THE TENS OF THOUSANDS who gathered at the base of Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday bore a blend of messages. Many urged comprehensive immigration reform and complained about the demonization of migrants. Some called for amnesty. Smatterings pleaded for sundry fringe political causes.
But overwhelming all other displays was a sea of U.S. flags, waved cheerfully by people asking to join a country conflicted about their welcome. Other than a Fourth of July on the Washington Mall, it's hard to think of a more full-throated pledge of allegiance.
Across the sea of shouting and bullhorns and chants rang a plaintive note, a request for recognition, an admission that even illegal immigrants are part of this city and country. To their great credit, those who marched sounded that call joyously, not bitterly. The immigrants and their supporters filed by food stands -- the hot dog wrapped in bacon with onions and chiles appears to have become the official meal of the Los Angeles immigration march; the mango slice dipped in chili pepper its new dessert. Marchers streamed down Broadway and into the Civic Center, some chanting "Si se puede" (Yes, we can), others "USA, USA, USA."
Yes, there were a few rabble-rousers looking to make converts, the occasional hooded figure shaking a fist or the unintentionally comedic klatch of self-anointed revolutionaries. But in the main, the march, like last year's, was conducted in a festive, family spirit. There were children, musical instruments, sombreros, strollers and ice cream carts. Despite a brief evening skirmish, police for most of the day stood by in shorts and on bikes, their services unneeded in the face of a polite and respectful crowd.
The sight of thousands of immigrants, many undoubtedly without legal papers, dismays some people, here and elsewhere in the country. Some see in that outpouring a threat to our way of life, a porous border, divided loyalties. We do not.
Illegal immigration places significant stresses on society -- on hospitals and schools and jails, to name just three public institutions. Immigration law requires thoughtful, complex solutions that adapt to reality, not a list of demands crafted by ideologues.
What is simple, however, is the patriotism of those who marched through downtown on a spring afternoon. "Immigrants built this country," one banner read. That remains as true as ever. The challenge for the rest of us is to absorb that love of country and allow for future regenerations of our patriotic spirit.