“No Papers, No Fear,” painted in purple letters and surrounded by pink flowers and butterflies, stood out from the six-foot backdrop of a flatbed truck’s makeshift stage at yesterday’s Memphis Unafraid rally.
“No somos illegales! No somos criminales,” the crowd of over 200 chanted in unison in front of the stage, where between 5 and 9 p.m., undocumented individuals and supporters performed skits, poetry, and speeches to highlight what they said are injustices to basic human rights.
The event at El Mercadito on Ridgeway Road across from Hickory Ridge Mall was one stop on the UndocuBus’s tour of the southern United States on its way to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 3rd.
The UndocuBus started its journey in Phoenix, Arizona on July 29th, on the anniversary of the state’s implementation of strict immigration laws that many immigrants and human rights advocates claim have led to unfair racial profiling and long-term detentions at private prisons during deportation proceedings.
The group is heading to the convention to join activists and allies in North Carolina, who are organizing around labor and immigration laws in that state, and to show Democrats the movement is powerful enough to warrant their support.
Six new undocumented members will join the bus when it leaves for Nashville Thursday, including four Memphians.
Alejandro Guizar, a 19-year-old college student from Knoxville, said he is joining the movement because he wants to give people courage to stand up for themselves and their community.
“When people are in the shadows, they get taken advantage of, and nobody ever finds out about it,” he said. “There is no way to defend yourself. You don’t know what to do. You don’t want to go out and ask for help. People are just scared.”
Gerardo Torres who has been on the bus since Phoenix said the immigration laws target the Latino community and create fear of the police.
“They say its not about skin color or about being Mexican,” he said, “but I’ve never seen any police officer stopping a white person. Phoenix is not just Mexicans. It’s a lot of other immigrants from a lot of other nations, but it’s focused on the Mexican people.”
Though many criticize the Undocubus for being lawless, Torres said, “Sometimes you have to break laws in order to get rid of unjust laws.”
He also said the eye-opening experiences and community support are what gives him the strength to shed his fear and speak out.
Support for the bus has reached outside the Latino community, drawing a supportive editorial from the New York Times.
Six supporters from the Chicago-based Immigrant Youth Justice League came to Memphis to follow the bus through Tennessee and show their solidarity with undocumented friends on the bus. Univision, a Spanish-language television program, is documenting the group’s travels.
Local support came from the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Workers Interfaith Network, Memphis Socialist Party, Communities United Under One Voice, and Unitarian Universalists as well as many local Latino businesses and community members.
So far, the bus has stopped in Denver, Albaquerque, Austin, and New Orleans without any interference from law enforcement.