The searing sun didn’t bother Heladio Arispe, 48, as he walked among the thousands of people who marched Thursday in the streets of downtown Los Angeles. He’s a street vendor and has trekked many more miles in worse weather all over the county, peddling his wares wherever he can.
May Day is a big event for him, both for business and for personal strife: He is undocumented and works in areas where street vending is not allowed. In effect, he and his job are illegal.
During the annual celebration of laborers’ rights, he sold rainbow umbrella hats for $5 each to ward off the 90-degree temperatures heating up workers, labor union organizers and various other activist groups.
Streets were closed and traffic was diverted for hours, as police patrols stood close by the peaceful crowd helping direct cars and people.
Morning and afternoon brought a constant soundtrack of Aztec drums beating in the rhythm of Cumbia dance music. Demonstrators beseeching President Barack Obama for a change in immigration policy swapped stories and information about their respective unions.
Arispe has attended May Day in Los Angeles every year for about 20 years but said he has seen little change in attitudes towards immigration.
“All we can do is keep walking every year and hopefully something will happen,” said Arispe, who lives in Los Angeles. “We live with that hope.”
Internationally known as a day to honor workers, May Day’s festivities focused on immigration reform.
Though in the thousands, Thursday’s crowds were far smaller than in 2006, when nearly a million people protested proposed legislation that would have classified immigrants in the country illegally as felons.
Families with children held up signs reading “Don’t separate families” and “Stop deportations.”
Amid a narrowing time frame for Congress to pass an immigration reform bill, activists are attempting to put more pressure on the president to use his executive order powers to stop deportations.
“A lot of workers are abused because they are undocumented,” Rosa Barrientos, 20, said. “Some employers know that people won’t complain or feel like they can’t.”
Barrientos addressed the cheering crowd from the mobile stage, a truck that followed the march from the corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Broadway to the Metropolitan Detention Center on Alameda Street, where some people awaiting deportation are held.
Her father worked at a fabric factory and wasn’t paid by an employer for three months, she said. His employer regularly threatened to expose that he was undocumented, so he left the job.
Maria Elena Durazo is executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents local labor unions and is one of the main May Day event organizers.
“Immigration reform means no to wage theft and no to the abuse,” Durazo said after the march. “This is the theme of today.”
Barrientos, like her parents, is undocumented. But she was granted a reprieve from deportation in 2012 with the presidential order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which grants temporary legal status to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. In the fall, she’ll be attending UC Irvine.
“If President Obama can do something for us young people with deferred action,” Barrientos said, “he can do something for our parents.”
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