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Chicago workers, immigrants hit streets for May Day celebrations

May Day marchers make their way to a rally at the Daley Plaza Monday, May 1, 2017. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Restaurant worker Israel Gascón said he attended a May Day rally in Pilsen Monday because he’s obligated to represent the working class, especially during Donald Trump’s presidency.

“There is a war against the workers [and] against immigrants,” said Gascón, 42, who was holding a sign reading: “Stop ICE terror. No KKK.”

ICE is the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“I see my community terrorized by ICE, by this criminalization of particularly the Mexican community, and I disagree with that,” said Gascón, who is originally from Mexico City.

Dozens of people gathered for the rally at Tenochtitlan Plaza in Pilsen, before joining a larger gathering at Union Park, where another rally was held before everyone marched to the Loop to mark May Day’s traditional celebration of workers’ rights.

“No ban. No wall. No USA at all and “Trump. Obama are the same. The only difference is the name,” they chanted.

Rebecca Vosler, 25, an instructor in an after-school program, showed up to the rally because “I can’t afford to stay home anymore” in the fight for workers’ rights. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times
Rebecca Vosler, 25, an instructor in an after-school program, showed up to the rally because “I can’t afford to stay home anymore” in the fight for workers’ rights. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times

Rebecca Vosler, 25, an instructor in an after-school program, showed up to the rally because for her, the struggles of workers and immigrants are all interconnected.

“How can Chicago claim that they’re a sanctuary city when immigrants aren’t being protected and then on top of that, how are you protecting workers when the rent is rising, when the wages are low?” Vosler said.

For Vosler, the fight for immigrants and workers’ rights has never been more urgent.

“The timing is right,” Vosler said. “I really can’t afford to stay home anymore. I have to come out and fight because there is just not any other alternative.”

Some businesses in Pilsen were closed because of May Day celebrations, including Nuevo León Bakery, which posted a sign in the window: “Business owners support the fight against our community, our workers, our clients and their families.”

After a rally Union Park, protesters marched to the Loop. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times
After a rally Union Park, protesters marched to the Loop. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times

The Union Park rally later in the day was attended by people from several groups, including the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Service Employees International Union, Mijente and Black Youth Project 100 Chicago.

Tania Unzueta, a member of Mijente, an advocacy group for Chicago Latinos and Chicanos, said participating in the march is one way to answer a question she’s often asked: how does her undocumented family protect each other after the presidential election, amid continuing threats, attacks and raids by immigration enforcement officials?

“Part of the call today for the march is to demand from the mayor and our city council to make changes to Chicago policies that increase protection, not just for immigrants but also for U.S. born Chicago residents, particularly those being targeted by the Trump administration,” Unzueta said.

A group of business owners near the Ashland CTA station set up a stand where U.S. and Latin American flags were sold.

But flags were not the only symbols carried by marchers. Some carried the Virgin of Guadalupe’s flag, a prominent religious figure in Mexico. Others got more creative and carried a handmade paper sculpture of a snake with political figures used as its multiple heads. An orange Donald Trump (with devil horns), Hillary Clinton and Russian leader Vladimir Putin were among the heads on the snake, labeled “Colonialism.”

A May Day rally in Union Park on Monday. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times
A May Day rally in Union Park on Monday. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times

Signs reading “Stop the Trump agenda of racism, sexism, bigotry and war,” and “Mi dinero cuenta (My money counts),” were also seen.

“We cannot survive alone,” Unzueta said. “Today May 1st is not just a labor rally, not just an immigrants’ rights rally. We have been working intensely and intentionally to build with other organizations and other movements whose people are also being threatened and attacked by Trump…What makes this march special is not how we’re being attacked but how we’re resisting,” Unzueta said.

Miguel Bautista, 39, an IT support worker at the University of Illinois-Chicago, attended the rally and held the U.S., Mexico and Ecuador’s flags in representation of his family’s multiple nationalities.

“I believe in immigration rights,” Bautista said as he stood in the back of the crowd waiting to kick-off the march. “I believe that people should be treated fairly. We have one planet that we all occupy regarding of what the borders are. There’s no ‘Planet B.’”

Protesters gather for a May Day celebration in Pilsen. | Andrea Salceo/For the Sun-Times
Protesters gather for a May Day celebration in Pilsen. | Andrea Salceo/For the Sun-Times