A Dream Unfulfilled for Latinos

Supporters of citixenship rights for all imiigrants at the 50th anniversary of the march on washington dc (Photo via YWCA USA)

Supporters of citizenship rights for all immigrants at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington D.C. (Photo via YWCA USA, Creative Commons license)

Defending the right to vote, passing immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and the fight against discrimination were the issues most mentioned by Latinos during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for civil rights, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech.

Susan Quiñónez, a Peruvian woman who experienced firsthand what it is like to be undocumented when she crossed the Mexican border in 1985, said, “There is no excuse for immigration reform to not be passed.”

“I live in Virginia. I became a citizen in 1995, and I came to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary to show my support with my presence for those millions of undocumented people who are now experiencing what I went through,” said Quiñónez, who has a 20-year-old daughter in college. “Immigrants come here to work, and they contribute to this country just as much as citizens.”

Guillermo Creamer, an 18-year-old student of political science who lives in Boston and has a Peruvian father and Chilean mother, believes that Martin Luther King’s dream still hasn’t been fulfilled.

There still aren’t equal opportunities for everyone, whether they’re Latino, black, Chinese, or gay,” said the young man. “And immigration reform could help a lot with that.”

The Latinos who spoke beneath the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial included Dolores Huerta, liberal leader and civil rights activist who, together with César Chávez, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became United Farm Workers.

Huerta reminded the crowd that Martin Luther King asked people to return to their communities to work in order to make his dream of equality into a reality, and in an enthusiastic voice Huerta made the spectators speak in Spanish, asking them to shout, “Sí se puede!” (Yes we can!)

Just as they did half a century ago, the Latinos present let their voices be heard at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the famous march, which ended with a speech by President Barack Obama in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

The masses began gathering in front of the Washington Monument early in the morning. Many people held umbrellas to protect themselves from the constant rain, and others held signs that read: “Protect the right to vote” and “More jobs and social justice.” Afterwards, they passed through the security checkpoints and entered the area where the event took place – designated Let Freedom Ring – in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Although the crowd wasn’t quite as large as it was 50 years ago, it covered the entire expanse of the National Mall. Songs could be heard, and others raised their voices in protest.

Juanita Rivera, 87, and her son Francisco Solá, 56, were among those calling for protecting the right to vote, comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and an end to discrimination. They were representing the Latino Voter Registration Project located in Riverside, Calif.

“I brought my mother, who is in a wheelchair, to support the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. It was critical in the fight against racial discrimination and not only affected African-Americans but Latinos as well,” said Solá.

“My mother tells me that when they came to New York in the 1950s, they couldn’t live anywhere because of discrimination,” he explained. “Thanks to the civil rights struggles of Martin Luther King, history turned out differently.”

Solá said many cities in California are changing the rules to limit minority voting. “For example, by changing the date of elections and canceling the time period for voting early.”

“That’s why I came here, to protect the right to vote, which was one of the achievements that resulted from the movements and marches led by Dr. King,” he expressed.

Juanita, next to her son, said she asked to join the march because she is very thankful to Martin Luther King. “At the time when he fought for civil rights and equality, I was told to not speak Spanish in my community. I came because I want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to have a better future, and to not suffer from discrimination like we did.”

One of the participants was dreamer Jesús Cordero, 18, a student from New York who benefited from the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which temporarily protects him from deportation and grants him a work permit. More than 430,000 youth have received deferred action since it was passed a year ago, according to the White House.

“In his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Dr. King said, ‘Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice,’” said Cordero, whose Mexican parents brought him across the Arizona border when he was 3 years old. “Dr. King’s dream still survives in the 11 million undocumented people who live in the shadows and want to come out into the light, with immigration reform that keeps families together, ends deportations, and provides a quick path to citizenship.”

In June, the majority-Democratic Senate passed the immigration reform bill, which would legalize millions of undocumented people and offer a way to obtain citizenship; it is now pending approval in the Republican-majority House of Representatives.

Some conservative legislators have already shown reluctance to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and have expressed their preference for the possibility of only granting legal status, and to make any progress dependent on safeguarding the border against the arrival of new immigrants.

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