By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The most awe-inspiring scene of the day took place over the 101 freeway, where, on three adjacent overpasses, a white-clad stream of revelers flowed across, against an uninterrupted soundtrack of din provided by gridlocked trucks and celebrating SUVs underneath. At one point, the marchers draped an enormous American flag over the bridge, nearly reaching down to the lanes. They were all headed toward Union Station to join the second rally, at MacArthur Park, in what seemed like an inevitable progress toward an urban promised land. It was easy to get lost in it, even if you weren’t Latino.
On the crowded escalators rising up to Macarthur Park, I met a contingent from Occidental College whose parents are Nigerian, Filipino, Indian, Pakistani, Latin American, and Native American. They seemed like MTV contestants hand-selected for diversity. When I approached them, they called out to their friends to “come get your interview on.” A mixed-race boy spoke of the difficulties his father faced when he first came to the States — and said, “Xenophobia affects everybody, even this guy here.” He pointed to his Mexican friend: “I could get imprisoned for helping him out.”
It was 4 p.m. and kids were just getting out of school, flocking to the gathering from every nook and cranny of the city, invigorating the Macarthur Park march down Wilshire with energy and a kind of start-of-the-summer delirium. The sun blazed, the boulevard rose and fell, and the buildings acted like a thrilling echo chamber, amplifying the spontaneous waves of cheering whenever they broke out. It confirmed that Wilshire is by far the best street for marching, less claustrophobic and less isolated than downtown. Passing a Mexican neighborhood into Koreatown, watching the languages of storefronts change, you feel you’re witnessing a living mural enacting the recent history of the U.S.
“It’s impossible to erase this many people,” said Rie, a female Japanese student watching from the sidewalk, whose awkward English revealed more than the polished kind. We joined a contingent I remembered from L.A.’s 2003 anti-war marches: The Bus Riders Union, which calls itself a “multiracial think-tank/act-tank.” Unmistakable in their bright-yellow shirts, this youthful poly-racial smorgasbord of Koreans, blacks, Latinos, Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Arabs and whites is the most uplifting, creative, infectiously excited group to march with. A drum line used boisterous rhythms to back up cheerleaders, who sang devastating taunts and raps: “Sensenbrenner! Sew your OWN clothes/ Pick your OWN fruit/ Clean your OWN house!” Each person would take turns leading the group in clever bits of street theater incorporating aspects of their culture with chants delivered in Spanish, Korean and English.
The setting sun hovered over Wilshire, a prize for those willing to walk four miles into the horizon. A crowd of more than 30 people lifted up a huge circular quilt made up of flags from the 40 countries with the most immigrants to the U.S. — I saw both my parents’ flags in it — then walked around in a circle, as though around a Maypole, the way people are supposed to do on May Day. Under the quilt, children of indiscernible races ran through a kaleidoscope of colors, awash in an immigrant patriotism everyone hoped would last more than a day.