As hundreds of marchers circled Patterson Park this afternoon, almost everyone's hands were in the air. If you weren't waving a flag from Latin America or holding an anti-Trump or pro-immigration sign, you were holding your phone high, broadcasting the "A Day Without Immigrants" march to the world.
The march, which took place in Highlandtown, a hub of Latin American immigrants, had a clear political purpose: to protest Donald Trump's immigration policies by encouraging Latinos and supporters of all races to skip work, school, and avoid shopping to demonstrate the power of immigrant labor. But, led by a group of mothers hell-bent on keeping their loved ones together, it was nothing if not a family affair.
The Baltimore march began at the Creative Alliance on Eastern Avenue, where its core organizers, members a group of Mexican women artisans, colluded to bring families together in public solidarity, even as many feared deportation.
"I am a hard working mother," announced one women through a megaphone. "I am not a criminal."
Artisanas Mexicanas is a 26-woman collective that shares folkloric traditions from Mexico, El Salvador, and Ecuador. Their creations range from pinatas, sugar skulls, and altar making. For an event on inauguration night, they exhibited a jumbo-sized pinata modeled after Donald Trump's face.
"Apart from being artisans, we are mothers, and we are affected as families," said one of the organizers, who asked not to be named because she is undocumented, after the march. Children were encouraged to bring signs, and with guitars and tambourines, sang classic songs like 'La Bamba' while they marched As the march peaked on Baltimore Street, toddlers were nodding off on their fathers' shoulders, holding tiny Mexican flags or signs reading "Proud Son of Immigrants."
Some attendees dressed in colorful floral headpieces, others in sombreros, and a few in pussy hats left over from the Women's March on Washington, as organizers led chants of "Si, se puede" and shared stories over a megaphone between musical interludes.
By the time it was halfway around the park, the crowd had swelled to several hundred, followed closely by police cruisers who had forewarned marchers not to let the march spill off the sidewalk. That, organizers explained, is when it would "become unlawful." The crowd obliged.
Flapping an upside-down American flag at marchers from his second-story balcony, one onlooker on Elwood Avenue taunted marchers with shouts of "Go back to Mexico!" But he was quickly silenced by drivers, who honked their horns as they passed, raised their fists in solidarity or, more likely, recorded the drive-by on Facebook Live. Many held signs calling for the release of Manuel Lopez Suarez and Serbando Fernando Rodriguez, two Highlandtown men detained by ICE last week.
For some marchers, the fight to work meant sacrificing their jobs. Lilia, a 42-year-old Mexican cook and pinata maker with the Artisanas Mexicanas, held a sign saying she'd lost her job to be there. Interpreting for her mother, 16-year-old Evelin explained that, in a group chat with other employees hoping to take the day off, Lilia's boss said, "If you take the day off today, don't come in tomorrow." But that wasn't enough to deter her. Her mother "feels strongly that she wants to help the community, even if it's a risk," Evelin translated
Evelin has three siblings born in the U.S., and three born outside. Her biggest concern, like so many marchers, is the possibility of becoming separated. She says she'd try to go to Mexico if her parents were deported, just to stay with them. But she isn't aware of what rights she'd have in her parents' home country.
Another organizer asked not to be named because she and her husband, a construction worker, are not full green card holders and fear deportation. The couple have three U.S.-born children and were hoping to secure their place here under the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans Bill (DAPA), which has been temporarily blocked and unlikely to be revisited under Trump.
"We are very insecure about what might happen to our kids, and we know we have the right to protest for our rights. We don't have so much as a parking ticket, so we are not a priority for the government. But it doesn't seem like [Trump] cares about that."
Three American-born sons of Mexican immigrants, Jorge, 17, his brother David, 12, and cousin Hernan,13, were there to support their parents.
"Many people get the wrong idea about Hispanic people because of the things that have been said in the media," said Jorge, whose father, a landscaper, has a green card.
Many from outside the Hispanic community joined in solidarity, including Lauren Hughes, an occupational therapist in mental health who works frequently with refugees. "It resonated with me because in healthcare, we don't ask people about their immigration status," she said.
"Keep in mind that families are being torn apart," Barbara, 17, told the crowd, echoing a shared anxiety among immigrant youth: "not knowing whether our parents will be there when we get home."
The convivial affair had a practical edge, too. As the attendees sang and chanted, speakers urged at-risk families to make a contingency plans, and handed out Spanish-language pamphlets from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, offering advice on what to do if ICE comes to the door, making their fears a reality.