Marchers Flood Mall With Passion, Pride

By Sue Anne Pressley, Karin Brulliard and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

They swept onto the Mall by the tens of thousands, waving American flags and chanting, in Spanish, "Here we are, and we're not leaving."

With voices raised in protest, with placards in English and in the language of their homelands and with slogans scrawled across white T-shirts worn to symbolize their peaceful intent, the assembled mass delivered a simple message: We are Americans now, too.

"Immigrant nation," read one handwritten sign.

"I'm an immigrant, and I vote," read another.

"Brown and proud," one announced.

"Nigeria Present," on another, reminded the overwhelmingly Latino crowd that immigrants have arrived here from all over.

For many, the rally was their first political experience. Ranks of young men who listened in respectful silence, high-school students taking advantage of their spring break, immigrant mothers arriving with young children and day laborers who live in fear of deportation turned out in force.

"Every Hispanic has to stand up. Every person who believes in justice has to stand up," said Anna Torres, 38, a federal worker from Mount Pleasant in Northwest Washington who brought along her sons, Joseph, 6, and Jeremy, 8. They were waiting to be joined by their father, who came here from Guatemala 15 years ago and is still an illegal resident.

"I'm here for my friends and my neighbors -- and my husband," Torres said. "They are all very hardworking people."

And as the last traces of the late-day sun disappeared behind the Washington Monument, something of a battle cry was sounded to a crowd frustrated by Congress's failure to reshape immigration law to their liking.

"This is only the start!" Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland, shouted to them. "We are just starting this movement."

The crowd erupted with an oft-repeated cheer: "Hoy, marchamos; mañana, votamos."

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