of entry (Tijuana, Mexico).
Raina Cook, 38, of Grand Rapids, showed her support for her immigrant friends and neighbors during Tuesday’s march and hopes to bring some change to immigration laws in the U.S.
“We came out here to support our friends and neighbors in their fight for equality,” Cook said. “Overall, I think we really need to have some really strong immigration reforms that make things safer for people who are fleeing to this country to make it easier for people to get into this country and harder for people to get deported. We need to stop all deportations. Keep families together.”
Tuesday’s march also served as a lesson in activism for some students at The Potter’s House Elementary School. Brenda Vanderark, a kindergarten and first grade teacher at the school, showed her students the march during recess.
“We were out for recess, and I thought, ‘It’s part of history, right? We need to come out and watch it,’” Vanderark said. “It’s going right past us, and it’s an issue that means a lot to a lot of our school parents. We have a pretty high number (of immigrant parents).”
Vanderark also notices her students’ natural curiosity for activism.
“My first graders in particular, they are very social-justice-minded. Whenever they hear about something, already at this age, they are like, ‘What can we do?’ which is awesome.”
For Aliza Flores, 32, of Grand Rapids, the march was about getting in touch with the immigrant community in Grand Rapids and serving those in the community.
“I work with a community organization, and I think it’s important if I’m going to serve the Latino community to be active in the Latino community and to show that I care,” she said.