Photos by David Jimenez

For the last 25 years, the “Cesar Chavez March for Justice” has gathered the faithful.

In 1993, the same year that Chavez died, the City of San Fernando responded by being the first city in the nation to organize a march and the first city to proclaim his birthday, March 31, a legal holiday.  A day that could be a teaching holiday to promote civil rights and community service.

After all, dating back to the late 60’s and early 70’s, the late labor leader and the UFW he co-founded with Dolores Huerta had a close relationship with the Northeast San Fernando Valley and CSUN, where many students became activists after hearing him speak on campus and in the local community.

Students and in some cases, professors — most notably from CSUN’s Chicano Studies Department — joined the boycotts, participated in marches and picketed in front of grocery and liquor stores throughout the San Fernando Valley. Students and families from the City of San Fernando and the Northeast San Fernando Valley had a shared history in the fields and could relate to “the struggle.”

They joined the protests that sprung up across the country and carried the union’s symbol – a red flag designed by his brother, Richard, emblazoned with the black Aztec eagle. Chavez was noted for saying that a symbol was “important, that is why we chose an Aztec eagle. It gives pride… when people see it they know it means dignity.”

The distinct UFW flag with shouts of Si Se Puede have been at the center of the march, which over the years has evolved from improving living and working conditions for farm workers to include issues for improving education, healthcare and calling for immigration reform.

However, this year, while the iconic UFW flag was still at the center, the lines of marchers that moved from Brand Park in Mission Hills to Ritchie Valens Park in Pacoima also carried signs to repudiate the Trump Administration’s immigration policies that include placing the military at the border.

Protest signs denounced the proposed border wall and immigration raids and arrests. The Aztec dancers who traditionally perform a ceremony for the event and are positioned at the front to lead the march, attached protest messages to their regalia.

“No Wall,” read a bandana and a vest worn by Jesus Negrete, one of these dancers. Tleyotl Cuahutemoc and Alejandro Flores flanked the last line of Aztec dancers and each carried a sign reading “Stop the Raids.”

“This is a way to intimidate people so they don’t ask for services and benefits,” said Cuahutemoc of the ongoing immigration raids. “It’s a way to keep our people in fear.”

“He (Trump) is treating us as criminals. We came to work, not to cause problems. We only came with hope and water to survive,” Negrete said.

For his part, Flores added that, “We’re asking that families not be deported. The whole community suffers. What happens is that the government doesn’t want to fix this situation, and the ones who end up paying are the children.”

Many carried banners and signs to support DACA students.

Fear in the Trump Era

Several studies note that children of undocumented parents face added stress and uncertainty in the midst of the President’s continuing immigration attacks.

Four friends from Bert Corona High School in Pacoima are closely bonded. They know what it feels like to live each day feeling nervous and stressed. They share more than just age and teenage problems. They share a feeling caused by a situation that is completely out of their control.

Brenda, Leslie, Jazmin and Maria – all 15 years old – live in fear. They are U.S. born children of undocumented parents. And since President Trump came into office, and his administration hardened immigration laws and the persecution of those in the country without benefit of legal status, family life has become more stress-ridden.

“I don’t want to lose my parents and go to foster care,” said Jazmin, whose parents are both undocumented.

She said her family has been talking about what to do if the parents are deported.

“They tell me I will either stay with my sisters or go with my godparents,” she explained. “They’re afraid.”

Leslie would go to live with an uncle. Her mom is in the country without legal status, and so are some of her aunts and uncles as well.

“My mother says she’s going to do everything she can do to stay here, but she’s scared over being deported,” she said

“They tell me that (if they are deported), I’m probably going to go live with my uncle and continue my education,” adds Maria, whose parents also lack proper immigration papers.

Brenda’s father, a construction worker, has started to save money, just in case.

Stress, Worry, Anxiety

Both legal and undocumented immigrant families are experiencing alarming levels of uncertainty. 

Parents who are in the United States illegally fear being deported and separated from their children, while those who are here legally still worry that their approved status could vanish and be taken from them in an instant.

Daily life has become more difficult for immigrant families who, if undocumented, may spend long hours behind their own locked doors, leaving the house only to go to work.

They fear that they may face what has happened to other parents. They worry that they could be picked up en route to work or when taking their kids to school, or even having ICE agents appear at their door.

 The fear has grown as they’ve seen this happen to others in their community, as was the case for a father and a lifelong resident  of Sylmar who was arrested by ICE one morning while taking his children from home to school.

A recent study from the Kaiser Foundation said parents and doctors report children are having trouble sleeping and eating, are withdrawing from friends and family, and are suffering headaches, vomiting, panic attacks and even symptoms of depression.

There are approximately 4.7 million US citizen children with at least one undocumented parent, according to estimates by the Pew Research Center. Another report by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a national anti-poverty nonprofit based in Washington, notes that children as young as age three fear that their parents will be taken away, based on interviews with more than 100 childcare and early educational professionals in Pennsylvania, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Mexico, and North Carolina,

Their Fight For Justice

But teenagers like Brenda, Leslie, Jazmin and Maria said they are doing what they can to be visible and protest, even if their parents can’t.

They marched together, carrying signs in support of immigrants like their parents and chanted in unison raising their voices loudly against the Trump Administration’s hard stance against the undocumented.

“Deporting is not the answer,” said Maria. “They should not be hated in America.”

“I’m pretty mad. They deserve a lot more than what they get,“ Leslie said.

The same sentiment was shared by four other teenaged girls from Bert Corona High School, and summarized by a student named Jazmin.

“They (our parents) only came here so their kids could have a better life and not go through what they went through,” she said.

These families, now firmly established in the United States, have children who only know this country. Many are English-dominant speakers and have never visited their parent’s home country.

Now these same children, whose parents worked so hard to protect, are marching in protest in hope of creating change to protect their parents.

It’s not so different from the UFW’S inception that protested injustice and fought to improve the lives of the most downtrodden. Not different at all from the protesting college students who marched for family members in the fields earning pennies on the dollar, and risked being exposed to dangerous pesticides.

“My father is undocumented and I don’t want him to be afraid anymore,” said Brenda. “No parent should live in fear that they’re going to be separated from their children one day.”