“Oh no, I’m not going to bed now.” After sixteen hours on the bus, an afternoon at the rally and an evening wandering around the Capitol Mall, after the mere three hours of sleep at La Quinta Hotel the night before, after a never-ending journey to Washington that took the riders twenty-one hours from Montgomery to the hotel right outside D.C., Israel said he had no intention of going to bed.
“I would just have dreams about the rally and Washington and wouldn’t be able to rest,” he professed. Instead, Israel told me as we were arriving in Montgomery around 2 on a cloudy Thursday afternoon, a storm system threateningly approaching central Alabama, he was going to hang out with his mother and cousins and neighbors at the trailer park where he lives on Troy Highway and tell them all about D.C. and the rally. And the great people he met. It was time to share, not to sleep.
Four busses left Alabama on Thursday early in the morning to join the thousands of people that from all over the country were rallying at the Capitol to demand a just immigration reform. The busses departed from Decatur, Birmingham and Montgomery.
I mostly rode on the latter. As we were approaching home on Thursday, people walked to the front of the bus and shared their reflections on the trip. None of them said anything negative about the organization (there was surely room for improvement…), nor complained about the too many unnecessary hours on the road. The brown people of Alabama understood what it meant to organize a trip for more than 200 people with few resources, understood that the leaders of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice had worked until exhaustion to prepare for this important trip to D.C. Most of the people, it’s worth reminding, have withstood much worse: crossing the desert, being held at gunpoint, or just being on their feet at work for 12-14 hours; they are used to exhausting experiences. They are resilient people: they are immigrants. And this time, they were actually going to Washington to proudly show their presence to the rest of country, to reclaim their contribution to “the greatest democracy in the world,” the land of opportunity where so many people from all around he Global South and beyond want to come to live and thrive.
They brought their kids: one, little Ashley, only a few month-old. Others, like Natividad, brought along her two little girls, fact that did to prevent her from being the captain of the Montgomery bus. Her husband, Robert, helped with the girls and supported her leading efforts.
Holding the mike tight, participants thanked the organizers, expressed gratitude and respect for their work and the opportunity to go to D.C.
Several people talked about God leading the just struggle of the immigrants; others, like Francisco “Pancho” from Opelika, talked about how he felt a profound sense of communion with the people who had come to the march. “The very fact that you are here, your presence, gives me energy,” Pancho said. “Seeing so many people from all over the States united by the same spirit at the rally… I felt that they were all my brothers and sisters…”
Others, like Victor who had left Foley at 1 in the morning with his family, whose car had broken down on I-65, talked about the ones who went on the trip as being “extraordinary.” Ordinary people say, I’d like to go, but I can’t, Victor reminded the participants.
The trip was an amazing experience for me. I think the fact that the journey was so long made it even more memorable: almost an endurance test.
And the dreamers. When the busses unloaded two hundred people at a local Hardy’s on the way, I saw folks trying to save a spot for a friend, and some, well, skipping the line. But after a while, I realized that in most cases, there was a reason for such a behavior: one teenager, for instance, was helping not just his mother ordering some food in English but another older lady “who had skipped” the line. He was protecting them, making sure they got what they ordered. Things are not always the way it looked.
The greatest inspiration for me were indeed these young people whose enthusiasm for being part of this great movement and rally and for just being in D.C., most of whom, for the first time, was overwhelming. As the rally was winding down, Mariana, 18, and her brother Tony, 16, from Dadeville, José, 18, from Pelham, and Melvin, 16, from Alex City, the indefatigable Helen Rivas from Birmingham and I set to go see the monument Martin Luther King Jr. We walked through the blooming cherry trees while mingling with the many families and individuals who were out enjoying the magic of the dusk along and around the Capitol Mall. As a good Southern girl, Mariana craved for some sweet tea, hard to find in D.C., while Tony experimented with my camera and took some very nice pictures.
We never made it to the MLK jr. monument as we were running out of time (the busses were scheduled to leave at 9), but the dreamers decided they wanted to walk a bit more and reach the Lincoln Memorial. Melvin and José ran up the stairs all the way to the Lincoln statue. “A dream has come true,” said Melvin, visibly moved.
It’s Saturday morning, and I have yet to be able to rest properly.
Israel was right after all. I had to share the excitement with as many people as I could or else, I would not be able to get the trip to D.C. and its people off my vivid dreams.