Filipino Americans join massive immigration rally

PINOY Newsmagazine/Philippine News
June 2006

Text and photo by Ted Regencia

CHICAGO — Despite the chilly weather and a threat of rain, about 40 Filipinos marched through the streets of Chicago on May 1 to show solidarity in the call for immigration reform.

The Filipino and Filipino American marchers, representing organizations such as the Committee on Pilipino Issues, Fellowship of Filipino Migrants (FFM) and Gabriela USA waved Philippine and United States flag, while chanting immigration reform slogans.

By police estimates, 400,000 people, predominantly from Chicago’s Latino population, joined the march.

The Filipino marchers assembled as early as 10 a.m. at Union Park in the city’s Westside, but only started to inch forward at around 12 noon. They finally reached Grant Park, the venue of the rally, at around 4 p.m.

Young FilAms sympathetic to the immigration cause also joined in, individually. Bryce Lusterio of Chicago came, bringing with him a large Philippine flag. Manuel Dinawanao and Arnold Margate, Chicago healthcare workers, originally from Dipolog, a city in northwestern Mindanao also showed up to register their support.

Others who did not join the march went directly to Grant Park. Aquilino “Pong” Javier, president of the National Association of Filipino-American United Methodists, got off early from work in downtown Chicago, to be with the Filipino group. Artist and writer Lani Montreal, who teaches at the City Colleges of Chicago, also came to see the day-long rally.

Immigration reform leaders

Meanwhile, two emerging, young Filipino American leaders, Lawrence Benito and Marissa Graciosa of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) were fully engaged in keeping the whole march organized and peaceful. Benito is director of ICIRR’s Newcomer Initiatives, while Graciosa is the organization’s Immigrant Democracy Project coordinator.

While waiting for the arrival of the marchers, which came in waves, speakers led the crowd of a few thousands, in chanting in Spanish: “Si Se Puede” or in English, “It can be done.”

Parents came with their children, many of them still in strollers, to witness the event. Teenagers came with their classmates, while office workers joined their colleagues to be at the venue.

Clearly outnumbered, the Filipino and Filipino American marchers made their presence known through the flags and an oversized red and blue banner of the Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment. A member of Gabriela USA was garbed in a malong, a multi-functional garment worn by Maranao natives of Mindanao, with a megaphone on-hand.

Conspicuously absent were representatives from major Filipino organizations in Chicago such as the Filipino American Council for Greater Chicago, Philippine Week Committee, Philippine Indepen-dence Week Committee and the Council of Presidents. According to the organizers of the Filipino contingent, they sent invitations to the organizations. None of them showed up.

Among the speakers was Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago Archdiocese. In his blessing to the rallyists, Cardinal George said that the issue is not only about immigration, but also human rights as a whole. He called on political leaders to step up and pass a “comprehensive immigration reform legislation.”

The rally ended peacefully at about 6 p.m. with no single incident of police arrest.

Unlike many undocumented Latinos who showed up at the march, Filipino individuals in the same circumstance, who may benefit from the reforms in immigration, also stayed home.

Nerissa Nabua of FFM said, the “next challenge” would be to “reach out” to the acknowledged leaders of these individuals.

As part of that its outreach program, FFM invited a respected Chicago immigration lawyer to talk to a group of out-of-status Filipinos and their supporters, following a community prayer for immigration reform, held May 6, at St. Henry church in Chicago.

Nabua said it is important that Filipinos be more proactive in the immigration reform efforts. But she added, “education and values formation” must also be imparted to them, for them to understand the issue first.

Community organizing

In a separate interview, Benito said that he did not see a major backlash against immigration reform following the massive rally. On the contrary, more and more individuals and organizaitons are “finding their voices…and wanting it to be heard.”

“The rally in fact puts us on the frontpage, forcing the political leadership to consider the immigration reform as one of the most pressing issues of the day,” Benito said.

Benito also said that ICIRR will also continue to reach out to Filipino organizations to make them aware of the many benefits immigration reform will bring to their families, including a faster family-reunification process.

ICIRR is now working with the Catholic Campaign to reach out to Filipino organizations particularly in the suburb, the Cook, DuPage and Lake Counties.

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