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Immigration Protest in Baldwin Park Is Peaceful

Sixty people from a Ventura County group opposed to words on artwork at a Metrolink station are met by 600 counter-protesters.

June 26, 2005|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

A face-off Saturday in Baldwin Park over illegal immigration, sparked by a piece of public art, was peaceful despite authorities' fears of violence.

Next to City Hall, where about 60 protesters opposed to illegal immigration waved signs and American flags, about 600 counter-protesters sang, danced, chanted and beat drums to urge tolerance.

"It's not a confrontational us-versus-them thing. It's to show unity," said counter-demonstrator Rosa Romero, 25, of Los Angeles, as she took a break from painting signs. "I'm here to show support for the community."

Officials said about 20 people were cited for crossing police lines or trying to outflank officers by walking onto a Metrolink right-of-way.

"They were endangering themselves by being on the tracks," said city spokesman Adan Ortega. Ventura County-based Save Our State has been pressuring the city for two months to remove inscriptions on an archway called "Danza Indigenas" at the Metrolink station. It staged a similar protest last month, which also was met with a large counter-protest. The group has acknowledged that it seeks to put pressure on the city to remove the monument by draining its resources through protests.

The group, which is opposed to illegal immigration, believes some of the monument's engravings are anti-American, specifically, "It was better before they came" and "This land was Mexican once, was Indian and always is, and will be again."

Save Our State supporter Henry Dias, a marketing director from San Dimas, said the artwork represented a "full-scale soft invasion" of California by immigrants from Mexico.

"Racist speech should never be paid for with tax dollars," he said. The group believes the phrase, "It was better before they came" is meant as a slur against whites.

The artwork's creator, Judith Baca, who joined the counter-demonstration, said the words actually refer to jeers directed at Mexican immigrants who began moving into Baldwin Park after World War II.

She said both inscriptions are being twisted by detractors with agendas "that have nothing to do with" the artwork.

Mayor Manuel Lozano said Saturday that his city of 75,000, which is nearly 80% Latino, strongly supports the publicly funded artwork, which has stood without controversy for more than a decade.

He berated Save Our State for bringing disruption to his town, saying, "They are individuals who are full of hate."

Counter-demonstration organizers said Save Our State is fostering hatred against Latinos as part of a broader political agenda.

"Their intent is to create anti-immigrant sentiment as a distraction to the real problems in this country. We're in a semi-recession and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on an unjust war in Iraq," said Alvardo Maldonado of San Gabriel Valley Neighbors for Peace and Justice, which helped organize the counter-demonstration.

Save Our State members said they object to services being given to illegal immigrants and want borders secured.

"No one in this group has anything against immigrants, as long as they're legal," said June Hensley, a bus driver and resident of San Bernardino.

The group's leader, 29-year-old Joseph Turner, said being vastly outnumbered did not bother him. Noting that providing police would be costly to the city and mutual-aid agencies that supplied reinforcements, Turner said, "Our aim is to make this painful. We want this to become expensive so that people will take notice."

Scores of police from Glendale to Pomona joined Baldwin Park officers with batons and riot gear to keep the two sides far apart.

During most of the two-hour demonstration, police kept the two sides at least half a block apart by cordoning off the streets surrounding City Hall. But toward the end, tensions rose as the groups came within about 300 feet of one another.

Using bullhorns, the groups chanted and insulted each other for about 20 minutes. Police in riot gear defused the situation by forming a human chain to escort the Save Our State members to their cars.

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