City migrants voice `American dream' at D.C. rally


Washington -- Four years ago, Hilda Flores and her three small children ran across the Mexican border in Arizona at night, then boarded a plane headed to Baltimore. Flores doesn't remember much about her first ride in an airplane, just that the children cried and asked what their father - who had left to work in the U.S. seven years earlier - looked like.

Yesterday, with her only child born in this country, 2-year-old Jorge, in her arms, Flores went on another journey. Along with almost 200 parishioners from Baltimore's Our Lady of Pompeii Roman Catholic Church, she traveled to the National Mall to join tens of thousands of people, most of them Latinos, to protest a bill that would make it a felony to enter the country illegally.

"We're not criminals," said Flores, 29, as she rode in one of the yellow school buses that took the Pompeii group to Washington. "We just came here to work and to fight for a better future for our children."

Flores, whose husband has worked as a house painter for 11 years, smiled as Noa Camacho, an organizer with the National Capital Immigration Coalition, taught the people on the bus chants in English and Spanish. "Aqui nos vamos. Si nos sacan, regresamos," chanted Camacho. "Here we go. If you kick us out, we come back."

Cevero C. and Elena V., illegal immigrants from Mexico who asked that their last names not be used, repeated this chant when asked whether they feared deportation.

Wearing matching U.S.A. baseball caps, the couple and their children stood to the right of the Mall stage, with the hundreds of people from Baltimore who arrived on buses provided by CASA of Maryland, a Latino outreach and advocacy group.

"My American dream is that my children have a good education, that they go to the university," said Cevero, 26, as his 5-year-old daughter, Daisy, wearing a red windbreaker, blue jeans and white sneakers, clung to his leg. "We just want to keep working and have a quiet life."

"And our own house," chimed in Elena, 27, as she shaded baby Christian, 5 months, with a poster that said, "We are Americans." Elena had wrapped Christian in an American flag bandanna.

Cevero and Elena rent an apartment in a Highlandtown rowhouse, which they pay for with Cevero's wages as a prep cook and Elena's wages as a house cleaner. Here, the couple earns as much as $100 a day and manages to send about $300 a month back to parents in Mexico to support an extended network of siblings, grandparents and cousins.

Nearby, Leonardo Gonzales, 50, cheered and lifted his guitar in the air, as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, addressed the crowd.

After a 16-day walk from Mexico to Texas, Gonzales moved to Baltimore 2 1/2 years ago, hoping to earn enough money to build a house in Mexico and send his three children to college. Gonzales earns $10 an hour here working for a cable company. But after paying for food, utilities and $300 rent for the Baltimore rowhouse that he shares with his 18-year-old son and eight other people, Gonzales is unable to save much money to send home.

Gonzales brought a song that he wrote about immigration to yesterday's rally. "Everyone comes to find a better life," he sang in Spanish as he plucked his guitar. "Each family suffers from loneliness, the great separation."

His wife, with whom he speaks once a week, will attempt the difficult border crossing next month.

"It's all in God's hands," Gonzales said quietly, as the crowd around him cheered and waved American flags.

"It's God's will that we share the Earth," said Miguelina Moran, 32, a native of the Dominican Republic who clapped after hearing Gonzales' song.

Although the former janitor and her four children are U.S. citizens, Moran joined yesterday's protest to show solidarity with other Latinos. She said she loves her Greektown neighborhood, which she described as welcoming immigrants for hundreds of years. "I breathe better here. I sleep better here. The people are so outgoing and make me feel welcome."

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