Photo by Mary Swope

In a sea of strangers ….

By Howard Vicini
Posted May 1, 2006

Market Street, San Francisco , from the Embarcadero to Civic Center , was awash today with hope and repaved once again with tens of thousands of immigrants’ dreams. Families and friends, very young to very old, chanted, marched, and sang together along the entire route but, for me, it was the sea of young faces that carried the day.

Along Market and up Grove Street to the steps of City Hall, young parents hoisted, carried, and pushed their toddlers, high school friends linked arms and sang, and youthful blue-collar workers marched in solidarity. In my mind, their youth made a louder statement than their voices: ‘We are the face of this Nation’s future.

Most of the chants, slogans, and signs were foreign to me as an English-only speaker and the rhythms were from Mexico , the Caribbean , and Africa , but their theme was one I understood instinctively. They expressed the same hopes and dreams carried my Italian ancestors when they immigrated to this Country a little more than 100 years ago and by my English ancestors, 100 years earlier still.

I believe their message is a timeless, human theme of endurance, strength, paternal love, and family aspiration that belongs to each of us, wherever we happen to be born. So, I marched to acknowledge their rights that I believe to be unalienable … rights that should be above and beyond the reach of political agendas.

At the head of the phalanx, a row of flags bearing an image of planet Earth on a field of blue made a strong statement about universal human rights, but most of the thousands of banners carried today in San Francisco were American flags fluttering on staffs, draped over shoulders, and clenched by children. As two friends with a flag stretched between them marched by me, I heard one admonish the other that he was letting the flag drop too near the ground. One of the few signs in English, shaped like a large heart, read, “United in Love for America .”

On more personal terms, I was there on behalf of two dear friends, JD Tan and Cece Foong, who failed to overcome immigration obstacles that forced them to return to their native Countries in recent months after investing more than ten years each pursuing American educations and American dreams. I am only one of many of their friends who know how much our community was diminished by the loss of these two fine young professionals who studied hard, worked hard, paid taxes, and enriched the lives of everyone around them.

So I marched because it seemed like the least I could do for these friends who chose to comply with the law and leave voluntarily despite an uncertain future in lands that were foreign to them after so many years invested in the United States . It seemed like the least I could do to remember my own immigrant ancestors.

But there in a sea of strangers, marching to a rhythm of foreign drums, I believe I glimpsed a Nation of immigrants being reborn. And, I feel much better for the experience.

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