Taking It to the Streets

Thousands of Mexicans and one Polack.

To the lone, white-faced Polack proudly waving a red-and-white Polish flag at Monday's immigration rally at the Capitol: You were noticed. In fact, it was hard not to notice your creepily intense expression as you swayed to a tune only you could hear, back and forth, back and forth, sticking out like a lighthouse in a sea of Hispanic faces. I tried to approach you, to compliment you for making the point that the day's rally was about all immigrants, not just Mexicans, but you'd already disappeared back into the ether whence you came -- and besides, the day's rally really was just about Mexicans. Only a Polack would be stupid enough to miss that. Hey everybody, did you hear the one about the Polish guy at the immigration rally?

Monday was to be a day without a Mexican, not a day without a Polack. When I'd woken up that fateful morning, I'd thought to myself: "I've never really had any problems with Mexicans. I wonder why they feel the need to disappear for the day? Now, if a Frenchman or a German said to me, 'Do you wish me to not show my face today?' I would respond, 'Most certainly, nor any other day, you cheese and/or knockwurst-smelling swine. Now go drown yourself in a sack." But if a Mexican were to pose the same question, I would respond, "Why, not at all, sir. Stick around a while, and do you have any sisters or female cousins?"

Because the official What's So Funny platform on the immigration debate is this: Latinas are hot. Nay, Latinas are smoking hot. So who in their right minds would not want more of them around, legal or illegal? Go ahead and print up the bumperstickers, fire up the T-shirt machine, that's my whole campaign. Build a fence around that, Tancredo.

As the bold proponent of such an agenda, you can imagine that the prospect of a day without a Mexican made me sad. Whom would I ogle? White women? Please, that is so high school.

But as is often the case, I was wrong. And I'm not even Polish! By a day without a Mexican, the Mexicans meant a day with ten billion Mexicans instead, all gathered at the Capitol -- rather than working or spending money -- to show what an enormous economic impact they have on our society, and how they deserve better treatment for their contributions, perhaps even citizen status for some illegals.

By eleven in the morning, there were already tens of thousands of supporters at the Capitol, mostly Hispanic, proudly waving American and Mexican flags -- some, in all seriousness, with advertising for "Bail City Bail Bonds," which is just so poorly thought out -- and dressed mostly in white to express that this was a peaceful, inoffensive gathering, intending to show solidarity, not revolutionary fervor. But there were still Che Guevara shirts by the dozens, and the signage of many demonstrators expressed some of the real sentiments at the heart of the issue: "Don't Let Society Be United by Hatred of Its Neighbor," "We Just Want the Same Opportunity That Your Ancestors Once Had" and "We Don't Blow Up Towers, We Build Them" -- which I believe was some sort of Lord of the Rings reference.

As noon came and went, the numbers kept growing, with more and more people swarming down Broadway and into Civic Center Park. It was truly an amazing scene, this sea of bodies drawn together in hopes of political change, a scene mirrored by the unmasked glee on the faces of the few ever-aging hippies gathered about. The presence of thousands of people possessing such revolutionary zeal pulled at something deep within these PBS supporters, perhaps tapping into that sheet of stamps they sweat-gested at a Jefferson Airplane concert in '79. They looked positively deranged. Some drooled. But it was drool-worthy: young children on their parents' shoulders shouting "Sí, Se Puede," as Aztec dancers swirled on the Capitol steps; Spanish-speaking grandmothers teaching their grandchildren how to say "Estados Unidos." It was inspiring -- as though this day, this event, somehow mattered -- and seemed particularly poignant compared to all those well-intentioned but lackluster protests against the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Patriot Act, etc., etc., over the past few years.

But there was a momentary ugly side to the story, too. Because despite rally organizers' efforts, a handful of protesters headed over to the Greek Amphitheatre to clash with thirty-or-so VFW-looking, get-out-of-the-country-illegal-immigrants types, no doubt angry that the flood of migrant workers had interfered with their regularly scheduled cousin-fuckin'. For a half-hour, tempers flared, but never out of control, people shouted, but never fought, and the press stood there with darting, excited eyes, waiting for the wheels to spin off, looking for sound bites like the hawks that we are. But the confrontation fizzled.

And I was left not with empty rhetoric, but with a meaningful scene I'd witnessed earlier stuck in my head. A young boy, maybe eight years old, had watched as his sister clashed with a man holding a sign that read, "Obey Our Laws." The little boy asked the man, "Whose laws?" To which the man replied, "Our country's."

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