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Latino March on Washington

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This weekend, tens of thousands of Latinos, citizens and non-citizens alike, marched on Washington to respond to the wave of anti-Latino and anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. They chose October 12, Columbus Day, also known as El Dia de la Raza, to hold their rally to protest the politics of hatred, blame and exclusion that’s infecting public policy on welfare, immigration, education and affirmative action. This is our special coverage of this weekend’s Latino March on Washington, where tens of thousands of Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Cubans, Dominicans, Mexicans, and other Latinos came to demand an end to the anti-immigrant hysteria in the U.S. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Pacifica Radio’s daily grassroots election show. I’m Amy Goodman. This weekend, tens of thousands of Latinos, citizens and non-citizens alike, marched on Washington to respond to the wave of anti-Latino and anti-immigrant sentiment around the country. They chose October 12th, Columbus Day, also known as El Dia de la Raza, to hold their rally to protest the politics of hatred, blame and exclusion that’s infecting public policy on welfare, immigration, education and affirmative action. Pacifica was at this historic event, and for the remainder of Democracy Now!, we bring you these highlights.

JUAN JOSÉ GUTIÉRREZ: ¡Gracias a Dios che soi Latinoamericano! ¡Gracias que soy de su familia!

PROTESTER 1: Well, we’re here to, again, come together as a group of disenfranchised people who want to make sure that this government understands that we’re here and that we’re not going to leave, that our proposition is to organize locally, to get to the march, which we did, and to go back and continue the organization at the local level. It’s a cross of many different kinds of groups—Mexican, from both sides of the border, Central Americans, Puerto Ricans. I think it’s very important that this particular march will represent a lot of other folks, not just Mexicanos.

PROTESTER 2: Basically to protest all of the legislation that is trying to be passed against the poor and the minority and other Latinos in the country, you know, like a English-only bill.

PROTESTER 3: We are here bringing a group of students from Illinois to represent us in all the issues that are affecting us, the anti-immigrant immigration laws that are being passed. We are concerned about that. We are concerned about our education. We are making sure that our issues are being addressed.

PROTESTER 4: I am here because I feel there has been a long need of this long ago. I am here because I feel my children, my grandchildren should see this, though my parents and grandparents that lived here never, never were able to witness something like this. This is very historical and very dear to me, because we belong.

PROTESTER 5: A lot of people don’t realize that it’s our foreign policies that are driving people out of their home countries and into the United States. And the public needs to be educated about this to prevent the backlash against immigrants.

PROTESTER 6: We are from the Chinese Progressive Association.

REPORTER: Why are you doing that?

PROTESTER 6: Because we see it as a march for all immigrants. It’s an immigrant rights march, even though it’s organized by Latinos, and we’re united on immigrant rights. Doesn’t matter what is our skin color, doesn’t matter what is our ethnicity. We are here for everyone, everyone who’s immigrant, everyone who can remember their ancestors were immigrants.

PROTESTER 7: We have been here. We do not have to go back anywhere, and we should be treated equal.

PROTESTER 8: I’m Puerto Rican and black, so basically, you know, it’s hurting both of us, both our communities, and we should stand together to fight for, you know, racial harmony.

JUAN JOSÉ GUTIÉRREZ: Ladies and gentleman, we are now going to begin. And we are going to begin this historic event by reminding America, a nation of immigrants, like all of us, that we are Americans because we believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of America. And that means that we believe in equality and justice before the law for everyone, not just for some people. And we’re going to remind America, the American public, that although sometimes it seems like the reactionary forces, the forces of darkness, will carry the day, we are more than them, and therefore, we will always find the door that will let the light in again.

And so, today we celebrate our diversity, our being immigrants, by singing the national anthem of our nation, the United States of America, in Spanish and in English. The Choir of the Americas, founded by Mr. David Gonzalez and Luz Maria Mejia, and directed by Rubén Sánchez, will now sing the National Anthem. [National Anthem, sung in Spanish by the Choir of the Americas]

And now… ¡Unidad! ¡Unidad! ¡Unidad! ¡Unidad! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede!

SANTIAGO NIEVES: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s special coverage of the Latino/Latina March for Civil and Human Rights from the Ellipse in Washington D.C., called La Marcha. I’m Santiago Nieves, here with Juan Gonzalez and Patricia Gonzalez, as well.

