Kitsap immigrants, activists take grievances to the streets

Jose´ Gonzalez, 8, of Bremerton, marches in the Seattle May Day parade May 1. He is joined by his sisters, 11-year-old Mayra, left, and 6-year-old Hannia, right. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Jose´ Gonzalez, 8, of Bremerton, marches in the Seattle May Day parade May 1. He is joined by his sisters, 11-year-old Mayra, left, and 6-year-old Hannia, right.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

This year’s May Day parade held special significance for Martitha May and about 150 Kitsap County residents.

In the wake of a new Arizona law allowing law enforcement to check people’s immigration status in everyday encounters, immigrants are fearful and angry, said May, of Bremerton, and she wants their calls for immigration reform to be heard in the other Washington.

“We gave him our vote,” said May of President Obama. “We wanted him to step up.”

May is chairwoman of the Kitsap Multicultural Assistance Center in East Bremerton, a social services agency which lends assistance to immigrants making homes in the West Sound.

The Arizona law was credited with boosting Kitsap participation in the cross-Seattle procession that included thousands protesting immigration laws, chanting “Si´, se puede,” or “Yes, we can.” Though Latino immigrants and activists in Kitsap say they are treated well, they still want to see federal immigration reform for those who are persecuted and separated from their families in other parts of the country.

“I would like to support my people because they need to be recognized and not be afraid,” said Oscar Vega, pastor of the Communidad de Esperanza church in Bremerton. “I don’t want the government to persecute people who come here for a better life.”

Not only has Obama stalled on the comprehensive immigration reform Latino voters trusted him to pass, but the increasingly restrictive laws in Arizona pose a threat to immigrants and citizens everywhere, May said.

“It’s not right what happened in Arizona,” she said. “They’re going to be stopping Americans.”

Some immigrants worry that laws like those in Arizona could spread to Washington, Vega said.

“We have to stop that kind of law because people are afraid,” he said. “If Washington were like Arizona, it would be very terrible for our people.”

Fredy Enriquez said he came to the protest to show immigrants are equal to American citizens.

“We’re all the same,” he said, translated by his 12-year-old daughter, Jovana. “We live in peace.”

Jovana Enriquez, who held signs with her younger sister Melissa, said everyone needs to get along.

“We all deserve respect,” she said.

Despite the turmoil at the country’s southern border, immigrants who live and work in Kitsap said they have good lives here.

Claudia, an immigrant from Mexico who wished not to give her last name, has lived in Bremerton for 10 years, working as a housekeeper.

“Everyone here is fine,” she said through a translator, adding that her only challenge is getting assistance from the state Department of Social and Health Services with the language barrier.

Carmelina, who immigrated from Guatemala seven years ago, said coming to the U.S. allowed her to earn money for her family in poverty.

“I came here to have a better life and help my family,” she said through a translator. “It’s nice here.”

Carmelina lives in Bremerton and works as a brush picker. Because her native language is mam, an indigenous language spoken in Guatemala, she has a hard time finding any other work. But since moving north, she has learned Spanish, which helps her communicate with more people.

Both Claudia and Carmelina said they have never suffered persecution or immigration challenges while living in Bremerton.

“People in Kitsap County have such a wonderful heart,” said May, adding that most discrimination against Latino immigrants is concentrated in the southwest of the United States. “I hope they don’t change.”

Ray Garrido, Ollala resident and treasurer of the Kitsap Multicultural Assistance Center, said he supports enforcing immigration laws, but the United States’ policy is broken.

“We need to enforce the border, but we need a way for people who are here to become legal,” he said. “We respond by closing borders and essentially what we do is force people to cross the desert.”

Immigrants contribute to the local economy, May said, and need to be treated as equal workers and residents.

“We just want the government to listen,” she said. “We are human beings.”

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