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Why we got on the bus

October 3, 2003 | Pages 6 and 7

THEY ARE men and women. They are Latinos, Asians, whites and Blacks. They are the 900 Freedom Riders traveling the length of the continental U.S. to stand up for immigrant rights. Many are unionists, especially members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union, which initiated the campaign for the Freedom Rides. But others represent activist and civil rights organizations across the country.

Many are immigrants themselves, who came to U.S. illegally and have since become naturalized citizens. But some are undocumented--and have taken the risk of speaking out publicly anyway. Still others were born in the U.S. and are on the Freedom Ride to show their solidarity with those in their families, in their communities, in their unions. Socialist Worker talked to some of the Freedom Riders--and asked why they got on the bus.

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I want to continue support the immigrants. I came to the United States many years ago, and now I am an American citizen. But the past was very sad, because we had a lot of troubles coming into the United States--especially coming over the border, 120 degrees in the desert.

That's why we continue working with immigrants today, because they deserve it. The situation in our countries is very sad--the economies especially. That is why people come to the United States. We are human. We have feelings, and we have pain. And now we need the respect. That's why I'm going to Washington, D.C.--to continue to support those people.

We've been on the road for four days. We went through different parts of northeastern California, and there were events scheduled to receive us. Yesterday, we crossed Idaho and stopped at Salt Lake City, Utah, and there was a very large event, with as many as 3,000 people.

This bus is the most interesting and ethnically diverse one, because there are 22 different nationalities. There are people from the Middle East, from Russia, from Ukraine, from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala, from Somalia--and there is an old woman from Korea who survived the holocaust of the Japanese [occupation].

But people are excited because for the first time, we are talking about a collective work in all the communities of the U.S. This is the first time that the unions have taken up this agenda of defending the rights of immigrants. In the past, the unions were in favor of closing the border, but now they understand that they made a mistake and they recognize it. Now they are in favor of those who sustain the U.S. economy--we the immigrants.

People of different nationalities...we have the same goal: to help these undocumented people so that they enjoy the same freedom that we, immigrant and citizen, are enjoying now. We cannot leave them behind. They should be with us. Everybody has a dream. Everybody has a family back in their country to support.

We have the vision that we have to help these people who are here illegally. We have to work harder to unite with one goal for this movement. This is just a continuation of the case of Rosa Parks, who refused to put up with Blacks getting the back of the bus. We wouldn't put up with that now. Now everybody has to be treated equally.

I came here about 30 years ago from Mexico. It was very tough for us when we first came. Discrimination was the biggest issue, and it remains the biggest issue.

They make you overwork--they're always pushing you. It's very uncomfortable to work like this, and especially when you're an immigrant. The solution would be that they have to know that we're here, and that they have to give us respect.

We come to support all these people that are bound for Washington and to ask that justice be done to all the people who are being exploited, who are being abused, and who go every day to their jobs without having the right to a drivers' license. We come say to the government that this is enough--no more discrimination. We want legalization with papers for all the immigrants who are here--and that no one should be exploited.

I was born in the United States, and my parents are from Puerto Rico. Our families are all immigrants. We've all been immigrants at one time, moving from one place to another to find a better living. I see a lot of workers who are from different countries and do a lot of work here, and I want to be able to be there for them and represent them when they feel that they can't--because they're scared or there are barriers, like language.

There is so much injustice--a great deal of injustice against immigrant workers. Their dignity is not respected, and they receive very low wages. I think that if we are working people who contribute to the economy of the country, and we are living here, we have the right to legalization--that we all work with [the proper] documentation, and we can stay in any place without being afraid.

Since September 11 especially, this government has been targeting immigrants. That hit close to home when a couple of my coworkers had problems with their papers and were out of work for a while. And the more I thought about it, I realized the problems of what the U.S. government was trying to do to immigrants. I felt that it wasn't right, and with me being from four different ethnic backgrounds, I couldn't sit back and allow this to happen.

I wanted to play my role in trying to change the immigration laws so that people who have been here, working hard and paying taxes, can be with their families. It's important for me because I have a 2-year-old daughter, and I want her to know the importance of fighting for what you believe in.

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