I think it’s quite relevant to talk about language at this point, and language rights and the English-only movement. I’ve gone toe to toe with Representative Pete King, as I’m sure all of you have, on the whole English-only movement. Juan, I just wanted your take on that. There are many Latinos here who don’t speak Spanish, consider themselves as Latino and others. There are many who are bilingual. There are many who don’t speak English. Talk about the English-only movement that is growing. And we should tell people, unless they don’t know it, that the English-only movement is not popular only in the deep Southern states, New Jersey wants an English-only movement. Connecticut—again, Peter—Pete King—wants an English-only movement. Talk about that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, English-only has been around for a while now in terms of attempting to be imposed on the whole country. There’s no doubt that there has been a strong—there are sections of the United States that have spoken Spanish for hundreds of years. And for people to assume that we are a monolingual country or that we have ever been a monolingual country is erroneous, or that having several languages operating within a country is subversive to the country, I think, is inaccurate also.


PATRICIA GONZALEZ: Well, I was just going to say, you know, African Americans spoke English for a long time, and that hasn’t given them any more civil rights. So I think that that’s, you know, just a good example that it doesn’t necessarily unite a people or give them more human rights.

SANTIAGO NIEVES: All right, an interesting subject when the fabric, the very fabric in this country, from the Midwest to the West—I mean, we have names like El Paso and San Antonio, and from California to Colorado, one would think that that should not be an issue in this country. It seems to me the only major government entity in the world that is proud to be monolingual, or is proud to be monolingual. We should say that that is not the case in most major countries. Yes, Juan?

PATRICIA GONZALEZ: We’re proud of our ignorance.

SANTIAGO NIEVES: Yeah. Now let’s go to the stage, where rally organizer Juan José Gutiérrez is kicking off this event.

JUAN JOSÉ GUTIÉRREZ: Ladies and gentleman, I’m going to try to translate what Jose Jaquez just said. And I’m going to concentrate, basically, on the seven-point political platform that, as Latinos, we have brought to Washington, D.C.

Gone are the days when people could talk about Latinos as a mob of individuals without ideas, without a political program. We have come today to demand, number one, human and constitutional rights for all people, because that is at the foundation of this nation, because we have worked long and hard, because we have struggled long and hard to win some rights, to make the process, to make the promise of equality for all a reality.

For that reason, we say, our second demand, we want and we must have equal opportunities and affirmative action programs now and into the foreseeable future. We want our children to go to the universities and continue to have access to universities. We want our working men and women to also have access and opportunities to move up the social ladder in the economic arena.

Number three, we do not want any child in this nation to be denied the right to a free public education if they want one. It mustn’t matter if his parents or her parents have documents or not. Are you in agreement with that?

Because we are human beings, and this is supposed to be a civilized society, we believe the health clinics and hospitals must not be closed down. They must remain accessible to all people that need healthcare.

Because there are still many police officers that are abusing our communities, as we learned last—this week on Monday in New York City, where Brother Baez had been assassinated by an officer of the law, and everybody was absolutely certain that he would be found guilty, and yet he was found innocent. That’s not justice. And therefore, we are demanding the establishment across the United States of citizen police review boards. Let’s stop the police policing the police; let’s have people police the police.

Because the overwhelming majority of our community are working men and women, people that get up every morning or during the day and go and work long and hard, most of the time for very, very, very low wages, we demand effective labor law reform, so that if people want to exercise their legal right to belong to a union for collective bargaining purposes, they may join those unions. Let’s get rid of the system that we have today which promises people a right to join unions, and then we have modern-day scabs, the labor consultants busting the unions and impeding people from joining unions when they so desire. Let’s raise the minimum wage to at least seven bucks an hour. Five dollars is not enough.

And lastly, because there still are over 10 million legal residents, hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding legal residents, we demand that the program that President Clinton has initiated be maintained, not slowed down. Let’s naturalize everybody who wants to become a naturalized citizen of this country and vote. Keep going. And for all our brothers and sisters of all colors, not just Latinos, people from Bangladesh, from India, from Asia, from all over the world, that still are undocumented workers, let’s extend the amnesty law so that they can become legal residents. Are you in an agreement?

So that nobody will make the mistake that we are anti-democratic, we’re going to vote right now, and we’re going to tell the whole world that this seven-point political platform is the political platform of the people, of the grassroots, of the people that have made this country and the entire world wealthy and powerful. If all of you are in agreement with the seven-point agenda and you want to make it yours, holler and raise your hand. Do you support proposition one?

