Henry Soliveres, Justice 4 Immigrants Filipino Coalition, email: justice4immigrants @ yahoo.com
Robert Roy, Philippine Forum, email: philforum96 @ yahoo.com
New York– More than 200 Filipinos from the New York and New Jersey areas skipped work and school today, May 1st 2006, to join over 1 million more immigrants in a rally and march for immigrant rights in Manhattan’s historic Union Square. May 1st is traditionally celebrated around the world as International Workers Day, except in the US.
Launched as “A Day Without An Immigrant”, a national call for boycott of work, school, shopping, and selling rapidly spread across several US cities, including New York City, where blocks of businesses in all five boroughs shutdown in solidarity with the struggle of immigrant workers and families against the broken US immigration system. Students all over the city also participated in massive walk-outs from classrooms to join immigrant workers and their families in a massive march from Union Square to Foley Square.
The boycott call gathered support as a national tactic of exercising economic muscle to expose the economic value and contribution of immigrants in the US, while legislators in Washington DC continue the heated debate over immigration law.
The Justice 4 Immigrants Filipino Coalition (J4I), a broad formation of Filipino organizations and individuals addressing US immigration policy flaws and demanding for more pro-migrant reforms, marched side-by-side with another national Filipino alliance, Bayan USA, in a significant show of Filipino community force and unity amongst the city’s multi-ethnic mosaic of a march.
Amongst the majority of Latin American marchers, J4I was easily identifiable with a large and tall Philippine flag, as well as two giant-sized puppets of Filipino workers reading “Yes to Legalization, No to Criminalization” and “Faster Visa Processing, More Family Visas Now”.
Filipino marchers mixed Spanish chants with Filipino chants, invigorating the agitated crowd, and offering them a taste of Filipino cultural pride. From the towering buildings of Manhattan, onlookers from above cheered the sea of marchers below on Broadway, making noise from their windows by banging pots and some even throwing confetti.
Among the convening concerns of the J4I member organizations was the swift passage of US House Resolution 4437 in the House of Representatives last December. The bill would stand to criminalize undocumented persons and their supporters. J4I has led several Filipino community actions in Queens calling for a scrapping of the bill, and other “copy-cat” bills in the US Senate.
“Today we are not only marching to fight for our basic human rights, we are marching as a community that is proud to be Filipino. We are proud because we can never forget who we are. That is why we cannot accept these immigration laws that disrespect us,” stated 14-year old Malaika Queano of Kinding Sindaw, a Filipino indigenous cultural organization that is also a member organization fo J4I. Like many other youth, Queano did not attend school to join the march and was accompanied by her parents and sister, all immigrants from the Philippines.
Queano also marched donning her mother’s nursing scrubs. “My mother is a hardworker and provider for us. This country should treat her with respect, not like a criminal, just because she is an immigrant.”
“We enjoin ourselves with our immigrant sisters and brothers to fight these racist and repressive immigration bills in Congress, but we must also unite as Filipinos to bring a collective voice to our particular immigrant experience in this country, even if we have to amplify it through boycott,” stated Robyn Rodriguez of J4I.
Robyn Rodriguez, a sociology professor from Rutgers University, who marched with her 8 year-old son Amado, stressed the coalition’s calls for full and unconditional legalization for all and swifter family reunification measures via more family visas and faster family visa processing.
Of the 4 million Filipinos in the US, approximately 1 million remain undocumented or TNT [tago-ng-tago]. Over 70% enter the US through family sponsorship. Yet because of the high-volume of family visa applicants from the Philippines, Filipinos are given one of the longest wait periods for family visa processing– up to 23 years.
Rachel Redondiez, secretary-general of Bayan USA, stated the struggle of Filipino immigrants in the US for just and humane immigration reforms is not separate from the broader Filipino people’s struggle for democratic reforms in the Philippines. “After all it is the dire economic conditions and political turmoil in the Philippines that drive our compatriots to leave out of basic survival, not by choice. Right now the Macapagal-Arroyo regime back home has proven its rotten character in worsening the nation’s chronic economic crisis with her adherence to the neo-liberal economic dictates of the US. She resolves the joblessness problem by sending us abroad to find work.”
Another Bayan USA representative, Berna Ellorin, served as co-chair for the main Union Square rally. In the opening portion, Ellorin diversified the mainly Spanish and English-language program with highlighting the immigration demands and contributions of the massive Filipino immigrant community in the US, the third largest in the country. Other speakers included Reverend Jesse Jackson, actress Susan Sarandon, and dozens of immigrant community representatives.
Bayan USA, a chapter of the nationwide alliance in the Philippines, played a convening role in the broad May 1 Coalition of over 100 immigrant community and progressive labor organizations responsible for adapting the national call for boycott and organizing the Union Square mobilization, one of the largest demonstration’s in New York City history. Both Bayan USA and J4I are active members of the May 1 Coalition’s Steering Committee.
Marching organizations and groups from the Justice 4 Immigrants Filipino Contingent included Philippine Forum, Anakbayan New York/New Jersey, NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, Migrante International, Movement for a Free Philippines, Filipino-American Human Services Inc. (FAHSI), Sandiwa National Filipino-American Youth, Critical Filipina/Filipino Studies Collective, Kinding Sindaw, Bayan USA and others.