The sky was just beginning to lighten yesterday when I drove over the railroad tracks and past the shadowy silhouettes of Albuquerque’s downtown. My goal: get to El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos in time to join a bus or carpool up to Santa Fe for the day. I parked on a side street only to be disappointed: the lights were on, but nobody was home. There was just one other man waiting at the center’s door, bundled in a coat and knit cap.
“Hi!” I called as I walked up. “Are you here for the Immigrant Day of Action?”
“Yeah, but it’s locked.”
We shook hands through his fingerless gloves and chatted for a few minutes. Still no sign of the others; did we have the time wrong? After a few minutes I told him I didn’t want to miss the 8:30 training, so I’d just drive up myself.
“If people show up and anyone’s wondering, you can tell them Karie drove separately, they don’t need to wait for me.”
“Karie? I’ll say la rubia.”
He laughed. “The blonde.”
“Oh!” I laughed too. “That is absolutely right. The blonde.”
Of the hundreds of us who marched and rallied later that morning, I would indeed turn out to be one of only a handful of blondes. I learned of the event through the ACLU’s publicity, but it was actually organized by Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an “immigrant-led organization that promotes worker and racial justice.” This fact was unmistakable when I walked into the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market Pavilion an hour later: nearly everyone there was speaking Spanish. The space echoed with a sprawling crowd, and more people continued to trickle in, talking, sitting, calling to one another, hugging like old friends, watching their kids chase each other and shriek and laugh. There was a lot of laughter. Most people wore matching yellow T-shirts, too, from the toddler on whom it draped to knee-level to elderly couples with white hair and creased faces and stooped frames. “SOMOS ACCIÓN” was printed in big letters beneath a sunburst. Beneath that:
JUSTICIA PARA NUESTRAS FAMILIAS
PROSPERIDAD PARA TODOS
JUSTICE FOR OUR FAMILIES
PROSPERITY FOR ALL
Spanish first, then English. So it went for the next two hours of training—the packets they passed out, the PowerPoint slides they projected, the presenters’ explanations. In fact, the presenters rarely spoke English at all unless they were prompted by a specific question. This Día de Acción del Inmigrante y del Trabajador was truly by and for Spanish-speaking immigrants.
I don’t speak Spanish. Well, hablo un poco—estudio español, pero no conozco muchas palabras. So I sat quietly through the training and just tried to absorb as much as I could, including reading the packets they handed out to everyone. They covered the structure of the New Mexico legislature, the process by which bills become laws, and the fine points of several bills that are currently in the works.
More on those bills later. First: we march! At 11 o’clock, some four hundred of us hit the streets. Our long train of pueblo unido wound its way through Santa Fe to the Roundhouse, where the legislature is in session. A forest of colorful signs bobbed overhead; cars honked their support and flashed thumbs up as they passed, at which we erupted in cheers each time. The teens in front of me giggled and joked while the older women behind me led fierce chants: El PUEBLO / UNIDO / JAMAS SERA VENCIDO. The people / united / will never be defeated. As we reached the State Capitol, our long parade spilled into a single throbbing crowd met by live music and a table of hot foil-wrapped burritos for everyone. Marching and cheering became dancing and feasting. The day of community action, like the sun itself, hit its high point at noon.