A shout echoed out of Plaza Olvera after dawn Wednesday.
A janitor whose small frame belied her booming voice stood at the center of a circle of people, leading the chant: “Obama, escucha: Estamos en la lucha.”
The 40 or so others -- a fraction of those expected to show up at a May Day march later in the day -- echoed her cry, which more or less translates to “Listen up, Obama: We are in the fight.”
For the small but boisterous group of activists who gathered Wednesday morning, May Day is as much a plea for immigration change as a day to celebrate laborers.
For janitor Gabriel Zamora, who sneaked into the U.S. through Tijuana eight years ago, both aspects were important.
“We’re here to demand political change and fair immigration reform,” he said in Spanish. “But we’re also here out of a spirit of celebration. We’re celebrating the power of workers. And the power of well-being that comes with working.”
Like Zamora, David Huerta said the tone of the morning’s event was a bit different than that of May Day gatherings in previous years.
Because of the recently unveiled immigration overhaul bill, workers have more hope, said Huerta, who works for the local chapter of Service Employees International Union -- a group of janitors, security officers and airport workers.
“There’s change on the horizon,” he said, smiling as he looked down at his purple shirt. It read: “With us, America works.”
But the fight for workers’ rights and immigration change still isn’t over, he said. “People are by no means counting their chickens before they’re hatched.”
Anabella Aguirre, the woman who led the morning chant, left her native Guatemala 14 years ago and sneaked into the U.S. with her young children. For her, May 1 was a day to remind politicians their work on immigration policy change isn’t over.
“This year, there’s a project on the table,” she said in Spanish. “And we’re out here today to make sure it doesn’t stay there.”
Anton Farmby, who also works for the SEIU, came to the morning event to send a message: Immigration change doesn’t only matter to Latinos.
“For me, as an African American, sometimes we don’t feel like this is our issue, or like it is something we should care about,” he said. “But it’s the exact opposite.”
“We don’t talk about the African issue, about undocumented immigrants from Africa,” Farmby said, adding that he knows people from Nigeria, Somalia and South Africa living in Los Angeles and working in the service industry.
“It’s the same, when you talk to undocumented workers -- no matter where they’re from,” he said. “There’s a fabric that weaves them together: fear.”
There’s still work to be done, no doubt, Farmby said. But he mentioned that for the first time in a long time there seems to be a “very real conversation” about immigration change.