Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Immigrant Marching

Over the past year and a half the political situation has crept deeper and deeper into our lives. It has been impossible to ignore what is happening in our country and impossible to hide the worst parts from our kids, even if we wanted to. A year ago, Rachel was afraid that if Trump were elected president he would send her back to China. After many hard conversations and lots of reassurance, she finally felt secure in her permanent place in our family and our country. When news stations began running stories of undocumented workers being deported, with pictures of armed ICE agents and terrified children, some of Rae's fear resurfaced. She has also struggled with figuring out how to deal with friends and classmates who are Trump supporters or who are excited by the idea of a border wall or immigrant bans. This has been hard on all of us, but for my girl who often says she just wishes that everyone would love each other, it has been especially scary and sad. We have looked for ways to help others, to face fears, and to fight back. This week, Rachel and I were part of an event that gave both of us hope - an Immigrant March.

Rae and I spent an evening making posters for the march. Rachel wanted hers to be on a stick, so we made two posters, one for each side.
I asked her what she wanted to say on her poster. She thought for a minute and said, "I am an immigrant and I want to be treated like everyone else." That sounded good to me. I asked about the second poster and she said, "Don't make fun of people because of the color of their skin. Don't make fun of of people's disabilities. Don't make fun of girls. Love is better than hate." After some discussion, we narrowed that down to Love [greater than sign] Hate. Wise words from a 9 year old.
My mom joined us for the drive into the city on May 1, March day. By the time we got to the march site, Rachel was terrified. She could see lots of police cars (the march had a police escort) and a crowd of people with signs. I think her association with crowds with signs was pictures and videos of Trump rallies and she knew she wanted no part of that. Mom and I held her hands and talked her across the street to the plaza where the march began. Once we were there and she realized that the crowd was friendly and their signs were a lot like hers, she was okay.
There were other children at the march and the organizers had made a banner and were inviting the kids to color butterflies to put on it. Rae happily ran off to make her contribution.

Before long, the police blocked off the street and we started marching.
It was not a large crowd, only about 200 of us, but we were LOUD! The organizers carried a portable sound system and we chanted the entire two miles, in both English and Spanish.
"Tell me what an immigrant looks like."
"This is what an immigrant looks like."

"No hate in our state!"

"Si se puede!"

"Immigrants united will never be defeated!"

And our favorite, a long call-and-response chant with the refrain "We are immigrants. Mighty, mighty immigrants. We're fighting for justice and our families."

Rachel didn't chant much, but she was taking it all in.
Marching was fun. There was excitement and energy in being in the midst of a group of others all fighting for the same cause. And the act of doing something brings hope.
Can you see Rachel reflected in the windows? We marched through an area with many immigrant owned businesses and through quiet neighborhoods where people, some of them immigrants themselves, came out to watch from their porches and doors.
I had to laugh when the march route brought us to this scene. Only in Kansas can you join a protest march in the heart of the largest city and still find yourself walking past grain elevators!
Rachel had fun marching and I think it was a good way to turn her fear into a sense of empowerment. She was a part of something big and she discovered that she isn't fighting alone.

While Rae liked marching, she loved what happened afterward. The march ended in the same market plaza where we'd begun. My sister was there waiting for us.
There was a time for a few speakers, but we largely ignored them because there were food vendors and we were hungry. While we were checking out the food stands, Rachel noticed a woman carrying a bag of chicharrones, Mexican style fried pork rinds topped with vinegary hot sauce. The woman offered to let Rae have a taste and poured a pile of her snacks onto a plate and handed them over. Rachel took one bit and was hooked.
Immigrants ran most of the food stands, selling gyros, Middle Eastern quesadillas, hummus and pita, elote (Mexican style corn on the cob), and all sort of grilled Mexican food. Rachel chose gyros for us, plus honey soaked baklava. And more chicharrones!
As soon as we sat down to eat, two girls around Rachel's age came over and started chatting.
They read Granny's sign and tried to figure out our family. 
Rachel proudly told them that she was an immigrant from China. They were a bit confused as to how I could be Rae's mother, but she explained that I had adopted her and now we were a family forever. The girls seemed to grasp that idea and then asked Rachel is she wanted to play. She did, of course! The three ran off to play hide-and-seek around the plaza and soon invited other kids to play with them.
It was a perfect evening. The weather was beautiful, our bellies were full of interesting food, salsa music was playing over the speakers, we had made new friends, and we were surrounded by immigrants from all over the world.
Rachel will remember this march and the party afterward. For this night at least,  love really was great hate. I hope that she stores these memories in her heart and finds more ways to turn fear and sadness into strength and bravery. And I hope there will be more marches for all of us in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Did you distinguish between legal entry and illegal entry? Might her fears if you did. Legal immigration is wonderful and many are waiting to come but due to illegal entry clogging the system, breaking in line so to speak, they can't get here. Honesty is the best policy with immigration conversations.


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