‘In with the wind below’

by Jeff Sykes

As the diverse crowd gathered on the lawn in front of Faith Action International House on N. Greene Street in the glory that is the first Saturday in May, I wasn’t sure what to think.

The crowd was small, but active as some held balloons, some held a portable chalkboard and others made posters at a small table set out in the fresh grass, still mixed with straw from what I gathered was a recent over seeding.

I was a bit apprehensive, not knowing anyone there and holding my black Cannon digital camera, I was worried that I might seem like an intruder. The event was billed as a Unity March to raise awareness about how federal immigration policy is outdated given the reality of 12 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States at any given time.

There were small groups of people milling about, and it was at once that I saw my friend, the artist and activist Todd Drake, himself decked out with his Nikon fitted with a large fish-eyed lens. We exchanged greetings and I found myself in the middle of the crowd. Todd began shooting again, and as I’ve done on so many assignments before, I decided the best way to overcome my intrusive apprehension is to just do it.

I had only taken a couple of shots before someone asked me who I was and what I was doing? Once I told them I was a reporter on assignment, word seemed to spread quickly and I went about my business.

There were the three drummers from the band Africa Unplugged providing a steady rhythm for the march to come.

There were students from Elon University huddled together and talking with each other. There were Latinos of all ages, a few of which continued to eye me steadily with each shutter click.

Finally, two men came over to me and we began to talk. With their thick, Spanish accents they began to tell me “not all Latinos are bad” and “the immigration process takes too long.” I assured them that they were “preaching to the choir,” a figure of speech that was lost in translation. “I’m one-quarter Hispanic,” I said to them.

Assured that I wasn’t un policia encubierto, the two men drifted away. I watched as the uniformed Greensboro police officers arrived and arranged their vehicles for the march that would take us from N. Greene Street to center of the city and a rally outside of city hall.

The Rev. David Fraccaro, executive director of Faith Action International House, floated through the crowd providing encouragement and finally taking to the wide, wrap-around porch to offer final instructions and an overview of the march itself.

And in a few moments they were off. The crowed seemed to grow at the last minute as people gathered in the street. The large banner out front, crisp in the afternoon sun with its green, yellow and orange shapes, read “Greensboro Can’t Wait: Now is the time for immigration reform.”

As the march gathered steam their chants grew louder.

“Now is the time! For immigration reform!” “Now is the time! To practice what we preach!” “Now is the time! To keep families together!” I walked along briskly on the sidewalk, positioning myself for shots as they appeared. We turned left onto Lindsay Street and it was there that I noticed the two small boys, seven or eight years old, just about the same age as my son. They carried a white poster board sign with the message “Keep our families together! No deportation. The American Dream of Hispanics.”

Latino immigration, especially from Mexico and Central America, in my view is a morally complex issue. Yes there are lines on maps and laws on books, esoteric matters of fact in the face of the poverty and violence that drives “the wind below,” as the lyricist Zach De La Rocha once described the desperate masses that find their way across razor wire fences and waterways and culverts lit intermittently with border patrol spotlights, searching for the prosperity so many of us take for granted here in these Estados Unidos.

Later, as we turned the corner in front of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum onto W. February One Place, the crowd paused and formed a circle around the drummers from Africa Unplugged. The sun was now much lower in the sky and the crowd was suffused with the softer light of early evening.

The solemnity of the march was forgotten for a few minutes as salsa dancing broke out and this historically named side street became a blazing fiesta, if only temporarily.

Moments later the march ended in front of the Melvin Municipal Building with speeches. An immigration attorney asked those in the crowd who had been separated from family members because of deportation to step forward. Most were hesitant, but “we are your friends” she assured them, and soon a dozen or more people formed a semicircle in front of her.

Three small girls began to pass out flowers to the crowd. Their beautiful innocence a reminder of the way we all start out, before the complexities of politics and economics impose structure on the possibility of freedom.

Three thousand people have been deported since Saturday’s march and the moment in which I type this now. Another thousand will be deported between the time I file these words and they are printed in the paper. Some 368,000 people in all deported in 2013.

I caught up with Rev. Fraccaro to ask him why the march was important.

“That’s not the best of the United States, to have people suffering because of a broken immigration system,” Fraccaro said. “We know too many people who are suffering, and we care too much to remain silent.” !