Thousands of demonstrators converged Thursday on downtown Los Angeles to rally for immigration and human rights reform in the annual May Day marches.
The boisterous demonstrators, numbering a few thousand, waved placards reminding leaders their voices will be heard as they chanted, "Yes, we can!" in English and Spanish. There were three separate marches, starting in Chinatown and around Olympic Boulevard, by dozens of groups making their way to the central downtown area.
Los Angeles police were a noticeable presence at all three marches, but no arrests were made, said Officer Rosario Herrera.
Many marchers toted signs reading "Stop deportation" as motorists honked in support along Broadway at the 101 Freeway.
Stephanie Lomeli, 24, of Huntington Park, marched with Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, which provides legal aid to minors apprehended trying to cross into the United States. She said her parents lived as undocumented immigrants when they first arrived from Mexico, crossing the desert to enter the U.S.
"My parents tell me stories about when they crossed — but then to picture children doing the same alone," she said. "These minors are as young as 5 or 7. Their voices need to be heard."
Eduardo Rodriguez, 11, clutched a sign that read, "No more American citizen kids with a broken family. We need our families together now." He has a friend whose father was recently deported. Eduardo wore a hard hat and a green mesh vest to salute his own father, who he said works in construction and could not attend the rally.
"Our parents came here to work and give us a better future," said the Pacoima Middle School student, standing beside his 9-year-old brother, Jonathan. "Kids are lonely without their parents."
It's a feeling that Jersey Vargas of Panorama City knows well. In March, the 10-year-old became an international symbol after her tearful plea to Pope Francis at the Vatican. She asked that her father remain in the U.S. after he was caught driving without a valid license.
Demonstrators on the trek to Broadway and Temple called Jersey their own "little celebrity" as she stood on a truck bed, clutching a microphone.
"We need to stop deportation now," she said in English and Spanish, to applause and cheers. "My family was going to be destroyed."
The demonstrators at Broadway and Temple closed their march with an energetic band performance as a man waved the American flag. Many rushed to Jersey, asking for her photograph and commending her activism.
Her father was there. He leaned over Jersey, soothing her shoulders while resting his chin on her head. He smiled, but never said a word.