Story and photos by Claudia Meléndez Salinas
Edith Frederick’s parents and grandparents were among the roughly 120,000 people of Japanese descent taken to internment camps during World War II. They were among the lucky ones, she said, because a neighbor took care of their farm in Fresno while they were in Camp Amache in southeast Colorado, so they had something to come back to after more than three years of being away.
For Frederick, the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border is a scene from the internment play book. It’s the disenfranchisement of people, the “othering” of a group to strip them of their rights — and it’s wrong.
“We’re always ‘othering’ people of different color,” she said. “It’s a repeat of our history, and our democracy can only exist if we’re actively involved and speaking out. For most of my life, I didn’t.”
Frederick was among dozens gathered at the corner of Sanborn and Market streets in Salinas recently to protest family separations at the border and demand reunification of children with their parents. She held a sign and chanted “free the children” while cars and trucks honked their support as they drove by.
July 28 was the second round of national demonstrations against family separations at the border, and thousands protested in big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, and small ones like Salinas and Monterey. In the latest wave of outrage at the Trump Administration, images of children in cages and having to face immigration judges alone have sparked national condemnation.
The latest call to action was organized as a deadline to reunite 2,500 children with their parents loomed.
But as of July 30, more than 700 children were still left to be reunited, according to Colorlines. A federal judge gave federal officials until Aug. 1 to provide information on the families yet to be reunited.
Rallies like the ones organized in Salinas are meant to keep the issue in the forefront, Salinas activist Dominic Dursa said.
“In this era, if you turn on the news (on TV) or open the newspaper, there’s something new every day, and this is a continuing issue. It’s important to remind people that things that may have happened few months ago are still going on. It’s important to keep people aware that this needs attention,” he said.
Many of the Saturday demonstrators are regulars, activists who routinely show up for progressive causes. Still, the separation of families at the border has mobilized more people than usual.
“It’s so visual,” retired teacher Amanda Chaffin said, explaining her belief why that is. “Things are getting more intense and horrific… All of us were children, many of us have children, many of us have grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and I hope that having the legal abuse of children happening right in front of the U.S. is going to make people think a little deeper about the ‘other’ effect. It’s another effect of our foreign policy about our attitude to our neighbor to the south.”
Alexia Garcia, a politics student, recently transferred from Hartnell College to UC Santa Cruz. She has been attending rallies as often as she can since the 2016 election.
Demonstrations can make a difference, she says, because they bring awareness.
“It’s good to put pressure on our elected officials, even if it’s at the local level. It’s good to show them this is what we believe in,” she said.
There may be some who believe comparing what’s happening at the border now with imprisoning people of Japanese descent is an exaggeration — but not Frederick.
“It’s the same,” she said. “You don’t have the right. We’re’ supposed to welcome people who are fleeing their country for what our country did to cause them to have that nightmare of a country. And (we’ve) never taken the responsibility for what we’ve done to so many parts of the world. We’re guilty and nobody is even talking about that.”
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