At San Jose’s May Day march on Saturday — organized in tandem with Papeles Para Todos, a campaign to secure rights for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants — one message resounded above all: unity.
“Everybody comes here for the opportunity for a better life,” said Mauricio Carrera, who attended the downtown rally. “Unless you’re indigenous to the land, everybody here is an immigrant.”
Carrera, who passed by the protest as it began at Roosevelt Park, said he had heard of May Day before, but was not aware of its origins. The day commemorates when 35,000 workers protested in Chicago in 1886, advocating for an eight-hour workday.
Louis Rocha, senior campaign lead with the Communications Workers of America, explained the history of May Day at the beginning of the protest, emphasizing the depth of the sacrifice made by the labor organizers of yesteryear.
“The labor leaders were hanged, but they are honored on May 1,” Rocha said. “We are the new face of the labor movement.”
Joey Iyolopixtli, a member of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe native to the Bay Area, said the fight for indigenous power is fundamentally related to the struggle for immigrant and worker rights.
“As we walk today, please remember why we’re all doing this,” Iyolopixtli announced as marchers prepared to enter Santa Clara Street. “All we want to do is spend today in solidarity and unite the fight.”
The rally on Saturday, which drew roughly 200 attendees, was the first large gathering since protests in San Jose over the murder of George Floyd last May drew a confrontational police presence which included tear gas and rubber bullets. While some were on edge about possible police clashes, the May Day demonstration remained peaceful. It began at Roosevelt Park and ended at nearby San Jose City Hall.
Attendees marched, chanted “Si Se Puede!” and held signs that ranged from “Medicare for All” to “Abolish the Police.”
Some activists decried police’s anticipated decision to close Roosevelt Park ahead of the march, calling it a racist action. The park, however, was opened in time for the march.
Salvador “Chava” Bustamante, executive director of Latinos United for a New America, helped coordinate the May Day march among various local groups. LUNA is a part of Papeles Para Todos, which protested earlier this year to pressure President Joe Biden to push through immigration reform.
The administration’s immigration reform bill, the Citizenship Act of 2021, would grant certain undocumented immigrants legal status, including people covered by the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals Act, commonly known as “Dreamers.” There are an estimated 180,000 undocumented immigrants and 30,000 Dreamers in Santa Clara County.
But the Biden administration recently said it would not use budget reconciliation or any other special powers to allow senators to pass the bill with a simple majority, saying it wants the legislation to proceed in a “bipartisan manner.” Bustamante said he’s disappointed, but not surprised.
“We’re falling into the same old patterns of piecemealing things,” Bustamante said. “The administration really needs to get their act together.”
Many protesters also linked May Day to the struggle for greater racial equality amid Black Lives Matter movement. San Jose police killed 27-year-old Daniel Tovar, who was unarmed, on Jan. 21.
Tammi Fuqua said undocumented immigrants, Black people and workers fighting for greater protections are all united toward the same goal: the opportunity to live their lives in peace and provide for their families.
“It all goes back to racism,” Fuqua said. “We’re all fighting the same fight.”
Fuqua is a union worker at Food Maxx, but said she’s no stranger to a hostile work environment. Years ago, Fuqua said she was fired by United Parcel Service after sustaining an injury.
“I don’t like bullies,” Fuqua said. “I’m just out to support union jobs.”
Bustamante said undocumented immigrants are workers, just like citizens fighting for union jobs, and that the campaign for protections by workers around the world is part of the same fundamental struggle.
“It’s all connected,” Bustamante said. “We’ve got to be pushing for everything.”
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.