Hundreds rally for worker and immigrant rights in Watsonville

WATSONVILLE — The streets of Watsonville echoed with chants Saturday, as nearly 400 people rallied for workers rights and against Arizona’s new anti-immigration law.

The May Day protest and rally filled Watsonville Plaza at 4 p.m. Hundreds of immigration reform supporters created signs and T-shirts demanding nondiscriminatory reform. Some of the signs read “The Pilgrims were illegal and they stayed,” and “No one is free when others are oppressed.”

“We have a lot of migrant families that go from Watsonville to Yuma, Arizona, to work,” Watsonville Councilman Antonio Rivas said. “The City Council is planning to send a letter to the companies they work for requesting that they not be sent there so workers can stay here where we support their rights.”

National outrage over Arizona’s law SB 1070 stirred opposition marches across the country Saturday. Critics say the new legislation, which requires Arizona police to question anyone they suspect may be in the country illegally, targets Latino minorities.

“The problem is there is a new fear that the law has reignited,” Santa Cruz Councilman Tony Madrigal said. “The real solution lies in common sense immigration reform that benefits Americans, the economy and is fair to families.

“Today is recognized internationally as a day for workers so it’s very fitting that here in Santa Cruz County people have come together to say we are workers, we are not criminals, we have families here, and we are united as one community.”

Parents and their children gathered around a sign-making station set up in the plaza to voice their opinions.

“It’s really depressing to think that the natives and Mexicans who were inhabitants of California, Arizona and the Southwest, people who were here for years, can be kicked out. It’s just inhumane,” said Victoria Banales, an English teacher at Cabrillo College. “It bugs me that there is such ignorance blaming immigration for every problem in the U.S. Nobody wants to leave their home country but they do because they want to make a better life for their families. People need to become more aware of why people come here.”

For 21-year-old Nayeli Gil, who was born in Tijuana, living in the U.S. has delivered an opportunity for a higher education.

“I’m undocumented myself so this affects me as well,” Gil said. “I can feel what they are going through. I’ve been in Watsonville all my life. I go to Cabrillo College. I’m here to become a better person and try to reach the American dream like everybody else. I’m here today because I care about myself, I care about my family and I care about future generations.”

Gil and a few other protesters with the Watsonville Brown Berets wore homemade shirts that read, “Do I look illegal? Welcome to Nazi-zona.”

Around 6 p.m. the march paused at River Park on Dawson Street where they were greeted with the booming drums of Watsonville Taiko.

“The area is historically known as Japanese Town so this was to honor the rich, multicultural heritage here and to celebrate the waves of immigration over the decades,” Watsonville resident Liliana Barrios said.

The march ended at the Watsonville Plaza, where people could get free consultations with immigration attorneys and Watsonville Taiko and Vive Oaxaca performed closing ceremonies.

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