CROWS LANDING — A two-mile march left some teens puffing, others energized by community spirit as the Family March for Unity made its way from Crows Landing Road to César Chávez Park.
"I felt so much pride in my country, and in my people," said Fatima Avelar, a high school junior who carried the United Farm Workers flag for much of the walk Saturday. She's a citizen, but many of her friends are not, Avelar said, and she wanted to take part "to represent all of us."
Brothers Vicente and Sergio Fuentes said the sense of community, chanting "Yes, we can" with a crowd that surged to more than 200 at times, was inspiring.
Vicente, 16, said he was born here, but knows the struggles of his undocumented parents.
"What happened to them is affecting us now. They want us to do the best we can for our community and other people," he said.
His older brother, a graduate student in social work at California State University, Stanislaus, said he hopes to follow the Chávez ethos of service, working with youths to keep them away from gangs. "We came to support the community, support César Chávez. What he did for the community, we should continue," Fuentes said.
Path to citizenship
Gloria Sanchez, who is undocumented but the mother of five U.S. citizens, said she marched for a path to citizenship. "We are really, really hard workers in the community. We pay taxes. We're just like any other citizen," she said.
"We want a road map to citizenship," said Yaquelin Valencia, a Dream Act student at Modesto Junior College. She grew up here, but found out when she graduated from high school that few doors are open to students without papers.
So she got active, joining Congregations Building Communities and working in get-out-the-vote efforts. She took part in last week's town hall meeting in Modesto held by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and said she'll be watching to see if he listened before deciding where her political support will go during the next campaign.
"We aren't just asking (for help). It's how can we collaborate," Valencia said. She hopes to major in psychology or maybe political science, and most of all she hopes to vote. "I want to experience it and know what that's like," she said. When she talks to Mexican-Americans who don't vote, that's what she tells them. "You can vote. Our voices need to be heard," she said.
Political consultant Angel Picon walked the distance reflecting on the contributions of Mexican nationals in the valley.
"It's not just citizenship. (Political leaders) have to recognize their contribution to the economy. They have small businesses and those small businesses are booming," Picon said.
Marches create awareness of the issue and bring the community together, he said. "Republicans, they need our vote, but they need to know who we are and where we live. We're all connected. We go to the same churches, the same schools. We go to the same hospitals," Picon said.
Sitting in Chávez Park watching dancers perform, Fabiola Galarza said she's a citizen, but walked to show support.
"We have to keep the unity together, especially supporting immigration," she said. "What I have right now is what I want for them."
The event at the park was organized by the Maddux Youth Center. It evolved from the day of service that was held to honor Chávez in past years, said staff member Melanie Berru. The community helped plan the day, as it has since funding dried up several years ago, said Berru, her T-shirt proclaiming, "It takes the 'hood to save the 'hood."
"What César Chávez really stood for was service. Individual success is one thing, but we can help the community," she said. "We had zero funds. But I thought, 'We're not doing this because of money.' The hypocrisy of that this is heart-work."
The first year they did a day of service, clearing trash and painting over graffiti at the park: "We painted that bathroom. It stayed 1½ years without being tagged. That's powerful. That's the power of community," Berru said.