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SMALL TOWNS COMING OF AGE DURING THE IMMIGRATION STRUGGLE

by Don White - CISPES Thursday, Apr. 13, 2006 at 12:07 PM

WHILE THE MEDIA FOCUSES ON URBAN CENTERS, SMALL TOWNS IN THE NATION TAKE TO THE STREETS AS WELL; A FIRST-PERSON, PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF ONE SUCH TOWN, COMING OF AGE DURING THE IMMIGRATION STRUGGLE



by don white

MOUNT VERNON, WASHINGTON STATE The story is a

personal one for me, an emotional experience which is

hard to reflect in words.

I grew up in this town 65 north of Seattle in the

fertile agricultural beauty of the Skagit Valley, with

the serene Skagit River sliding through the community,

cutting the town into two parts. The population was

about 4500 in 1955. Today it is famous for tulips but

in the 1950's it was peas, strawberries, corn and

other produce which drove the economy. And the

economy really ran on the sweat and long hours of farm

workers who came in for the season and then moved on.

The Valley has changed. What were migrant families

settled down in the valley, bought homes, opened

businesses and raised their families. And they earned

the respect and friendships of all but the most

bigoted of Valley people.

I saw with my own eyes the indignities many had to

face as farm workers and I saw the "camps" in the

fields many lived in, with small children following

their parents into the fields to work. Few farm owners

would permit the "field schools" which community folks

began to promote in the camps so the children would

have some sort of education.

Things have changed. Mount Vernon, now about 12,000

in population, had three militant marches through the

streets in ten days and student walkouts and a "take

the streets" mentality has put the community on notice

that these voices are going to be heard.

I had been in meetings in Seattle just prior to

arriving in Mount Vernon on April 5. There, in a

large and beautiful front page photo in the Weekly

Argus, were militant Chicana/o students demanding

respect for their community and their neighbors.

But that was only the beginning. In a series of two

more marches, each building in intensity and numbers,

between 400 and 500 marched through downtown Mount

Vernon in the days to follow, with police escorts,

culminating in rallies on the steps of the County

Courthouse. Families, student activists, farm

workers, teachers, many carrying Mexican and U.S.

flags and the flags of Central America listened to the

impassioned statements of elders, young people, men

and women. One big poster, IF WE DON'T WORK, THEY

DON'T EAT!" captured one sentiment. THIS IS OUR

COUNTRY TOO also reflected a prevailing theme. WE

DEMAND RESPECT had a special emotional appeal to me.

I could only imagine how proud the grandparents of

the youth organizers must have been. As I marched

along with them at the final mobilization I know they

couldn't fathom why it was so emotional for me. I was

deeply moved.

The community has changed but has much more changing

to do. There is a MechA chapter at the high school,

the Skagit Valley College radio station [KSVR]

broadcasts 50% of its programming to the

Spanish-speaking community. {It is a Pacifica Radio

Network affiliate.} And, clearly, the youth have found

their voice. The local press carries photos and full

coverage of the statements the student leaders issue.

In Seattle, between 30,000 and 40,000 marched on

April 10. But to me the really moving experience in

the Pacific Northwest was the Mount Vernon

mobilizations and how they reflect a new militancy in

many small communities which, in my opinion, won't be

stopped. A far cry from the intimidated farm workers

of the 1950's who really felt they didn't belong. At

times I had to check the welling up in my eyes...







CISPES

Committee In Solidarity With The People of El Salvador

8124 West 3rd Street L.A. Ca. 90048

323-852-0721

Founded: 1980 - 25 Years of Solidarity

Report this post as:

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