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March for immigration reform takes to Napa streets

From a Napa church through downtown and to the City Hall steps, the chant rang out Sunday afternoon from some 200 marchers: “Si se puede!” “Yes we can!”

One of Napa’s largest contingents appeared in force for the annual March for a Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which spread its message in a 90-minute procession filled with shouts and signs urging elected officials to push for an overhauled immigration process to free millions of Latinos in the U.S. from their undocumented limbo.

“Obama escucha, estamos en la lucha!” (Obama, listen, we are in a struggle!) came one of the chants from Napa Street to Soscol Avenue, along with “Qué queremos? Reforma! Cuándo? Ahora!” (What do we want? Reform! When do we want it? Now!)

With the Azteca Nanahuatzin dance troupe leading the way, the marchers set off from outside St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on a loop through downtown. Accompanied by a forceful seven-beat drum rhythm — and, later, by the friendly horn-honking of drivers showing their support — demonstrators waved aloft signs reading “GOD BLESS AMERICA AND HER IMMIGRANTS,” “REFORMA IMIGRATORIA JUSTA” or “Do I LOOK undocumented?”

“I think the Latino community is feeling more empowered, more comfortable exercising its voice,” said Julio Soriano, who led the procession for Latinos Unidos del Valle de Napa y Solano, which organized the event with the St. John church, North Bay Progressive Alliance, and the county Democratic and Green parties.

“The community is generally more receptive to this, acknowledging importance of farmworkers to state,” he said. “I think there’s more openness to farmworker rights and immigration reform.”

In Napa County, immigration reform marches have been a staple of the Cinco de Mayo weekend for about a decade, going back to a 2006 procession in St. Helena. While the hoped-for immigration reform has remained elusive in Congress, some organizers said the marches gradually have won supporters for the cause — and shone a light on deportation’s toll on families.

“I think people are embracing the idea that we’re all human beings, and that some of the things Latino immigrants are forced to go through are inhumane,” said Joanne Gifford, a Latinos Unidos board member who marched in the Napa event.

“I’m in a mixed-status family,” said Karla Marquez, another marcher. “Part of the family is documented and the other part is not.”

Amid the panoply of placards and sandwich boards urging an end to deportation and the splitting up of immigrant families, another marcher made his point in a different way — by carrying the Stars and Stripes.

“I think it’s very important for us to represent who we are,” said the flag holder, Ricky Hurtado, a Napa native. “We are a part of America, and it’s something that’s important to show.”

For Berenice Castañeda, the longtime co-owner of the Don Perico restaurant, the annual march was a time to remember both her good fortune and the travails of others less fortunate.

“I’m here to support my people and the immigrant community,” Castañeda, who arrived in the U.S. in 1991 and has lived in Napa for 21 years, said through an interpreter. “I’m fortunate enough to have legal status, and I have the privilege to go back and visit my relatives, but that’s not the reality for a lot of people,” she said.

As the throng reached City Hall, marchers paused for a minute of prayer and words of support from a group of city and county officials — including Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, who promised his alliance to the cause of immigration reform.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he said, “and together we will do it. Si se puede.”

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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