Freedom Ride: Confrontations at the End of the Journey
From El Diario
October 5, 2003

By Izadeli Montalvo

The long peregrination of immigrants, documented and undocumented, that crossed the country in a caravan of buses to demand equal rights concluded yesterday in Queens with a rally that brought music, food, propaganda of all types -- and controversy.

A range of flags from different places around the world, the majority of them from Latin America, adorned the giant park that served as a speaking place where dozens of labor organizations, politicians and activists sent a new message of hope to the multitudes.

Political figures present at the demonstration were Councilmember Joel Rivera, Assemblyman Jose Peralta, Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, Congressman Charles Rangel and the Speaker of the City Council Gifford Miller, among others.

“We are here to say ‘yes’ to the legalization of immigrants,” said Peralta. “We are here to say ‘yes’ to equal rights for workers. We want to say ‘yes’ to civil rights and reuniting families,” said the Queens assemblyman.

Although superficially the event seemed to be under control, not everything went as planned. This situation provoked various confrontations between organizers, the security company contracted for the demonstration and the police, according to activist Jerry Dominguez.

Dominguez, one of the main coordinators of the event, had several heated confrontations with police officers, security personnel and other Anglo organizers because he felt like the Hispanic community was being disrespected in various ways.

Witnesses to the confrontation said that the activist was thrown out of the event and was even threatened with arrest.

“It bothers me that they put up so many metal barriers, as if we were cattle, and there was in my opinion an inadequate representation of the different immigrants of the world on the stage and very little Spanish was spoken,” Dominguez said.

Witnesses say at one point the activist became angry when security personnel, police officers and other organizers did not allow him to access an area behind the stage, though he had an unlimited pass.

“I have a leadership position and I worked from start to finish on this… it bothers me that they didn’t let us cook with propane gas, that they took chairs away from women and children and that the even took the sticks from the flags… it is like, you invite me, you use me and then you spit in my face,” said Dominguez.

One witness, and other Mexican organizers, disapproved of Dominguez’ actions as he confronted the police and other collaborators when they stopped him and questioned his identity.

“He threw off his hat and stomped on the floor and started to insult them with bad words when they didn’t let him go pass. It is shameful, he shouldn’t act like this because he is a leader,” said an organizer who asked not to be identified.

“We all should speak the English language, there shouldn’t be division because this is a struggle that belongs to all of us, not only to Hispanic people,” said Noel Rodriguez, a witness to the incident. “He wanted to go in the back door and they didn’t let him, so he started to insult them, saying he was being discriminated against for being Hispanic,” he added.

Chuck Mojas, another organizer, defended Dominguez, saying that he had been treated with a lack of respect. “He is a very dedicated person and very committed to his community. There were no African representatives that spoke on the stage, there was some aggression, people of color felt excluded by white organizers that wanted to control the event.”

On the other hand, activists working for immigrants and labor organizations both say that they need to continue fighting hard to better labor conditions and reform the laws that separate families.

“We are looking to improve laws about working conditions for immigrants and to make it easier to get visas,” said John Patrick Edmons, an organizer with the union OPEIU, local 153 of the AFL-CIO.

The group “United Immigrants” from local 75, a union that is dedicated to protecting workers that labor in dangerous conditions, such as being exposed to asbestos and chemicals, called for unity within its own organization, where apparently there are differences among leaders.

“We have the jobs that workers with papers don’t want to do but we don’t have the support of the government that we need,” said Miguel Morales, one of the members of the group.

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Translated from Spanish By Erica Pearson

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