BALDWIN PARK, June 25, 2005--By noon, about eight hundred counter
protestors stood against the invasion of Baldwin Park by Save Our State from
Ventura and Minutemen from Arizona, both militant anti-migration groups, and the
Nazi National Vanguard, a white supremacist group, together numbering about
forty or fifty. This was the invaders' second unsuccessful effort to attract attention to a
monument at the Baldwin Park Metrolink station entitled Danzas Indigenas
by renowned artist Judy Baca, which commemorates a Tongva ("Gabrielino")
Indian uprising led by Toypurinah against the San Gabriel Mission and the history of the land
from that time forward. At their first incursion on May 25, SOS had declared
inscriptions on the monument referring to indigenous Mexican culture
I was escorted into the celebration by two friends, one looking particularly
sharp in his brown beret. We were met by eight hundred celebrants who had
come to assert their Indigenous, Mexican, and Chicano culture in the face of the
racist intruders, surrounded by cops. A mild-mannered poet burst into a
fierce diatribe proclaiming "Genocide alert!" in a poem about
Kristallnacht. An interlingual agitprop teatro group told a history of the
Native and Mexican land grabs. Behind the tarp that hung as a
backdrop, young actors hastily tore off one costume and slipped into the
next. They parodied a white SOS member in the large, droopy American-flag
hat who had appeared at an earlier demonstration and Lupe Moreno, the Latina spokesperson
for SOS. El Pelado ended the acto with a costume transformation revealing
him not to be a clown, but a proud Chicano declaring "Ya basta!".
Under the omnipresent helicopter, musicians and speakers, including the Jornaleros
Unidos de Valle San Gabriel, a group that had joined the Alhambra demonstration
in support of day laborers and against Save Our State, extended their support. Danza
Cuetemoc from Lincoln Park and from Baldwin Park performed to the north along Ramona
Boulevard for passing motorists.
Near the police line across the Metrolink station's parking lot, thirty large
signs on ten-foot poles staked out the southwest boundary of the
celebration. The signs interspersed various pictures of non-Europeans with
"Good Art Confuses Racists," "We
Remember Toypurina," "The land doesn't belong to us. We belong
to the land," and "He thinks the land belongs to him, and that we plan
to reconquer it. His mind is upside down." When those holding
the signs turned around, the National Vanguard, SOS, and Minuteman protestors at the
other end of
the park saw on the signs silhouettes of backs of people identified as
immigrants and in Spanish and English, "America Turns Its Back on
Piñatas of Jim Gilchrist, leader of the Minuteman Project, and Arnold
Schwarzenegger were strung over the crowd, and giant puppets in the Bread and
Puppets tradition, one with red, brown, black and white faces pointing to the
four directions, swirled across the lawn. Police videographers (from the L.A.
Impact unit, which investigates major drug
dealing and organized crime) not surprisingly were more interested in gathering
footage of those attending than the cultural celebration in front of them.
Among the celebrants were an assortment of Mexican
cultural, anarchist, socialist, and groups. A dozen young Brown
Berets from San Diego, crisply disciplined in starched brown uniforms and led by
a dignified older woman in a slightly worn beret, mingled with Mechistas and
hundreds of neighborhood
Chicanas and Chicanos.
While about five hundred of the largely Chicano/a and Indigenous crowd stayed
at the celebration, about three hundred counter protestors walked nearly three
miles around cordoned-off city streets to confront the racists. A small
contingent of socialists, including a Franco-Iraqi, invited me to hook up with
them, and three Chicanas later joined our group as we wended our way through
Baldwin Park side streets, getting shooed off by cops at their barricades, and
asking neighbors for directions and where we could get one of those Big
Gulps. As we passed the railroad tracks our wiser members warned us that
we might get arrested. Some of us laughed it off--why would the police
bother with people walking on the tracks? But we decided it wasn't worth
even the small risk. We tried and failed to cut through a fence behind an
apartment complex while the residents looked over their railings at us, and we
wished for a ten-year-old guide who would have known the shortcuts and led us
through the sprinklers and slip-'n-slides in the midday heat. I later
learned from legal observers that the police had indeed staked out the tracks
and arrested those who had cut through to Pacifica Avenue.
streets secured from foot and vehicular traffic by 12:30, the racists were
waving their placards at only
the police, counter protestors, and a handful residents standing on balconies.
