The size came as a complete surprise to me. I know that forty people isn’t so many, especially if you live in a larger town, but I doubt if there has been a rally of this magnitude here since The Great Depression, or earlier. A visitor from the city would probably see nothing unusual; a few impassioned, but tame, speeches; some interesting and creative signs; some big, colorful puppets of George Bush and the CEO of Malsanto. But I could see the good citizens of our little town had their eyes popping.
I came as an impartial observer, good journalist that I am. Yet I can’t help having some sympathy for these brown-skinned folks who bring the food to our table. I had come prepared to walk with the marchers the entire seven miles to the Malsanto Research Station. I had my day pack, bottled water, and some trail mix, along with my reporter’s notebook and some spare pens. I knew Dad would never go on this journey, but I was determined to get a feel for the changes happening in our town.
What I saw at the Square nearly made me loose my resolve. Three strange men stood calmly at the edge of the park, next to the Square. All three wore those wrap-around sun glasses. The man on the left had on an army green uniform, like federal marshalls or DHS agents wear. The other two were in fatigues. They looked just like the folks I ran into on my trip to Joseph. They observed the crowd coldly and frankly it gave me the willies.
I pushed my fear down into my gut and headed out with about twenty-five others. With each step I expected to be met with some local vigilante group or platoon of Immigration men in government SUVs, but I soon forgot all about those men in the park as I chatted with Raul, one of the marchers.
Raul is a lead worker at McCoy Industries. He says that McCoy treats him fairly well, but he and his family are under constant fear that the Border Patrol will deport him back to Mexico. His family lives in McCoy’s farmworker housing, and it seems like old Harlan has some connections to help keep the authorities at bay, because in the last two decades of large-scale farming, he has never been raided. Ever.
Raul says he can no longer keep silent. He has worked for McCoy for six years, and he has family all over Oregon. He has watched the anti-immigrant attitudes build, until he now fears for his family’s safety.
“My children must wait at the road with their mother each day for the school bus, and sometimes people throw things at them,” Raul recounts. “Once a farm truck drove off the road and nearly struck them. The driver cursed and shouted, go back to Mexico.”
My heart goes out to Raul and his family. I talked with several other marchers along the way, but none of the stories touched me as much as his did.
When we finally arrived at the gate to Malsanto, I once again saw the men in fatigues. They had been joined by a couple of other men in uniform. The government man was no longer with them. They sent ice through my bones, these men. Who are they? And what are they doing here in our sleepy little Wilbur County?