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Thousands gather for immigrant rights march in downtown L.A. [Updated]

May 1, 2010 | 10:51 am


[Updated at 1 p.m.: Tens of thousands of immigrant rights demonstrators rallied in downtown Los Angeles and across the country Saturday to protest a tough new anti-illegal immigration law in Arizona and stalled legislative reforms in Congress.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Cardinal Roger Mahony joined the crowd and were among the speakers at the rally.

The mayor took the stage to raucous cheers, taking a moment to groove to the live band on stage before addressing the crowd. Speaking in English and Spanish, he called Los Angeles a bilingual city and expressed strong support for immigration reform.

Villaraigosa recounted the story of his grandfather who immigrated to the city in the early 1900s. He drew loud cheers when he expressed support for the thousands of illegal immigrants who have documented children at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Afterward, Mahony spoke, saying "everyone in God's eyes is legal. We are all standing with our immigrant brothers and sisters."]

The hearts and minds of many of the demonstrators were with their counterparts in Arizona.

Arizona lawmakers recently passed legislation that would allow police to check the legal status of people they suspect are illegal migrants. Officials said the law, which takes effect this summer, was needed in part to safeguard against violent Mexican drug cartels.

One man in the crowd wore a white T-shirt with black block letters reading "Todos Somos Arizona" or "We are all Arizona." Another bobbed a sign over the crowd with a swastika scrawled in between the names of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who strongly supported the new law.  

Union members blew horns and chanted "no human being is illegal" over the rhythmic melodies of a mariachi band. The smell of bacon-wrapped hot dogs sizzling alongside onions and peppers on vendors' hotplates wafted through the crowd. The march is set to begin at 11 a.m.

Herlindo Ordonez, 40, stood on the corner with his teenage daughter, their wrists buckled to jail bars with yellow chains. A sign on the bars read "SB 1070."

Ordonez, who is an illegal immigrant, said he came from Guatemala 15 years ago with his wife and three daughters in search of economic opportunity.

The Van Nuys resident said he has found a steady job at a shipping company, but he said that the fears that come with being undocumented haunt him constantly.

"There's a lot of fear, a lot of worry," he said in Spanish. "When I drive I worry. When I come home late from work my family worries. Fear all the time."

Nearby, Maria Rodriguez, 58, was posted up on Broadway under the blue and white marquee of Cathedral de la Fe selling American flags, large and small, to demonstrators filing in to the march's starting point at Olympic Boulevard.
The Mexico native said she emigrated to Los Angeles 30 years ago to find more reliable economic opportunity for herself and her two daughters.
"Banderas, banderas," she shouted to passersby. "Flags, flags."

Rodriguez said she opted to sell the American flag to marchers to send the message that she and other immigrants are proud to be Americans and are here to stay.
"It’s about pride" she said in Spanish. "It’s not the Mexican flag we fight for anymore. It’s the American flag."

Her customers wrapped the flags around their heads like bandanas, waved them in their hands and mounted them on strollers.

As for sales, she said she's seen better. "There's going to be a lot of American flag vendors today."

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony stood with organizers, on the bed of a flatbed truck, his low-hanging cross glimmering in the morning sun.

Demonstrators waving dozens of American flags, with a few Mexican flags interspersed, crowded around the platform at the march's starting point chanting slogans, "Obama Escucha Estamos en la Lucha" or "Obama, listen, we're in the fight."

Mahony held hands with organizers high over their heads as they announced "no somos criminales" or "we are not criminals."

At the corner of 9th Street and Broadway, Anna Castro, 53, a janitor and a member of United Services Workers West, joined several of her co-workers in holding up a banner that said: "With Us, America Works."
Castro, who lives in Highland Park, said she got to the march site at 6:30 a.m.

"This is critical," said Castro, who is a native of El Salvador. "It's very important that we send a message that the kind of law that passed in Arizona cannot pass here. Immigrants helped build this country.

"I clean bathrooms and offices and I've never seen an American working alongside us. We're all immigrants. I'm an American citizen now. But I came here as an immigrant to work hard. We need to show that we will not permit an Arizona law in California or any other kind of state. A law like this would create chaos in Los Angeles and California. People would be scared to talk to the police."

Not all of the demonstrators were Latino. 

Jeff, a 26-year-old illegal immigrant from South Korea who did not want his last name used, marched along side a group of Korean drummers. Wearing a white shirt that crossed out the word “Minutemen,” Jeff said he decided to march because of a "broken down immigration system."

"This does not just affect Latinos" he said. "This affects all communities…Koreans suffer from that because they come from a different culture, they have a different language. We need reform in 2010!"

-- Robert Faturechi, Sam Quinones, Ruben Vives and Patrick McDonnell

Photo: Martin Santiago of Van Nuys, right, holds his 3-year-old daughter's hand as they walk past a mural on Broadway on their way to the May Day rally's starting point on Olympic Boulevard in downtown L.A. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times