May Day rally unifies immigrant community

Hundreds participate Monday in a May Day march along St. Michael’s Drive in support of labor and immigrant rights. Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican

Wearing an oversized orange construction vest and hard hat, Juan Torres, 9, grinned as he held up a “border wall” made out of white paper with his friend Alexi Hernandez, 8, who was dressed in a chef’s costume.

On the paper, the words “no ban” and “no wall” were written in black and red marker above a barbwire fence and colored-in bricks. The children posed for pictures.

They were among more than 100 people who gathered in the parking lot of the Somos Un Pueblo Unido office, an immigrant advocacy group, off St. Michael’s Drive on Monday morning to march for labor and immigrant rights.

Veronica Velasquez, 38, said the boys were dressed to represent workers’ conditions, saying, “We are going to walk for resistance of Donald Trump.”

The first of May has been commemorated as International Workers’ Day, in some form, for more than a century. But in New Mexico and throughout the country on Monday, protesters came together in a force that has rarely been seen on the occasion since the first labor rally May 1, 1886.

Many who came to march said speaking out for workers rights — and the immigrant communities who are threatened by inadequate worker protection laws, workplace raids and fears of deportation — has never been so important.

“Workers and immigrants are under attack from two administrations — Trump and the governor’s administration” of Susana Martinez, said Emmanuelle “Neza” Leal Santillan, a spokesman for Somos Un Pueblo Unido.

“We are here on May Day to say that we are defending our families and uniting our community against this campaign of attacks,” Leal Santillan said.

Nearly 30 businesses in Santa Fe, including Cowgirl restaurant, the Tea House, Tomasita’s restaurant and Oscar’s Tree Service, closed Monday to support workers and allow them to come to the protest.

As the crowd took to the sidewalk and marched down St. Michael’s Drive to Cerrillos Road, headed for Franklin E. Miles Park, drivers honked in solidarity. The sound of the horns mingled with noise from handmade rattles — white plastic cups sealed together and containing small rocks.

In Spanish, the group chanted, “¡No somos uno, no somos cien, somos millones! ¡Cuéntenos bien!” (We are not one, we are not 100, we are millions! Count us right!)

Maria Garcia, 50, who works at Fresh for Less grocery off Airport Road, said she was at the march “to support one another. Where I work, it’s all immigrants.”

She said Fresh for Less was one of the businesses that closed in solidarity with its immigrant workers and the protests.

Stanley LaBelle, 67, a retired political science professor from Wisconsin, said, “It’s a time for working people to stand up and express their feelings about what’s going on in this country.

“Donald Trump is one of the worst things that has every happened in this country,” he said. “The guy is a fascist.”

Since the presidential campaign, Trump has referred to Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, set in motion plans to build a wall between Mexico and the United States and attempted to block federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities like Santa Fe.

Leal Santillan said supporting workers rights and backing immigrants are inherently linked, especially in New Mexico’s rural communities, where immigrant workers make up a substantial portion of the workforce for agriculture, dairy, and oil and gas industries.

“Without those workers, the state’s economy would collapse,” he said.

More than 88 percent of farm and dairy workers in New Mexico experience unpaid overtime, poor working conditions and wage theft, according to a 2013 study by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

Events were also planned Monday in Hobbs, Gallup and Portales, the latter with a focus on dairy industry workers.

The nationwide protests were the most recent large-scale public outcry against the policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration since the November election. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people also marched in support of climate change in Washington, D.C., just a week after nationwide rallies advocated for sound science, including a protest of several thousand people in Santa Fe.

At the rally Monday, some criticized Martinez, who became governor in 2011.

In 2011, she overturned a policy that prevented state police from inquiring about legal residence status during a criminal investigation or traffic stop. She also fought for repeal of a 2003 state law that allowed immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. In March, complying with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement request, Martinez ordered state prison officials to turn in a list of all inmates born outside the U.S.

“It’s really sad,” said Susana Marquez, 22, who grew up in Santa Fe and works at El Paisano Food Mart, which was also closed for the day.

“Not even a lot of people came because they are scared,” she said. “We are scared to go out anywhere. We are afraid that they might stop us and ask us for our papers.”

Gilbert Gonzales, 31, a cashier, said the Trump administration policies have created a deeper, less visible unrest and mistrust in the community between immigrants and police.

“A lot of people are afraid of the police. Even if they have been told they can’t deport you, the fear is still there,” he said.

As a result, Gonzales said, immigrants are afraid to work with the police or call for help.

He said he hoped the march would “make people aware of everything that has come from the executive order from Mr. Trump. I don’t think they see the struggle of everyday life.”

Since Trump took office, “People don’t know what is going to happen to their future,” he said. “They won’t put in the same effort. They won’t focus on school as much because they don’t know if they will go off to college.”

When the group arrived at Miles Park, they were greeted with frito pies, a mariachi band and speeches from religious leaders and politicians.

“God doesn’t want walls,” said the Rev. Antonio Aja with the Westminster Presbyterian Church. “God wants doors that can be wide open so we can all be together.”

Torres and Hernandez, the children with the “border wall,” then took the stage. They tore it in pieces.

Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or rmoss@sfnewmexican.com.

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