The Mission, San Francisco's vibrant Latino district —usually teeming with teens, todlers, ice-cream push-carts, and discerning purchasers of plantains and mangos —was dead quiet.
Yesterday's action was downtown, at United Nations plaza, where thousands of flags were out in force: the bold red stripes of Peru, the powder blues of Guatemala, the stark green and yellow geometry of Brazil, the bright crest of El Salvador, the stars of Honduras, the stripes of Nicaragua. And of course the fierce aguila of Mexico.
Most remarkable was how many of the immigrant protestors carried the colors of their homeland in one hand and Old Glory in the other. Some held both flags on a single pole, and the sunlight melded them together in strange and beautiful ways.
Day laborers and high school kids, some men in suits, more in sombreros. A human ocean: Stroller bound infants; abuelitas leaning on canes; sexy young things shaking their junk to insinuating tropical beats.
May First was a coming out party for the nation's recent Latino immigrants —both legal and undocumented. And not just in San Francisco or Los Angeles or Chicago or Miami. But in Fresno, Denver, Billings, Boise, Salt Lake, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and dozens of other cities nationwide. The cry wasn't anything as rude as'Hell No, We Won't Go.' The crisp white T-shirts printed up for the festivities featured a map of the U.S. with the stars and stripes swooshing through it; they declared, simply: Unidos Estamos; Unidos Quedamos. (We are united; United, we are staying).
The idea that you could somehow repatriate these millions is laughable. And walking among the San Francisco crowd you had to ask yourself: Why would you want to? These are decent men and women who took time away from their job, or in many cases jobs, to express their abiding love for this country and its freedoms and its way of life.
One laborer, a half-dollar sized burn on his fore-arm, waved an American flag in the sunshine in front of City Hall. A man who has literally risked life and limb to live a quiet version of the American dream. Let's face reality. This is his country too.
Love it or leave it.