**Editor’s Note: This story and the accompanying photographs were submitted by Keith Kohlmann.
More than two hundred Racine students and their families formed a caravan of three busses and dozens of cars to participate in “A Day Without Latinos” at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. The crowd was there to call attention to two bills going through the Legislature: AB450/SB369 would lead police to investigate immigration status during traffic stops, for example, and detain people for deportation. SB533/AB723 would block counties statewide from issuing local identification cards to people who cannot access a state ID.
They met up with thousands of people from across the state participating in state-wide work stoppages, business closures, and student walk-outs as Latinos, immigrants, religious groups, workers, business owners, and their allies gathered to defeat a series of proposed racist, anti-immigrant laws and to fight for civil rights.
Jaqueline Velazquez, sophomore at Horlick High School said, “These laws will separate families, and create fear by giving immigration powers to local police. Many kids see our school as their home. It is their safe place. It would be really hard to watch the close connections between teachers and students be broken when teachers are forced to start reporting on their students… I am not directly affected by these laws, but I have close friends who are, and I want to show them my support. We have been through this struggle before. We need to stick together. One rise, One fall.”
Janet Serrano, a second year Human Services major at Gateway Technical College, said, “There’s folks who will get affected by these laws more than others; but any person of color will definitely be affected. My life will turn to hell, because I won’t be able to drive to work without being racially profiled and pulled over because of my brown skin. What good will come of having police act on racist intentions? Laws are supposed to protect people and build trust, not cause fear and division. My experience today at the march was a powerful reminder of the beauty of culture, my people and my community.”
I think having 14,000 people statewide drop in on the Capitol instead of going to work makes an impression. Someone described it as a “general strike.” I was told that a lot of businesses had to close because they didn’t have enough workers. The crowd was about 95 percent Latino people of working age. The UW students weren’t there. Very few high school students were there. Madison Schools told the teachers to keep the kids (and themselves) in class. The big unions weren’t there, either.
This was Latinos organizing Latinos. Maybe that’s why so many people were caught unaware. From my conversations, I noticed lots of determination in the face of fear among the people who were there. It was like something was awakening, or maybe I was just now becoming aware of what is emerging. There were a lot of young families who are very clear about what this means to their family and community.