From Occupy members to Post Office employees, protestors converged on Frazier Park in Charlotte, North Carolina the day before the 2012 Democratic National Convention. It was the designated starting place for a cooperative march, the March on Wall Street South, through Uptown Charlotte. I arrived promptly at 11 a.m. to offer support to the No Papers No Fear riders from Undocubus. These forty people, mostly undocumented immigrants, had crisscrossed the South in a several thousand mile trek from Phoenix, Arizona, to be in Charlotte in time for the Convention. They had stopped in small towns and big cities to bring awareness to the struggles of undocumented immigrants. Unitarian Universalist congregations had provided meals and housing for the riders all along the route. In my role as District Executive of the Southeast District of the Unitarian Universalist Association, I was helping with the final leg.
After a rally that included speakers and music, the Undocubus riders and other immigrant rights groups who had come to support them joined the marchers. Adorned with butterfly wings to represent the Monarch that migrates freely from Mexico to the United States without borders (see the new movie Flight of the Butterflies for more on this amazing journey), the immigrant rights marchers chanted, “The people united will never be defeated,” and sang, “No no no nos moveran” (We shall not be moved). And as we did, I carried a Standing on the Side of Love banner to demonstrate solidarity with the marchers. Standing on the Side of Love is a public witness campaign of the Unitarian Universalist Association and its’ yellow shirts and banners have come to be recognized by immigrant groups as signs that allies are standing with them.
When we started the march, another Unitarian Universalist carried the banner with me. However, when she had to leave for another event, I carried it by myself for several long, hot blocks. That is, until Marichu approached me. “I love this,” she said, pointing to the banner. She then reached for one end of the banner pole, her smile and her motions conveying to me that although she did not know the English words to say more, she was offering to carry the banner with me.
I smiled back, struggling to find the Spanish words to say, “Yes, please. I’d love for you to carry it with me.” Only, “Si, por favor,” came out. Yes, please. But as I moved from the center of the banner to the opposite end from Marichu, she understood my unspoken invitation.
Marichu was one of the undocumented riders. Up to this moment, I knew her only from her bio on the Undocubus website. But for the remainder of the march, we walked in alignment, in solidarity, one with another. Several times in our march, we switched sides so our arms could rest. We communicated with gestures and smiles and the few words we could find in the language of the other. But by the time we finished the march, we had developed a bond.
When I saw Marichu the next day, she hugged me and we practiced speaking to each other, even committing to help each other with improving our language skills. The following day, we had someone take photos of us and I promised to email them to her. She invited me to come see her in Phoenix and I told her that I hoped that someday I could. “Me gustaría hacer eso.” I would like to do that.
I don’t know if I will ever see Marichu again but I know that even if I don’t, we have made a connection that transcends boundaries—a connection that reminds us that we are not alone—that is it only through relationships that we can make the world a better place.
Thank you, Marichu, for reaching out and for reaching in.
Vaya con Dios!