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From a packed subway car: Si se puede

January 20, 2009 |  5:30 am

WASHINGTON -- Parking lots for the subway were nearly filled before dawn in the Virginia suburbs, people filing in the darkness like rush-hour commuters, moving onto crowded platforms and into packed subway cars.

But there was a celebratory air; people bundled against the cold carried signs, U.S. flags and the occasional blanket in anticipation of a long wait in sub-freezing temperatures for the inauguration.

Alma Gallardo, 50, a kindergarten teacher from Moorpark, had to buy a winter coat, gloves and a furry brown hat for her first trip to the nation's capital. But she did not want to miss history.

"The last eight [years], we've lost so much I feel like we've gone backwards," she said as she rode in a crammed subway car from her hotel in Fairfax, Va. "I just feel now there's hope for our country."

She came to Washington with her daughter, Elisa, 17, and several other relatives. Among them was her sister, Margaret Pantzloff, 47, from Watsonville, Calif.

Pantzloff carried a small, red-and-black United Farm Workers flag that belongs to their father, Inis Marines, who at 70 was too old to make the trip. He was a UFW activist, and the flag has the slogan that President-elect Barack Obama adopted during his campaign, "Si Se Puede" -- yes we can.

"This is so historic, we wanted to witness it," Pantzloff said after affixing a button to the fleece hat of her 8-year-old son, Marcus. It said, "I'm an Obama kid."

"Maybe someday we'll have a Mexican American president. It's possible now."

-- Jim Puzzanghera

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