Next we are going to have a champion of civil rights, a woman, a woman that understands that America is not white, that America is not racism, that America is not discrimination, but rather America is a permanent promise of opportunity and progress through struggle. The people are struggling today, and we shall overcome. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to ask Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the representative of the District of Columbia, to come up here to speak to us and give us the welcome.

REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Thank you so much, and !bienvenidos a Washington, D.C.! The people of the District of Columbia, yet to be granted our full rights, welcome you and welcome the opportunity to join your struggle. We welcome you to your capital, and we thank you for coming to claim it. You are in the long and great tradition of immigrants to this country who has kept the country young and new and vital. You are in the long tradition of those who have come to work in this country in whatever jobs were available. We thank you for coming to talk back to the Congress that has tried walk all over you.

AMY GOODMAN: The voices of the first national Latino march on Washington that occurred this weekend with tens of thousands of Latinos who converged from around the country. We’ll be back with the march in 60 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now! The Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman. We now continue with our special coverage of this weekend’s Latino march on Washington, where tens of thousands of Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Cubans, Dominicans, Mexicans, and other Latinos came to demand an end to the anti-immigrant hysteria in the United States.

SANTIAGO NIEVES: And you’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s special coverage of the Latino/Latina March for Civil and Human Rights from the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. I’m Santiago Nieves, please be joined now by one of my co-hosts, Juan Gonzalez, columnist for the New York Daily News and co-host of Pacifica’s Democracy Now! Our guests are Congressman José Serrano and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, both Democrats from New York.

Welcome, all of you. Juan, how are you?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Fine, fine. And it was a very impressive march coming down from Malcolm X Park. And the rally has begun to get going here now, but we’re lucky to have with us here Congressman Joe Serrano, who marched all the way from the beginning of the route. And what was your impression? I saw you arm-in-arm with Geraldo Rivera.

REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: Exactly. There were two mustaches, one with very little funds and one very wealthy. And he got more recognition than I did. It’s obvious that TV works. It was really incredible. In fact, Geraldo said, as we were marching, that he hadn’t seen such a crowd since the Young Lords days, and that’s what a lot of people were commenting on.

I saw three things that I really felt good about. One, the fact that people knew why they were here. Throughout the years, I’ve been to a lot of places where half the people don’t know why they’re there. Everyone knows why they’re here. Secondly, the number of young people. If this is the beginning of a political movement, then the people who started this movement by attacking us made a terrible mistake. And thirdly, and lastly, very proud of how many Puerto Ricans are here, because a lot of people say that’s not our problem, but it is. It is our issue, and we’re here. And when you put all three together, it is a wonderful march.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Congresswoman Velázquez, what’s your impression?

REP. NYDIA VELÁZQUEZ: Well, let me tell you, I am very, very thrilled to be here as a Puerto Rican, and I just would like to take this opportunity to send a message to my brothers and sisters, Puerto Rican brothers and sisters. I’m always saying that whenever they attack an immigrant, they are attacking us Puerto Ricans. And I’m very thrilled to see so many Puerto Ricans joining our Latinos brothers and sisters to send a message, a very loud and clear message, to the Washington establishment, not at the expense of immigrants, not at the expense of Latinos in this country. If we were good and we were welcomed to help build this country, we are good to be here, and we are entitled to the same kind of rights under the Constitution of the United States. And as Congressman Serrano pointed out, the best thing that really happened to us, to Latinos, was Newt Gingrich and his band of radicals, who has been attacking Latinos in this country and minorities in this country.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I noticed also quite a few labor unions were present from Detroit, from Flint, Michigan, and Latinos who are auto workers and in the UAW and then steel workers and others. What’s your sense in terms of labor’s involvement so far in this march?

REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: Well, the labor is part of that awakening giant, the giant that has been awaken by the attacks on us. I have not seen in a long, long time labor so organized and so focused on an issue. I’ve also never seen as many people aware of issues that are being discussed in Congress. For instance, during the debate on English-only, we presented a resolution called English-plus, in which we said English is the language, but we should have other languages. And in the debate, I said, “If you are for English-only, and you’re running for office, you should not advertise in Spanish asking for us to vote for you on TV and on radio.” Well you know, that—something like that, you throw out, and you figure nobody ever heard it, right? How many people came up and said English-plus, and don’t let them advertise in Spanish? There’s an awareness that has come about because of this bashing that I have not seen in a long, long time.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about in terms of the overall Latino leadership? There were—initially, some of the national organizations did not endorse the march, and it was only in the last few weeks that you saw a groundswell of organizations come forward. You two, of course, were in the forefront of supporting it from the beginning, but was there some concern by some of the leaders that maybe a protest at this time, after Congress had already gone out of session, wasn’t really going to have an effect?

