LOS ANGELES, April 9, 2006--As people were arriving for the march, a friend
walked up to me after a conversation with a FOX News reporter. "I
can't believe these guys," she began. The reporter had asked her why
she wasn't in Mexico fighting the government there. "Why doesn't the
U.S. stop sucking the Mexican economy dry?" she'd answered. The
reporter was undaunted: "But if you don't like Vincente Fox, change the
government." "Eighty percent of U.S. citizens don't like
Bush," she came back, "and they can't change their government."
Then the reporter asked her if she admired Pancho Villa, and she said
yes. "But isn't Pancho Villa the same as Bin Laden?" he
challenged. Apparently she paused only for a moment: "If an armed
nation had invaded your country, wouldn't the defenders be heroes?" she
shot back. The reporter was forced to agree.
Outrageously he continued, "But you look like you have a lot of Spanish
in you." "Probably not by choice," she retorted.
As she and I chatted, the reporter drifted by and asked where he could get a
burrito. My friend pointed to a restaurant a few yards away with a large
sign that said "Burritos." The reporter walked off in the other
direction. It wasn't a Baja Fresh.
Three hawks circled overhead, an auspicious beginning. Six hundred
people marched for Zapata today, drawing on East Los Angeles's deepest cultural
and political roots, magically transforming the barrio into Mexico Norte for the
Shortly after 10:00 a.m., the conch shell blew a long note, the ayoyotl
crackled, the drums thundered, and a hundred danzantes began their dance from
Cinco Puntos to Lincoln Park. Following them were the rest of Mexican
culture: campesinos, trabajadores, a squad of marchers in tribute to the
Zapatistas, indigenists, estudiantes, anarchists.
¡Esta es mi tierra!
Esta es mi lucha!
With westbound traffic shut down, the six-block-long parade wound its way
past shoppers and shopkeepers leaning on doorsills along Cesar Chavez
Boulevard. Police cars escorted the marchers, with bicycle cops riding the
The conches blew again, and paraders turned onto Soto Avenue.
Pedestrians joined the marchers, and cars honked their horns, sometimes in
support and once or twice, to shout out to a friend. Parading strollers
and toddlers were sheltered by two columns of danzantes. Behind them, a
group of South Central Farmers climbed into the sound truck and, for a while,
replaced the recorded Mexican music with live guitars and workers' songs.
A danzante stopped, wrapped one foot in bandaids, slipped his sandal back on,
and returned to the line.
Another chorus of conches sounded, and we'd turned onto
Chelsea. Neighbors poured into the residential sidewalks, many with
Mexican flags in hand. Up Murchison, around to Alcazar, each turn
announced with the conches, people lined the sidewalks and walked alongside the
parade. A young boy blew bubbles at passersby. One old man stopped a
Harmony Keeper and told him to wait a moment. The man went into his house
and returned with a DVD. As he handed the young man a copy of Salt of
the Earth, he explained, "So we won't ever forget who we are."
A hundred members of Mexicanos Unidos en Defensa del Pueblo
brought up the rear, many dressed in black with anarchist masks, chanting
anti-Bush, anti-Sensenbrenner, and anti-border slogans.
¡Somos un pueblo, sin fronteras!
Turning back onto Soto, pedestrians walking with the parade were
forced into the street with the marchers when the sidewalk disappeared.
The line slowed and stretched out as the marchers in the back stopped to take in
the view of the front end of the march on the road below them, around the
turn. The Zapatista honor corps, about twenty strong young women and men
dressed as modern day members of the Ejercito Zapatista Liberacion Nacional,
stopped and performed military drills for the crowd on the hill above. As
they moved on, fifty Farmers in bright green shirts marched into sight around
the curve, and behind them were the Jornaleros del Valle de San Gabriel.
As the marchers approached Lincoln Park, the danzantes lined
either side of the street to welcome them to the Zapata monument. The
Zapatista honor corps saluted the statue from the base of the monument, and
event organizers urged the marchers and those who met them at the park to
struggle for their rights in the spirit of Emiliano Zapata. The last to
come to the stage were the danzantes, who concluded their nearly five-mile dance
by running in twos and threes across the last two hundred-yard stretch onto the
Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.
¡Esta es la lucha popular!
Across the park, a little girl ran off, and her father ran after
her, scooped her up, and rocked her in his arms. I stopped for a Tamarindo
as we entered the park. "Un dólar y veinticinco
centavos." The vendor looked up at me and corrected himself:
"One dollar and twenty-five cents." The English was jarring; I
realized that I hadn't heard it for the past three hours, since we'd left Cinco
I was chatting with a friend when a stranger with a cane offered
me his chair, another offered me a tostada with fresh nopales, tomatoes, and
onions. She came back with a cup of jamaica. A rock en español
group started up. The border had crossed me--I'd made it to Mexico, and
Zapata was just around the corner, a short way off.
La lucha sigue!