But apparently the sixty or so police got their message. Baldwin Park, West Covina, Polomo, San Marino, and California State
University police had joined with L.A. County Sheriffs in front of, to the side,
and behind the counter protestors, while about twenty others chatted with the
Joe Turner, head of Save Our State, repeatedly tried to cross into the
counter protestors' group. It was reported that Turner was briefly arrested
during one of these provocations, only to be released when he was escorted back
to the other side of the street. Apparently the police were unaware of his
previous arrest record.
The counter protestors demanded that the racists go home and asserted their
claim to the land and their culture.
At 2:15, the police moved against the counter protestors, now joined by
danzantes, backing them away and down Pacifica Avenue, two blocks from the
anti-Mexican group. At 2:30, half a dozen counter protestors confronted police on a side street
shouting that the police were the same as the anti-migrant racists. The
protestors and police lunged at each other, and I heard the sharp crack of
rifles being cocked to my left. But other counter protestors urged their companions to
return to the main group, while warning the cops not to attack the community.
At the northeast end of the park, white supremacists apparently had carte
blanche from the cops to mill around the cultural celebration. In one instance, Aztlan Mexica
Nation/Harmony Circle, in black slacks and red shirts, escorted out one National
Vanguard member wearing a white construction hat and using an American flag to mask a
four-foot long, 2-inch wide pole. A replica rifle was confiscated from
another intruder. Three more, one in military khakis, ribbons, and a garrison
cap, tried to lecture the crowd.
Ultimately, a lone, smirking young white guy, mistaken by the crowd for
Turner, marched the length of
the celebration on Downing Avenue carrying a colonial American flag. He
strode to the police barricade expecting to cross, but the cops refused to let
him pass. A hundred angry Chicanos quickly surrounded him shouting,
"Get off our land--the Mayflower's waiting for you!" The man,
with his haughty, aloof grin, stood unperturbed, while police refused to act either
to arrest or protect him. The Harmony Keepers intervened and asked the
crowd to step back, saying the day's celebration shouldn't turn ugly. The
crowd, understanding the Harmony Circle's message, stayed at
arm's length. The police apparently attempting to rile the crowd by
leading the man back through the celebration on Downing Avenue rather than
escort him through police lines. The police turned
east on Ramona Boulevard, away from the celebration, but then turned around and
took the man west past the protestors on the street. When asked by one spectator if they intended
to provoke an outburst, a police officer chortled, "Heh, heh, heh."
Back on Pacifica Avenue, at about 2:45 the police began escorting the
National Vanguard, Minutemen, and SOS out of the area. Three cop cars behind the
protestors pulled out as the counter protestors headed back to the celebration,
this time around the block. The cops stopped the protestors on a side
street entrance to the park, but after chants of "Whose streets? Our
streets!" the cops allowed the counter protestors to walk single file back
onto Downing Avenue. As we marched back to our sisters and brothers, we
were greeted with raised fists, hugs, and tearful eyes. We melded into one
voice chanting "Aquí y allá la lucha seguirá."
Aztlan Underground began their set invoking the spirit of Toypurinah.
It ended with dozens of young Chicanas and Chicanos dancing to the driving,
21st-century drums and flute surrounded by their elders and allies. With
Toypurinah's burial mound just yards away, I'm pretty sure she had stepped up to
join the crowd of dancers.
Bulldog announced that the permit for the celebration had expired. I
walked out between rows of tired danzantes lining the sidewalk and noted the
police tape now fluttering on the ground, except around the monument, which
remained untouched. I glanced back and saw twenty Harmony Keepers proudly
marching down the sidewalk, their work done for the day.
Obviously, I couldn't be in two places at once. My thanks to those
who helped fill in the blanks and to Arturo Ramos for the artwork.