REP. NYDIA VELÁZQUEZ: Well, let me tell you, Juan, I’m so glad to see that this is a grassroot movement, and that is what really counts. And those leaders who didn’t endorse this march, they must come to the realization that the political awareness that is taking place among Latinos in this country is something that no one can stop, and they better join us. Help us through the naturalization process so that we could get more Latinos to become citizens and to help us to register those Latinos so that we can make our presence felt politically, coming November. And that’s the only way to go, if we want to protect the rights of our children, the right for quality education, for housing, for access to healthcare, quality healthcare, economic development. If we are serious about revitalizing our communities, we must come forward now, you know, and say, “¡Basta ya! We will not take this any longer. Don’t take us for granted. We are here to stay, and we are going to flex our political muscle,” because this is the only language that is understood here in Washington.

REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: There’s still, Juan, I believe, a group missing. And, you know, on these radio stations, we always tell it exactly like it is. I don’t see enough of the Hispanic business community. And they should know that if you throw immigrants—you know, let’s talk cold stuff now. If you throw immigrants out of the country, they don’t buy at the local bodega, and they don’t buy Pepsi, and they don’t buy Coke. They can’t do that while living somewhere else. And so, I think that the next step—as you said, there was a problem in getting some people aboard. I think some of it was, “Gee, another march, another demonstration. I’ve been to so many.” But they realized then that this was serious, and it took off.

Now the next step has to be to make the Hispanic business community, if not all the business community, but certainly the Hispanic, understand that this attack is an attack on their customers, on their consumers. And, you know, they can’t—you know, when you reduce food stamps, it’s a business situation also. When you reduce child care, those are jobs. When you reduce any kind of program by attacking and bashing people, you are reducing employment, and you are reducing expenditures of money.

REP. NYDIA VELÁZQUEZ: And Juan, in the last week of the session, there was an attempt from the Republicans to repeal Section 8A, from small business, so—from the Small Business Administration. So, the Hispanic business community must understand that when they are attacking legal immigrants, they are attacking all of us, and they’re attacking Hispanic businesses. We were able to mobilize a grassroot movement from the Hispanic community, and they understood that they better come to Washington and lobby and hold press conferences to denounce that what’s good for other people is also good for Latino businesses today.

SANTIAGO NIEVES: Let me just say quickly a quick ID: you are listening to Pacifica Radio’s special coverage of the Latino/Latina March for Civil and Human Rights from the Ellipse here in Washington, D.C. I’m Santiago Nieves, and Juan Gonzalez continues and joins us.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you also, in terms of what impact you think this is going to have on the elections, which is only a few weeks away, do you think a lot of these young people who came out here are going to go back home and be active and mobilize folks to vote, in one way or another, for both local candidates as well as for the presidential race?

REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: I believe that this is an example, Juan, of what is going on. A lot of people at the beginning of the parade were not commenting on what was happening to them, interestingly enough. They were commenting on what was happening to their grandmother or to their older father, you know, children who have older parents. You know, they’re like the second set of children or whatever. And they were commenting on this. They’re very much aware that this has been an attack on them. You don’t get people this aware and in such large numbers and then go home and do nothing about it. You know, there were buses that came from Arizona, from Texas, from L.A. If you leave L.A. by bus to come to Washington, D.C., I suspect you’re going to go back with a mission. And like I said, this may be that classic blessing in disguise. I rather not have it, the bashing and the pain, but it might be that these folks, without realizing it, have awaken a group of people who are flooding the immigration offices to get themselves to become citizens.

