When all eyes turned to New Orleans, I thought, finally, things will change.
High school kids gathered outside Madison East as the school day began on Thursday, March 18, ready to make the two-mile trek to the Capitol for the giant Day Without Latinos rally—the largest protest in downtown Madison since the historic protests of Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting Act 10.
Students wearing butterfly wings carried “migration is beautiful” signs. Shy Spanish-speaking parents declined to comment, but waved American flags as they accompanied teens and younger siblings on the march downtown.
“Stop deporting our parents,” one homemade protest sign declared.
“Wisconsin Is Not Arizona,” said another, referring to the heavy-handed deportation laws passed by Republican legislators in the border state.
It was a moving scene: an explicit show of support for immigrants, against the bullying and intolerance exemplified by two bills in the Wisconsin state legislature, Assembly Bill 450, which prohibits local governments from restricting immigration status inquiries by police and other public employees, and Senate Bill 533, which forbids municipalities from issuing a variety of photo ID cards and disallows ID cards issued by cities and villages from being used to meet the state’s new voter ID requirement.
As the students marched, cars drove by blowing their horns, prompting cheers from the marchers. One woman leaned out her window and gave the group the finger, prompting shocked titters from the kids.
“When the anti-immigrant bills were proposed, we became involved and started attending the hearings,” said Guadalupe Salmeron, senior class president at East, who helped plan the walkout. Salmeron moved to Madison from Mexico with her parents thirteen years ago. She and her friends were dismayed by the new legislation in Wisconsin, she said, as well as the anti-immigrant tone of the Republican presidential primary debates.
By mid-day, 14,000 people had converged on the Capitol, according to Madison police.
“Buenos dias,” said a rally monitor in a bright orange vest, beaming when an Anglo passerby responded in Spanish.
Speeches in Spanish and Spanish-language music reinforced the feeling of a cultural show of support.
Restaurants and other businesses closed for the day to honor the contribution of Latino workers, without whom, protest organizers pointed out, economic activity in the state would cease.
“We are people who work hard and contribute to the Wisconsin economy,” said Monica Covarrubias, a tax preparer who immigrated from Mexico to Madison eleven years ago. Covarrubias was holding a sign with the slogan that doubled as a Twitter hashtag for the rally: “Wisconsin Is Not Arizona.”
“We love Wisconsin. We came here to work and find something better for our families, and we think these anti-immigrant laws are a little racist,” Covarrubias added.
As a tax preparer, she said, she sees that everyone helps support the government and society. “We have the same obligations, so we should have the same rights,” she said. “Everyone contributes something. We should accept cultural diversity.”
Ruth Conniff is editor-in-chief of The Progressive.