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NAKASEC blogs: Meeting America’s Heart of Darkness (report back from Arpaio march in Phoenix, AZ)

By January 17, 20102 Comments

Originally posted on Asian Pacific Americans for Progress
Saturday, January 16, 2010

It’s hard to begin talking about today’s march against Sheriff Arpaio without sharing more about the pueblo Guadalupe.  In the pueblo, there are only around 5,500 people.  But their small numbers don’t tell the stories about Guadalupe’s unique, close-knit community, or anything of their history.

Born in Arizona, Cesar Chavez was inspired and connected with Guadalupe through the course of his work.  Guadalupe was then the first city in Arizona (and possibly in America) to recognize Cesar Chavez Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Guadalupe’s Latino and indigenous populations are largely low-income and face hardship and police brutality on a daily basis.  Despite this, they openly welcomed our Los Angeles group as people in the same larger struggle. 

Yesterday, sitting at the dinner table  of a community cornerstone and then joining their nightly cop-watch crew put us in the right mindset for our march to the Maricopa County Jail. The people of Guadalupe don’t have a fancy website, or a flawless organizational structure, but they know what’s important, urgent and just.

Today, our entire day was prefaced by an indigenous ceremony, which culminated in an invitation for every person present to be included in a tight circle. After this shared blessing, we began our march.

The march numbered in the thousands and what really stood out was the presence of families.  Children and their parents were holding hands, strollers mixed with canes for elderly folks and support teams ensured that everyone was hydrated and healthy.

Toward the ending point of our march, we came face to face with the institutions which have come to represent brutality rather than community safety.  Ironically, at one point, the phalanx of police were putting up a barricade to protect themselves regardless of the lack of any aggression from the crowds.

There was a small scuffle near the end of the march that caused some dispersal of the marchers, leading to a cancellation of our planned human chain around the jail complex. We were here to bring light to the brutal and racist actions of Sheriff Arpaio and we were not going to allow the escalation of violence. We were here to march peacefully and voice of reason. The march ended with spirited speeches and cultural performances at a makeshift stage facing the entrance Maricopa County jail.

We were the Korean and Korean American sisters in a sea of Latinos and indigenous people.  People thanked us throughout the day for our mere presence, which felt strange because they were not aware that this issue impacts our communities deeply, too.  In L.A., we are used to multiethnic coalitions and realize that while this movement is national, there are nuances on local leadership and representation.  For out-of-state groups like us, joining the march was important for us and them. It is when we reach beyond ourselves and link hands that we truly build a national movement.

The National Asian American Pacific Islander week of action from Jan. 12-20 is a collaborative effort among national, state and local AAPI organizations and allies to demonstrate the collective power and voice of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the comprehensive immigration reform debate. Coordinated outreach and events across the nation will engage community members in the broader Reform Immigration FOR America campaign and show Congress that the AAPI community is serious about demanding reform this year.

Olivia Park writes on behalf of NAKASEC (National Korean American Service & Education Consortium) and the Korean Resource Center.