MegaMarch: Thoughts on an Historic Day, Immigration, and Racism

Dennise skipped church (don’t tell…) to get down there early, and meet the other elected Latino/a officials who would be marching at the head of the parade.

I’m proud to tell you that she was able to help lead the march, locked arm in arm on the front row, alongside our very good friend, Rafael Anchia, he’s off screen, just to her left in the second picture…) on one side of her, and our friend Roberto Alonso on the other. Also leading the line were Hector Flores, Domingo Garcia, Dr. Elba Garcia, Pauline Medrano, Steve Salazar, and one of Dennise’s mentors, Adelfa Callejo.

 

From left: Bill Callejo, Pauline Medrano, Adelfa Callejo, Hector Flores, Domingo Garcia:

Continuing along the line: Domingo Garcia, Gustavo Jimenez, Roberto Alonzo, and Dennise (Rafael Anchia is just out of frame)

(stills from Channel 23)

Maria and I arrived a little after 1 pm, only to realize that the march was well underway at that point. In fact, we’d learn later that the police and organizers had actually started it early, because there was no more room for folks to line up behind them.

Maria and I marched with two other folks from our church, Ron Wilhelm and Marilaine Jones. There were probably more members there, but we were never able to hook up with them. We marched in line for almost three city blocks before we ever reached the STARTING POINT of the march. Here are a shot I took from my camera phone. As you can see, we’re several blocks from the starting point of the march (the Cathedral on the right), and it’s wall-to-wall people:

It went on like this for as far as you could see. In fact, Dennise called us on her cell phone about five minutes later, to say that she was already at city hall. That’s when I knew this thing was going to be HUGE. Because her call meant that the entire parade route was packed with people, from start to finish, and beyond. Here is a link to some raw helicopter footage.

UPDATE: The orginal footage I posted is gone from the internet….but this video gives a much better overview of the march, including some of the same helicopter shots near the end:

We marched down most of Ross, passing First Methodist on the way. The good folks of that church had set up with water and gatorade for the marchers. I saw my friend, Jay Cole, who is their minister of outreach. And I saw their Senior Pastor John Feidler, fresh from preaching twice that morning, out in front of the church on the street with his shirt sleeves rolled up, dipping out cups of water as fast as he could. Made me proud of all of them.

We made a turn at the other end of downtown, traveling down one of the North-South streets. (The name escapes me now…) About then, the line divided into two waves that marched back down Commerce and Jackson Streets, toward City Hall. We got to City Hall, and stayed there for about an hour, leaving at around 4 pm. And even as we left, we could see folks STILL streaming into the area around City Hall for the first time…the march was still going on….THREE HOURS after it started!!!

Everyone in the crowd wore a white shirt, to symbolize peace. And almost everyone of the huge crowd waved American flags. I have never seen so many people in one place, and never seen so many American flags in one place.

And, to everyone who is reading about this march and more than a little afraid of the size and scope of it, hear this: half a million people marched through downtown today, and there was not one single arrest. Not one.

There were families of several generations walking side-by-side. Lots of those. There were mothers pushing baby strollers. Lots of those too. There were lots and lots of young people everywhere you looked. But nobody was throwing punches, or smashing in store windows. No one was swimming in the pool at city hall, or speaking words of violence.

Just half a million people there, to support America not badmouth it. They were there to show how much the love this country, not destroy it.

No one there, that I could see, had anything bad to say about white people or America. All they wanted was to be seen…to be acknowledged, to be affirmed as part of the American landscape. They wanted to show how they contribute to our society. In fact, we saw workers from the Magnolia Hotel, marching down the street in their work uniforms…straight from work, they came.

As we approached the stage at City Hall, we saw that there was a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty on the stage, and the song Neil Diamond’s “America” was playing on the loud speaker.

All in all, an absolutely amazing day….
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Although the bill has died in the Senate, those who support it are still alive. And they might well introduce something like it again. So, let me speak to parts of the bill that were most controversial to me personally. The bill out of the House would have made it crime to give aid to an immigrant who was here illegally. That House bill specifically referenced churches and clergy, and said that they too would be subject to a arrest should they aid illegal immigrants.

Imagine what this would mean for our friends over at North Dallas Shared Ministry! Imagine how much THEY might be in jeopardy each day! Or imagine what might happen to any minister anywhere who hopes to aid someone coming in off the street!

Such legislation is anti-Christian. That’s right. You heard me say it…anti-Christian. I challenge anyone to point out the scripture where Jesus tells us to only help those from your home country. You know my email address…find it and send it to me. Go ahead.

In fact, several times in the Gospels, the local folks get really ANGRY at Jesus precisely BECAUSE he tells them to help those who are from foreign lands!!

