Translated, the main rallying cry at a Latino unity march in Greeley on Saturday was this: "A people united will never be defeated." More than 200 people shouted it enthusiastically -- "¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!" -- as they walked through the rural town under an overcast sky, past railroad tracks and boarded-up houses, past townspeople and children lingering in open doorways, past Jerry's Market, whose slogan is "...with a little touch of Mexico..."
The northern Colorado town has in recent years become somewhat of a hotbed of immigration issues. In 2006, federal agents raided a meatpacking plant there, arresting more than 250 people for being undocumented. Last year, local law enforcement arrested more undocumented workers for allegedly stealing Social Security numbers.
Members of the immigrant community are scared and feel they've been under constant attack, Latino activists say. Saturday's march, which was sponsored by the group Al Frente de Lucha, was an attempt to make a stand.
As they walked, some people shook pop cans full of rocks like maracas. Others held signs that said, "WE ARE NOT CRIMINALS" and "STOP THE RAIDS." Kids walking beside their parents clutched balloons.
It was never silent. When one megaphone-toting organizer stopped leading a chant of "Greeley! ¡Escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!," another started with "¿Qué queremos? ¡Justicia! ¿Cuándo? ¡Ahora!" They were fired up and passionate but not enraged.
The group wound its way to the courthouse in the center of town where, buttressed by a replica of the Statue of Liberty and the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, the marchers stopped for a performance by an Aztec dance troupe and a moment of silence for those arrested workers still fighting court battles.
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Behind the dancers, fewer than ten protesters stood and silently watched the demonstration, hoisting signs that read, "American jobs are for Americans" and "NO AMNESTY." It wasn't until another cry of "¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!" broke the silence that the protestors started heckling. "Illegals! You're not American!" one said. "Speak English. We can't understand you," said another. "They can't," someone else answered.
For the most part, the marchers ignored them. They made their way back to Island Grove Park, where they'd begun. Fifteen-year-old Jorge Valenzuela was among them. The son of immigrants, he came to Colorado as a baby. In 2006, his uncle was arrested in the raid at the Swift meatpacking plant and deported.
"I want to support everybody who wants papers and I want to get across that we're not bad people," Valenzuela said. "We just want to work."