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Austin Students Walkout

There I was, eating enchiladas mole at Las Manitas, trying not to make a big deal out of John Dee Graham standing right next to me, when, through the window, Congress Avenue turned red, white, and green with chanting students …

500 high school students from Austin area high schoools marched to the state capitol Friday where they rallied for immigrant rights in opposition to a threatened federal crackdown.

Students marched up Congress Ave. shortly before 2:00 p.m. and rallied along the wide sidewalk just outside the capitol gates.

Dressed mostly in white t-shirts and carrying various sized flags of Mexico, students chanted “Me-xi-co, Me-xi-co, Me-xi-co” and “Hell No, We Won’t Go!”

“We’re here to work. We’re not criminals!” declared one hand-made sign. “Viva Mexico, Si Se Puede” said another, echoing the famous slogan of Cesar Chavez, “Yes, We Can!”

“We Pay Taxes,” said a slogan written in black marker on the back of a white t-shirt. “Without US Mexicans, the US is Nothing,” said a posterboard sign in black and white. A few young women wore petit-sized flags tucked to the fronts of their shirts.

The students were greeted with frequent honks from passing cars as drivers waved and gave thumbs up’ to the impromptu demonstration for immigrant rights and dignity. Sometimes the car would be a mint-condition Chevy SUV, full of students waving Mexican flags from the windows.

One demonstrator, with his face half covered by a bandana made from a Mexican flag said most of the students were between the ages of 15 and 18. Others identified themselves as from Reagan, LBJ, and Garza high schools in Austin.

“I was on lunch break from Garza High School,” said 19-year-old Daniel Dimas, “and I heard the people walking shouting ay, ay, ay!’ So I pulled up beside them and played my Spanish music real loud and said, Do you need some support?’ So I ended up here!” Dimas held a Mexican flag mounted on a short pole that he waved as he led chants.

“Who made this country?” asked Dimas before he turned back to his newfound friends and shouted,”Who likes beans?” and “Who likes tortillas?” He could have asked also about caramel-colored lollypops, which seemed very popular with the crowd.

“You see what I mean,” says Dimas, smiling at the robust cheers that answered his questions. “We’re a whole new diverse group that this country needs. And we’re not going anywhere. What else can I say?” Of course, he had more to say:

“We built this country. We are nearly half the population. Even if they stop us, we’re going to come back. They’re not going to stop us. We’ve been here too long.”

Sixteen-year-old Vanessa Villa from Vista Ridge High School in nearby Cedar Park said she had planned to march next Tuesday, but on the spur of the moment this morning, students started walking from the high school toward the capitol, a distance of 24 miles.

“We’ve been walking all day, since 10:30!,” exclaimed Villa.

“We’re that proud!” said 15-year-old Jacki Caballero of Cedar Park, recalling the long walk down FM 1431 to Highway 183 where the students caught a bus.

“We’re the ones who created this place!” said Caballero.

“And we’re working for all immigrants,” said Villa, “not just Mexicans, but Puerto Ricans, and Cubans, too.”

An adult passes through the crowd with flyers announcing a national day of action here on April 10 (at 4pm). On Saturday (April 1) the annual Cesar Chavez march is also scheduled to highlight immigrant rights.

Leading up to last Saturday’s immigrant rights march held in Los Angeles, students there staged walkouts. That march topped a million people, and students across the country have continued walkouts this past week.

The afternoon was unusually warm for late March, and one student was taken away by ambulance for apparent heat exhaustion. She was only one block from the capitol.

At the main entrance to the capitol grounds, some students sat shoulder-to-shoulder along low stone walls, occasionally joining in chants or making “waves” from one end of the wall to the other with a ripple of dancing hands.

Other students enjoyed the rally in the modest shade of small trees. Still others led chants and cheers from the warmed up sidewalk along 11th Street.

When a television cameraman moved into position behind the sidewalk crowd they turned their attention from passing traffic to face the camera.

“No, no,” explained the cameraman, “face the street!”

When the students first arrived at the capitol, the Austin police department lined up eight motorcycle patrols along the curb of the sidewalk. But with students in a cheerful, peaceful, and sometimes playful mood, police soon retreated to the shady side of the street.

Tourists passing through the main gate to the capitol grounds made their ways gently through the crowd of students. It was impossible not to note that two Anglo women passed through the crowd walking their Chihuahua.

After about an hour of rallying, students began to peel away from the rally, many of them leaving by way of the nearby bus stop where they could be seen lining up to board buses and Dillos (the smaller downtown shuttles).

Afterword, with Obscenities

If you visit the streets of Austin often enough, you’ll see occasional t-shirts that say, “F**k y’all, I’m from Texas,” a trend that might possibly be blamed on the cultural influence of Texas songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard who wrote a song with a very similar title a few years back, but who of course sings the song with a great deal of wry glee.

This is just a long way of introducing the context for one carefully lettered t-shirt in red, white, and green marker that was covered up most of the time. But for a few minutes the student took off his outer t-shirt (yes it was a guy thing) revealing the back panel of his his inner white-t, lettered with the kind of font that you sometimes see in family names written on the rear windows of cars and pickup trucks.

“F**k Y’all,” said the t-shirt, “I’m from Mexico.” It was a total work of art.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net.

 

 

 

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Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com

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