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Wichitans protest Arizona immigration law

A person wearing an American flag maches down Broadway during a march for immigration reform in downtown Wichita on Saturday. Hundreds of people marched from 23rd and Broadway to downtown Wichita to speak out against a new Arizona immigration law. (May 1, 2010)
A person wearing an American flag maches down Broadway during a march for immigration reform in downtown Wichita on Saturday. Hundreds of people marched from 23rd and Broadway to downtown Wichita to speak out against a new Arizona immigration law. (May 1, 2010) The Wichita Eagle

Arizona was much on the minds of the 200 people marching down Broadway and Main Street on Saturday.

Chanting "Si, se puede" —"Yes, we can" — they were headed for Wichita City Hall to rally against a provocative new Arizona law that requires police to determine the immigration status of people they have stopped or arrested.

Supporters say the law is necessary to reduce the thousands of illegal immigrants who sneak into Arizona every year, while critics say it leads to racial profiling that encourages police to stop anyone with brown skin.

The law, passed last month, energized Latinos and immigrant-rights activists across the country. Saturday saw thousands march and demonstrate in many states.

Wichita's event was a spirited affair, part protest and part celebration. There were signs and chanting, but also children and chatter and waving at friends. The rally was followed by a party.

But there was no mistaking the seriousness.

"I came to make a difference," said Marytza Fernandez, a student at North High School.

"I don't think the law should discriminate against anybody," she said.

It brought people out of businesses along Broadway to gawk and, for many, to applaud.

Roy Gilbert was standing on his front lawn on Park Place watching the marchers pass by.

Gilbert said he finds anti-immigration sentiment and actions a waste of the nation's time and attention.

"They have to get their priorities straight," he said. "There are so many other things to worry about."

Sergio Gonzalez had been marching, but one of his daughter's flip-flops started giving her trouble.

But he said was happy to be a part of it.

"Why am I here? To support my people, to support what's going on," he said. "That thing in Arizona, I don't think they thought it through."

Counter-protesters were scarce.

Once they reached City Hall, the marchers heard from Teresa Molina, president of the board of Sunflower Community Action; the Rev. Jose Manuel Miranda, El Mesias United Methodist Church; Kevin Myles, president of the Wichita Branch NAACP; John Stoesz, executive director for the Mennonite Central Committee, Central States; Sister Tarcisia Roths, former president of Newman University; and Diane Wahto, Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas.

The speeches and the slogans were reminiscent of a civil rights rally, with a Latino twist:

"What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Ahora!"

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