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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

There Goes The Neighborhood

I spent a few hours yesterday evening photographing details of the May Day immigrants march down Wilshire Blvd. here in Los Angeles.

The turnout was impressive - almost staggering. Marchers packed Wilshire Blvd. from MacArthur Park to La Brea Ave. - almost 4 miles. Police and other emergency workers were on the scene in large numbers, but kept to the background, standing by on sidestreets.

The vast majority of marchers were of Latin American ethnicity - many proudly proclaiming their U.S. citizenship, others proudly defending their undocumented status. I also saw marchers carrying banners announcing Korean, Thai, and Muslim attendance, but the vast majority of the marchers carried U.S. flags and the message was clearly conveyed that all present believed they were Americans, or should be treated as such.

Most strange was the appearance of a single Israeli flag, flying high on top of a building overlooking Wilshire. A handful of men and women stood beside it, taking pictures of the crowd, talking on cellphones, watching the spectacle.

European- and African-Americans were also present. They had cameras. They were photographing everything in sight.

The only other crowd of comparable size I have seen in my lifetime would be the masses of people in the streets for the royal wedding of Charles and Diana in London, though yesterday's immigrant crowds - for good reason - were better behaved. In fact, the atmosphere was celebratory and cheerful. It was a family event - grandparents, parents, children seemingly present in equal numbers. And there were chihuahuas too. My guess is that if you were a member of any Latin American community in Los Angeles, you were not staying home yesterday without a note from a doctor - and how likely would that be?

Whatever your take on the prickly immigrant question, it would be crazy to deny that Latin Americans do some first-rate grassroots democracy. Those us who spend our evenings grumbling at the tv could take a few pointers.

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