Imagine if this law had been in effect at the feeding of the five thousand. You know that story…five thousand men –so, it was probably twenty thousand total– gathered by the shores of Galilee. They are hungry. They are tired. It’s late in the day. And so, the Bible says, Jesus “has compassion” on them. And through the miracle of the fish and loaves there is enough food for all.

Odds are that, among twenty thousand folk, there were a few that were immigrants from foreign countries. I mean, just do the math! There was no admission gate. Folks just came out by the lake shore. Can you imagine the scene? Just after Jesus gets done feeding these people, the authorities arrive:

“Um…I’m sorry Jesus…we’re going to have to take you in….you’ve just given fish and bread to some illegal Samaritans. You have the right to remain silent…anything you say can be used against you….”

Outrageous!

Or, imagine that there was a wall between Samaria and Israel. (You will remember that one of the other provisions of the House bill was to build a wall to separate the US and Mexico). Had there been a wall between Samaria and Israel, there might not have ever been a “Parable of the Good Samaritan.” And, of course, the whole POINT of that parable is to remind us how our “neighbor” is often the person we despise…the person from a different country and race…the person we think we have nothing in common with.

But beyond the bad ideas of these proposed bills, we must confront an ugly truth. The ugly truth is that Latinos and Latinas are being used in this debate as political footballs for the upcoming election. This issue is being raised now for the same reason that the issue of gay marriage was raised before the last election. Because some people in our society know that spreading fear and dividing people sells.
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Can you tell I feel a little passionately about all this? Well, I do. There’s nothing like marrying someone named “Garcia” to help crystalize the issues for you. It becomes about your family. It becomes the stories of people you love most dearly in the world.

So, I want to tell you some of my own frustration these last two weeks, and some of the things I have heard said about Latinos and Latinas. For example, I have heard radio commentators encouraging us to remember that most Hispanics are not illegal immigrants. Which is, of course, true. Most Hispanics aren’t immigrants of any kind. Most Hispanics are proud and contributing members of our society, and people of deep and abiding faith. AND! Some of them have been here longer than you….

Which reminds me of a story.

When Dennise was in Junior High in Irving, she had to take Texas History, as we all do in Texas public schools. And she came home one day and her Mom, “Ma, we’re learning about the Alamo in school!”

To which her mother said, “Oh! You had relatives that fought at the Alamo.”

So, the next day, Dennise returned to school and gleefully told her teacher, “I had relatives that fought at the Alamo!!!”
To which the teacher asked her, “Which side?” Well, Dennise had never considered this. As an Irving girl her whole life, she’d never thought about “which side.”

So, she went home to ask her mother, “Ma, which side?”

To which her mother told her, “Oh, Mija, the side that won.”

There are Tejano families here in Texas that predate any of the rest of us. Some even once fought on what we assumed then was the “other” side. But they have been proud Americans for decades.

The other thing I have heard in the past week are ugly stories about how Latinos and Latinas do not assimilate. There are ugly things being said about people who speak Spanish as a first language, and the claim is being made that they’ll never learn English.

Let me say this: I do not know a single Hispanic family where the parents do not want their children to learn English, learn it fast, and learn it well. Not one. In the families I know, in fact, they sometimes do not even speak Spanish to their children, in the hopes that the children will assimilate faster.

When my father-in-law, Richard Sanchez Garcia, was a boy in West Dallas, he made a mistake that he didn’t know was a mistake. He went to his neighborhood Dallas Public School and he spoke Spanish one day. For this grave sin, a teacher locked him in the closet for the rest of that day.

He never forgot that lesson. And when he had his own children, he chose to not teach them Spanish at home, to the point that they had to pick it up by osmosis…at family gatherings around the tamales and menudo. Eventually they did pick it up.

But, paradoxically, thirty-years-later, when his own son, Richard Garcia Jr, got to school (not knowing more than a couple hundred words in Spanish) they took one look at his brown skin and put him in a Bilingual Education class!!

There is a lot of ignorance about Latino/a culture out there. And I certainly do not claim to know all there is about the culture myself. But I DO know enough to know this: The race card is being played by certain politicians, and it’s been played here to divide us all against each other. And we should not stand for it.

Maybe you have seen the pictures of the young people protesting in the past weeks, skipping school in many cases (something, by the way, I can’t condone…). And I know what some of my friends have been thinking. They’ve been thinking “Look at all those unassimilated brown folks!!”

But nothing could be farther from the truth. As Macarena Hernandez wrote in the Dallas News last week, most of those kids are the children and grandchildren of immigrants. They speak English quite well. They have iPods, and they buy their clothes at The GAP. In some ways, this fight over immigration is not evern their fight. But they are, in fact, standing up for their parents and their grandparents. They are, in fact, living out one of our great commandments: honor thy father and mother.

Today was a day that honored all Americans.

And, as a person of faith, it was a day that reminded me a lot of Palm Sunday. Because, in every way imaginable –both at church and this afternoon– that’s what today was.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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