In early March in below-freezing temperatures, more than 40 people gathered at Graham Square on Third Avenue and 137th Street in Mott Haven to march to East Harlem in solidarity with immigrants and people of color. Leading the pack was City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
“Love not hate, makes America great,” chanted Mark-Viverito as the crowd got ready to begin the pilgrimage from Graham Square to the Johnson Community Center on East 113th Street.
Local groups such as MASA, Mercy Center and Save our Street South Bronx were among the marchers, along with independent activists. There was a wide variety of ages, from young children to the elderly. Police guided the marchers onto the Third Avenue Bridge, where the group shouted, “We are here,” in English and Spanish. Every so often, the chants would be met with a honk of approval from a passing car, which in turn would be met with a surge of excitement from the marchers.
Gian Carlos, a 47-year-old from West Harlem, did not care about the cold, and thought of the bigger implications of the activism.
“We need to stand up to Trump,” Carlos said. He also hopes that in the future, the city will do things such as provide more legal aid to immigrants.
“I’m marching in support of the immigrant community,” said Carlos Cunningham, a 16-year-old from Mott Haven who came with his family. He added that immigrants are just trying to get by and should be respected.
The group expanded by the time it reached the community center, where the numbers swelled to around 100 people. The staff at the community center ushered people into a large gymnasium where they could sit and chat with their fellow activists.
Mark-Viverito introduced the event and the other guests who were set to speak, but not without marching first. “This is about coming together as a community,” she said. “We will not accept these policies.” She also commented that while the president tries to blame immigrants for making communities unsafe, the real problem is gun control.
Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, also spoke out against Trump’s policies, but without uttering the president’s name (she only referred to him as “he”). She reaffirmed her commitment to values such as inclusivity and commitment to immigrants.
“That’s what New York stands for,” Brewer said. “That’s what America stands for.”
After other guests spoke, participants were invited to come up and speak, open-mic style. A woman came up with her 10-year-old daughter, Andrea. “I don’t want to be separated,” the daughter said. Another woman, who did not give her name, described her journey from Arizona to New York, which she was forced to make due to Arizona’s immigration policies. The law, known as SB1070, gave Arizona police the power to ask any person for immigration papers.
The mood of the room was energized and upbeat, though many felt the weight of their purpose.
Said one of the marchers, Sandra Contreas, “It’s just unfortunate we have to have events like this.”