Children holding a 50-foot banner of American flags led a march in downtown Fresno on Saturday in support of immigration reform to provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship for millions.
The noon march and a rally beforehand drew more than 300 people to the Fresno County Courthouse Park. Speakers included city council members, educators, undocumented migrant mothers and Mexican and Hmong community leaders.
The event, one of 130 nationwide, was part of the National Day for Dignity and Respect. Events in big cities like Los Angeles drew thousands.
The march and rally came the same week that Gov. Jerry Brown signed new laws that included allowing undocumented immigrants to get a driver's license.
Alex Esquivel, 12, marched around the courthouse park with his father Juan, 37, in a sea of American flags. Alex, who will have to wait a few years before casting a ballot, was one of many wearing shirts that read "I am a voter" in red, white and blue lettering.
"We're helping people that want opportunities, and without immigration reform, they can't do that," Alex said, adding that undocumented people have American dreams, too.
Without immigration reform, Alex said, he's worried his father could be deported and they would be separated. His father has lived in Fresno for 20 years and works as a welder. Juan Esquivel is an active parent representative at McLane High School, and his eldest son is studying political science at Fresno State.
Juan Esquivel said he hopes people can come together to address immigration issues like a family would. Healthy, safe families are united, not divided, he said.
"Spanish people also need to get involved in politics so we can help with this very beautiful nation," Esquivel said. "And we want to ask Congress to help us, so we can help them."
The rallying cry Saturday was, "Si, se puede," Spanish for "Yes, we can do it." The march ended in a circle on the grass, with people holding hands and praying together.
Event organizers touted recent successes, including a bill signed by Brown on Saturday morning that prohibits law enforcement from detaining people for deportation if they are arrested for a minor crime. It was one of eight immigration-related measures signed by the governor Saturday.
"Things are looking positively here in our Fresno community," said Maggie Thao, political organizer for Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers West, one of many organizations that spearheaded the event under the umbrella of the Fresno Immigration Reform Coalition.
"California is definitely leading the way. I'm very happy with the event today. This is a culmination of everything happening positively here."
Saturday's gathering also drew many Hmong and African Americans. Hmong speakers included Fresno City Council President Blong Xiong and Nhia Long Vang, a Hmong major.
"They (Congress) need to get it done, and get it done quickly," Xiong said of immigration reform. "They need to understand we contribute and work hard."
Different cultures were celebrated with traditional Hmong dances and an Aztec dance that featured indigenous drumming.
"This is multi-cultural," said Melanie Vang, an event organizer who is employed by United Healthcare Workers West. "Different citizens and different cultures, that's what makes us American."
Reach the reporter at (559) 441-6386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.