The Los Angeles-based band Ozomatli performs during the Cumbre Tajin 2013… (Felix Marquez / Associated…)
Poets have been called the "unacknowledged legislators of the world." (A poet, naturally, coined the phrase.) On Wednesday, a cross-section of L.A. musical street poets and activists -- including members of the bands Ozomatli, Quetzal, La Santa Cecilia, Las Cafeteras and La Chamba -- will be taking part in the May Day International Workers Day and Immigration Reform March in downtown Los Angeles.
As they explained at a Tuesday morning press conference, they're urging others to march with them, and they hope to inspire legislators in Washington, D.C., to get busy enacting comprehensive immigration reform and extending human rights protections to migrant workers. Last year, the annual march drew only a few hundred participants, but in previous years, the event attracted hundreds of thousands.
Most of the L.A. band members joining in solidarity are themselves children of immigrants, mainly from Latin America. Quetzal Flores, co-founder of the Grammy Award-winning funk-rock-jarocho fusion band that bears his name, said this year's large turnout of L.A. musicians has been gathering strength over the last several years.
"When you build a conscious artists' community, at some point this is going to happen. People are going to come together," Flores said shortly before the start of Tuesday's gathering at the offices of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) on West 3rd Street.
Speaking alternately in Spanish, English or both, several musicians told about their own families' struggles to immigrate to and assimilate in the United States -- some with work documents, others without.
Pepe Carlos, the accordion player for La Santa Cecilia, spoke about being the child of undocumented workers from Oaxaca, Mexico, and how their legal status has kept him from becoming a U.S. citizen, even though he grew up here. "We are in the May Day march to look for a migratory reform," he said in Spanish, "to step out from the shadows. Because we are contributors to this country. We contribute to the economy, we contribute to the culture."
Raul Pacheco of Ozomatli, who was born and raised in Southern California, called immigration rights "a question of survival and humanity more than anything else."
"People leave home to work, people leave home to survive," he said. "And if that's what you have to do, I support that."
In inviting people to join in Wednesday's demonstration, Pacheco added: "We want to speak to people also who are not necessarily on our side. We want to convince people, we want to meet people."
Joining the musicians was Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, who spoke about the confluence of workers' rights and immigrant rights.
"Immigrant workers are a very critical part of the Los Angeles economy and of the entire country," she said, speaking in Spanish. "Who are the bed-makers in hotels? Who are the people who take care of senior citizens, the home-care workers and the nursing homes? Who are those who pick up the garbage? Who is it that does the hard jobs in this country? It's the immigrant workers."