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Latinos march en masse to urge fairness, respect

Published April 10, 2006 12:50 am

Historic: In a Utah protest of record size, Latinos, others urge respect for the undocumented
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Years from now, Utah students might read about Sunday's events in history books.

Families carried U.S. flags. Parents pushed their children in strollers and grocery carts. People let strangers use their home bathrooms. All this as tens of thousands of Latinos flooded downtown Salt Lake City in the largest demonstration in the state's history.

Most Latinos said they marched to send a message: We are here and need to be recognized and valued.

As Congress struggles with legislation to deal with illegal immigration, Latino immigrants said they want reform that benefits their neighbors and co-workers who don't have proper U.S. documentation - an estimated 90,000 in Utah. Non-Latinos said they want to support equality for the Latinos, who make up 11 percent of the state's population.

The Salt Lake City Police Department estimated 20,000 people attended the day-long event at the Salt Lake City-County Building. "Dignity March" leaders, who organized the rally in favor of "humane and comprehensive immigration reform," put the number at 40,000.

Tony Yapias, who started organizing the march with his group Proyecto Latino de Utah two weeks ago, said he couldn't believe the size of the crowd. He and volunteers had passed out fliers at Latino dance clubs, markets and schools from St. George in southern Utah to Wyoming.

After seeing the sea of Latinos for as far as he could see, Yapias said he felt proud to be a Latino.

"We knew there was an interest, but we had no idea how many people would show up," Yapias said. "We've never seen anything like this."

As of Friday, police had said they weren't planning on closing off any street lanes for the march. Organizers had requested a "free expression activity permit" for 3,000 people to rally at the building.

But, on Sunday, police had to shut down State Street for more than a mile, from 600 South to the Capitol, as people walked shoulder to shoulder across two sidewalks and seven traffic lanes under a clear sky.

As Latinos gathered on one side of the building, Utah Minuteman Project members assembled on the other. More than 200 illegal immigration protesters, calling themselves the "Pro-America Rally," also marched to the Capitol carrying U.S. flags.

Many Dignity March supporters said it's crucial the U.S. government recognize the 11 million undocumented U.S. residents because they are part of the country and deserve to be respected with some sort of resident card.

Judith Sanchez Gonzalez, a Mexican native, has spent much of her 23 years in the United States cleaning bathrooms, wiping floors and dusting offices. She attended the rally to support rights for undocumented workers.

"If we don't have identification cards, we aren't anyone. It's like we aren't here," she said in Spanish. "They want to be recognized, to be seen."

Ana Salinas, a 33-year-old secretary, said she and her husband paid human smugglers $12,000 five years ago to get them from Mexico to Utah. She hopes the U.S. government comes up with a guest-worker permit program. Fighting back tears, Salinas said the hardest part of being an undocumented Salt Lake City resident is that she can't visit Mexico. It's been five years since she's hugged her mother.

"We just come here to work. We're not bad people," said Salinas, who marched with her two young daughters.

Before the three-mile march started at 1:40 p.m., community leaders were invited to speak to the crowd.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon gave a short speech in English and Spanish. Immigrants only come to the United States to escape persecution and seek a better life, he said.

"The American dream should not be for a select few," Corroon told the crowd. "It should be for all of us."

As the crowd inched toward the Capitol, Latino workers from the Marriott Hotel stood outside waving white napkins in support of the marchers. Vendors, as if at a parade, sold tres leches cake and chicharrones on the march route. Everyone seemed to understand that an event of this magnitude was historic. That's why the Pereira family was documenting the march by snapping photos.

"I didn't think in Utah there were this many Hispanic people," said Luis Pereira, 47, an Orem resident and El Salvador native. "We need to be united to show the world we need help."

During the march, eight participants stood in line to use the bathroom at Eric Allred's house near the Capitol. Though his street was blocked and people covered his front lawn, Allred said the event was "awesome."

"You don't see too many people together like this in Utah," he said.





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