Who is going to forget the amazing spring of 2006? While flowers blossomed in plentiful colors and birds happily mated on trees, millions of Hispanics took the streets to object the House of Representative's ill-famed James Sensenbrenner bill.
Protesters marched across the country carrying signs saying, "We are not criminals" and chanting "Si se puede": "Yes we can."
Rivers of people wearing white T-shirts and waving American flags took part in rallies advocating immigration reform and contradicting the restrictionist HR 4437 Act passed in December 2005.
"Today we march, tomorrow we vote," was the admonition vocalized by Latino citizens who amicably requested for a path to citizenship for the undocumented community in more than 150 municipalities.
Crowds brought large cities and little towns across the US to a standstill when they walked against the proposed crackdown on the estimated 12 million "illegal" immigrants already here.
At the Mega Marches children sang in English the "Star Spangled Banner." The New York Times published its memorable editorial "People Power." "Ai pledch aliyens to di fleg/Of d Yunaited Esteits of America/An tu di republic for wich it estands/Uan naishion, ander Gad/Indivisibol/Wit liberti an yostis/For oll," printed the Times, stressing a strong Spanish-speaking accent, like mine.
Who is going to forget the face of Laura Ciudad on March 25? Representing the Latin American Coalition, she stated: "you are making history" to the multitude of 7,000 congregated in uptown Charlotte. Her angelical but firm expression was showed nationwide by Univision and worldwide by CNN, along with the story of the half million Los Angeles demonstrators.
Then came the joint statement by House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on April 12. "It remains our intent to produce a strong border security bill that will not make unlawful presence in the United States a felony."
Personally, I am always going to recall the face of disbelief of WBT 1110 Radio reporter Peter Combs on May 1 when 10,000 people filled up Marshal Park. "But they are not angry. They are regular nice people," Combs told me, as he observed families, fathers, mothers, teens, children, babies and senior "citizens" peacefully attending the vigil organized by the local group Communities for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR).
The climax was the approval of the pro-immigrant Senate Bill on May 25, establishing a guest-worker program, and providing the means for millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and possibly become citizens.
The celebration was brief. With the heat waves of the summer, on June 20, House Republican leaders started down the road to kill the Senate proposal. They announced public hearings, to take place before the next congressional elections, on the comprehensive bill they strongly opposed. The illusion faded.
A national survey conducted June 5 to July 3 by the nonpartisan research organization, Pew Hispanic Center reveled that 54 percent of Latinos see an increase in discrimination due to the immigration debate. However, 75 percent said that dispute would prompt more Hispanics to vote in November. And the best conclusion: 63 percent believed "the pro-immigrant marches signal the beginning of a new and lasting social movement."
This past week I spoke with Juan José Gutiérrez, National Coordinator of Latino Movement USA, which organized the Southern California Mega Marches. Among the ideas for the near future:
• to have a National Legislative Phone Call Day, in which Hispanics will contact their senators and representatives
• to have a National Legislative E-mail Day, in which Latinos will send messages to their legislators
• to hold mega demonstrations in each city where the House immigration hearings takes place
"This summer we will have to sweat blood, vamos a tener que sudar la gota gorda," he said.
Rafael Prieto Zartha is the editor of the Charlotte-based Spanish-language newspaper Mi Gente.