Brooklyn College students walk out of class and onto Nostrand Avenue in a rally to support of the rights of immigrant workers.
By: Annamarya Scaccia for the Brooklyn College Kingsman (December 2005)
“We didn’t cross the borders, the borders crossed us!” “No borders. No Bosses. No Bombs.” “Immigrants built NYC.” These were just a few of the dictums hand written on picket signs held high in the air Tuesday afternoon when several Brooklyn College students walked out of class and onto Nostrand Avenue in support of immigrant workers rights.
The rally began on the steps outside of Boylan Hall, where outraged students gathered in large numbers as part of an effort to decry the debate in Congress concerning the criminalization of undocumented workers. Fully clad in camouflage gear, student Jonathan Harvey traveled through the crowd handing out white armbands, which students tied tightly around their elbow, while Jeffrey Severe, president of the political party USL, distributed flyers to about the event to those passing by.
“The white armband projects the status of illegal immigrants. They’re not red, white and blue,” said Harvey, treasurer of the Brooklyn College Students for Global Justice and member of the Brooklyn College Anti-War Coalition. “It’s saying we’re all this neutral color underneath.
Before the students rallied onto the streets of Flatbush, which began at 12:16 p.m. in representation of December 16, 2005, the day when the House of Representatives passed a bill that would criminalize illegal aliens, they listened intently to Azael Vigil, a Puerto Rican and Latin studies major, read his poem “My Father Sold Me Out,” which symbolized his attitude toward government leaders in support of the bill. “My father sold me out. Refuses to include me in his plan,” he shouted. “So, now I am crying out loud ‘stranger’ in my own land.”
After Vigil finished reading his poem to the crowd, other students stood up to give their own speech. Showing solidarity, one student, Javier Genao, also a member of the Brooklyn College Students for Global Justice and Brooklyn College Anti-War Coalition, talked about the class of civilizations and read from the flyer that was distributed. “We say,” he read. “We will settle for nothing less than full amnesty and dignity for the millions of undocumented workers presently in the U.S. We believed that increased enforcement is a step in the wrong direction and will only serve to facilitate more tragedies along the Mexican-U.S. border in terms of deaths and family separation.”
“America is a nature of immigrants. Puritans were extremely illegal immigrants when they came here and didn’t respect the laws of the people of the land,” said Genao, who hopes to raise awareness on campus with students, workers, faculty, and administration regarding the current issue concerning undocumented workers in America. “They are now in power so how dare they now say who comes here, what they should hear and what they should learn.”
Students dispersed from the steps of Boylan and began their march to Campus Road, following behind a large Puerto Rican flag that waved dominantly through the air. The flag, which according to student David Vargas, was used to represent “all Hispanics,” as well as other nationalities such as Arabs, Asians, Italians, Dominicans, Russians and Latin Americans, who could be heard proudly declaring their nationality through the crowd. However, there was some speculation among protesters for the reason of only having a Puerto Rican flag. According to some, it was the only flag readily available. To Vargas, that didn’t matter.
“This whole day today is about equality,” said Vargas, member of both the Puerto Rican Alliance and PEEX Club. “My reason for marching is because my parents came here with a dream and they had kids and grand kids and their dream is still not realized. I’m doing this to have it realized. Equality is not dead, it’s hibernating for now and we have to free it.”
After exiting the Campus Road entrance of the Brooklyn College campus, the students made their way onto Nostrand Avenue. Chanting “USA,” they stopped outside of the US Army Career Center, blocking the entrance. For a few minutes they stood in front of the building before making their way to the front of the Social Security Administration building, located on Nostrand Avenue and Avenue I. Ignoring the efforts of a security guard who tried to force the students to leave the front of the building, Harvey began chanting “this is what democracy looks like, show me what democracy looks like,” and students followed suit before making their way to Midwood High School. According to one protester, the students were off to the high school, located on Bedford Avenue across the street from Brooklyn College, “to make some noise so high school kids can be aware.”
Moving back through the campus and exiting through the campus’ Bedford entrance, students marched to Midwood High School and stood across the street in front of an empty parking lot. Students chanted “no deportation, yes naturalization” and a few spectators from the high school watched the crowd in curiosity. Winding down at around 1:25 p.m., the protesters made their way back to the steps of Boylan before heading to the rally at Union Square in Manhattan at 3:30 p.m., to march with fellow CUNY students. According to Harvey, the CUNY contingent was organized in large part by the CUNY Coalition for Immigration Rights which the Brooklyn College Students for Global Justice are cooperating with.
In spite of their efforts to raise awareness, not everyone could join in the protest, which has been described by Harvey as “a spontaneous and exciting display of pro-active citizenship and grassroots political participation.” Dressed in black attire and a red apron, a Hispanic worker for Ace Hardware, located on Nostrand and Avenue I, lamented “I would gladly join them if I didn’t have to pay rent this week.”