Generally, Elijah Lora, a first-year, feels that protests are not effective in changing public policy, but he went to a protest last Thursday anyway.
A week ago, Goshen High School students organized a protest in support of the “Day Without Immigrants” movement, and Goshen College students were among those protesting in downtown Goshen.
“I am very much aware that racism and prejudice still exist in the city of Goshen,” Lora said, “but this protest wasn’t for the racists.”
After realizing that protesting doesn’t always mean opposing those who disagree with you, Lora decided he need to show support by attending the protest.
“It was for those who go to work every day with heads down for fear of being evicted from their country and those who stay up at night overwhelmed with anxiety,” he said. “I protested to give hope to those people, and I pray we succeeded.”
Veronica Romero, a first-year student and immigrant, found the protest to be empowering, and it made her proud to be Mexican. She hopes that the protest showed that immigrants are people and not the negative labels they are usually identified as: “illegals” or “job-stealers.”
“It is time we are looked at as human beings,” Romero said. “God did not make anyone illegal; God made humans.”
Jose Chiquito, a first-year, attended the protest after being contacted by a current GHS student for support. He saw the protest as a step in the right direction.
“The whole purpose of the ‘Day Without Immigrants’ was to show our communities and this country that without the immigrant workforce,” he said, “there is no viable U.S. American society.”
Sandra McMasters, second year, went to the protest because she thought that since she is an immigrant, it was the least she could do.
“I am aware that I lack the legal authority to create such reform,” she said. “My only hope is that we could unite and resist.”
McMasters is a naturalized citizen, but still lives with the fear that comes from being an immigrant.
“As immigrants, we live with a lot of fear and anguish,” McMasters said. “We never know when we are going to come across someone who thinks that it is OK to openly say they hate you and they want you to go back to your country.”
Alexa Valdez, a senior, went to the protest, but she took her younger brother with her to “show him what it takes to be a good ally and advocate.” Valdez wanted to make sure that the undocumented immigrants that were protesting stayed safe. “As someone who has citizenship,” she said, “it is really important for me to recognize my privilege in that.”
While Valdez went into the protest with uncertainty and fear of how the community would respond, she found that it was well received, noting that some people brought gloves and food to help sustain the protesters.
Richard Aguirre, director of corporate and foundation relations, also attended the event.
“The students from Goshen High School and Goshen College are the future leaders of the community, and they demonstrated that they want to take on that responsibility,” said Aguirre. “They were willing to risk criticism and ridicule because they believe immigrants are valuable members of this community who deserve respect. That’s a powerful message.”
Right now the future is uncertain for many. Romero finds the uncertainty to be the scariest thing, but she would like to see people come together and support the immigrants in the community.
“We have to stay together, have hope and leave it in God’s hands,” she said. “Nothing is guaranteed, and we must hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
The next step is awareness and organization. “Know vital information about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” Valdez said. “Know that they are mobilizing to make mass sweeps of communities as we speak. Know what rights immigrants have, so that if someone needs help you can provide that.”
Valdez urges people to learn more about this issue so they can be supportive. “Be there for your friends who you know are being affected by this,” she said. “They are afraid for their future right now, and who can blame them?”
McMasters wants to see people stay involved and connected. “The next step is to stay connected with the organizers of the protest and empower them to organize themselves and encourage them to be present at the city council meetings,” she said. “I would like to see that more immigrants can see the potential of organizing and that our city officials are protecting us.”
Aguirre agrees. “I hope people understand that while this was just a one-day event,” said Aguirre, “there is a growing realization that the United States is still a nation of immigrants and that our future increasingly will depend on the contributions of all people.”
In the coming weeks, Chiquito mentioned that more grassroots movements and events like this protest are being organized. LSU is also planning events that will offer students, particularly students of color, an opportunity to get off campus and serve in the community.
“We can’t continue fighting each other and burning bridges,” Lora said. “Instead, I hope we can serve as examples of God’s love through servant leadership for the next four years and beyond.”