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Protest draws an upbeat, determined crowd

Times Staff Writers

Long before Tuesday’s May Day marches ended in clashes between police and demonstrators in MacArthur park, organizers had already endured a disappointing day.

The overall turnout for the morning and afternoon demonstrations was a fraction of the number in rallies last year that jammed downtown, but that did not dampen the spirits of many of the marchers, who said they would continue to push for immigration reform.

“We’re here and we’re not leaving,” said Blanca Duenas, a garment factory worker in Los Angeles. “We have to show Congress that we’re good people.”

The Los Angeles Police Department braced for large crowds by deploying hundreds of officers on foot, horseback, bicycles, motorcycles and cars along both march routes; helicopters flew overhead. The cost to the department will probably be about $300,000, the amount spent last year on extra policing, said Sgt. Lisa Turvey.

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The first protest began at Olympic Boulevard and Broadway downtown with a few dozen people, who were nearly outnumbered by vendors selling food and T-shirts. Organizers postponed the march for more than an hour while they waited under overcast skies for more demonstrators.

By the time the noisy band of protesters reached City Hall, the crowd had grown to an estimated 25,000. Organizers had expected about 100,000.

Roughly 10,000 went to the second march, which started at 3rd Street and Vermont Avenue and ended with a late afternoon rally at MacArthur Park. The rally, with a fiesta-like atmosphere, featured chanting and speeches from religious and union leaders.

“We have this paradox that Congress has to overcome,” Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said after speaking in Spanish to the crowd. “We have a fence along the border and we have two signs. One says ‘Keep out.’ The other says ‘Help wanted.’ ”

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At both events, several counter-protesters gathered in opposition to illegal immigration.

Richard Abrams, 51, an opponent of illegal immigration who observed the gathering of marchers at 3rd Street and Vermont, said all immigrants should follow the legal process if they want to become citizens.

“My issue with illegal immigration is that it’s illegal. Enough said.”

Many of the businesses along Broadway and near MacArthur Park closed Tuesday. In downtown, one noticeable exception was a music store on Broadway that blared ranchera songs as the crowds drifted past.

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The few shop owners that did stay open said business was hurt.

Luis Aranda, owner of a 99 Cents store near Broadway and 8th Street, said he was resolved to keep his 4-month-old business open, even as demonstrators marched by.

“I’m in favor of the march, but my obligation is to pay the rent,” said Aranda, 50. “My sales will be 50% less today.”

In the afternoon, Johnny Yu, 54, a Korean businessman, watched the mostly Latino marchers go by on Olympic Boulevard on their way to MacArthur Park.

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“It’s OK. It’s just one day,” he said. “They have a right to express their opinion, and I respect that.”

Several downtown streets were blocked off during the protests. The city deployed about 400 extra traffic officers, about twice the number dispatched across the city on a normal day, to manage the streets, said Gloria Jeff, general manager of L.A.'s Transportation Department. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it detoured 69 bus routes in the downtown area and beefed up service on the Red Line subway and the Long Beach light rail line.

Demonstrators called on Congress to approve a program for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, who they said are critical to the U.S. economy. They also condemned the government for deporting illegal immigrants and dividing families.

Juan Lerma, a 29-year-old janitor and illegal immigrant from Mexico, waved a United States flag and wore a T-shirt that said, “Si Se Puede” and “To the Streets.” He marched alongside his wife, who is here legally, and their 9-year-old U.S.-citizen daughter.

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“We really deserve amnesty,” Lerma said. “We came here to work. We’re not criminals, as some people say. We don’t come to steal jobs. We do the heavy work that nobody else does.”

Maria Gonzalez, 41, said her husband was deported to Mexico three months ago, leaving her to raise their three U.S.-born teenage children.

“He went to work and they took him,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Among the crowds were hundreds of students who ignored pleas from school administrators and left Los Angeles-area campuses to participate in the rallies. District officials, who had anticipated more walkouts, said the largest group came from Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, where about 150 students ditched classes.

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Carly Curiel, a 17-year-old South Pasadena High School junior, said she and her parents were born here, but her grandparents were born in Mexico.

“I think it’s a very important cause, especially for younger kids,” said Curiel, carrying a Mexican flag. “We’re the future. We have to get involved.”

Many of the protesters were citizens, including Sylvia Carranza, 40, a Mexican American union organizer. She said the demonstrations show Washington lawmakers that people are paying attention and care about immigration reforms.

“For U.S.-born citizens,” said Carranza, “it is really important to participate because it’s showing our representatives that we are watching.”

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anna.gorman@latimes.com

jill.leovy@latimes.com


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