REP. NYDIA VELÁZQUEZ: Juan, and if we take, for example, what happened last week when Dennis Rivera made the announcement that close to 30,000 students throughout colleges in New York City registered to vote, that’s a clear sign that, yes, they understand what this is all about, that Newt Gingrich and the Republicans in Congress want—that they want to balance the budget, they want to give $245 billion in taxes over seven years at the expense of student loans and scholarship and financial aid for students. If we are serious about providing educational opportunities, we cannot balance the budget at the expense of our children, the educational opportunities of our children in this nation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, interestingly, one of—I interviewed some of the onlookers who were watching the march go by, many of them American tourists, and I said to them, “Well, what’s your impression?” And several of them said, “Well, it pleases us that they’re carrying American flags,” because along with the Mexican flag and the Dominican flag and the Puerto Rican flag that many of the marchers were carrying, there were many American flags. And it was their sense that they’re trying to say that they want to be part of the country. And I think that that was an important message that got across to a lot of the people who weren’t actually participating but watching the march, that this is not some kind of separatist movement that some have tried to paint the Latino movement, but it’s a movement for equal rights, equal treatment. And so, many of the onlookers were pleased.

REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: And what’s interesting about that excellent observation on your part and on the onlookers’ part, too, is that that part of the march was not planned. That was the instinct of people who are not anti-American. They simply want to share in the American Dream. I mean, that’s why they came here. I always tell people, you know, take the worst-case scenario, take—not for me the worst case, but for some Americans the worst-case scenario, a person who actually comes into this country undocumented. Do they do it, leave a family behind, because they want to come here and not do well, and not work, and not create for themselves? And so, this is—what you saw today was people waving that American flag, because they’re saying, “We’re proud of who we are, but my American flag is indicating to you that while I’m proud of who I am, I want to be part of this country, and you should see that.” And that’s what happened today.

REP. NYDIA VELÁZQUEZ: Juan, and also, the mere fact of marching, it sends a message that we are here and that we are not sending a message that we are anti-American. By the contrary, we want to make this nation a better nation, by marching, by exposing those who really are divisive, that are dividing us. So that’s the best contribution that we as American can make for the development of this country as a nation.

SANTIAGO NIEVES: All right, Santiago here. Congresspersons, I wanted to ask you—the march coordinating group, Coordinadora '96, they worked out a seven-point program, as you know. Among them, a $7 per hour minimum wage, continuing affirmative action, expanding the amnesty program for illegal immigrants, which I'm sure most of them say we’d rather be called “undocumented workers.” But organizations—or the organizers, rather, say that they don’t expect the march to really have any immediate effect on the elections. As Juan correctly said, certainly there are few Congresspeople that have been involved in immigration and legislation more than both of you. This is supposed to lay the groundwork, organizers say, for the year 2000. Tell us how it does that.

REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: Well, it does it in more ways than one, because, you see, everybody’s looking at the federal level, but it might be that this kind of organization and this vision going back home elects a couple of local state assemblymen or local city council members or local school board people. You know, an example, when Jesse Jackson ran for president twice, he did not get elected president, but three million African Americans were registered, and thousands of African Americans were elected to local office. So this is a movement that goes home and creates impact. In some cases where people lost by 1 percent of the vote, they’re going to impact the local congressional election.

REP. NYDIA VELÁZQUEZ: And today, today, in areas in cities like Cleveland, Ohio, many congressional districts might be decided by the Latino vote. The races in those areas are so close that, for the first time in the history of this nation, Latinos will play a decisive role in deciding who’s going to win elections at the local level, and that’s really important. Plus, more than one million legal residents became citizens, and they’re registering to vote.

SANTIAGO NIEVES: All right, in the very short time we have left, I think I just wanted to ask you about a term, very quickly, Congresspersons. “Latino” and “Hispanic” is a term we’re going to hear alternately throughout today, and I thought you might want to tackle that, very quickly—the titles that we hear some people call themselves, Hispanics, some Latinos, for those who don’t understand that?

REP. NYDIA VELÁZQUEZ: I prefer to call myself Latino, because how could you refer to people who come from Brazil? They are not Hispanics; they are Latinos. Portuguese weren’t Hispanics. That is a concept that was developed by the Reagan administration, and it was wrong. It denies the Indian element in our culture, and it denies the black element in our culture.

REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: We will use both today, until we deal with this issue. But, you know, “Latino” is the one that I prefer also.

SANTIAGO NIEVES: We’ve been speaking with José Serrano and Nydia Velázquez, Congresspersons. You’re listening to Pacifica’s special coverage of the march on Washington. I’m Santiago Nieves, here with Juan Gonzalez. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to Democracy Now! and Pacifica’s special coverage of the first national Latino march on Washington. Special thanks to Mario Murillo, Bill Wax, Fernando Velázquez, Patricia Gonzalez, Juan Gonzalez and Mark Torres. Thank you very much also to Victoria.

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