Troublemaker's Journal

Fathers Day in Painesville

Jun 27, 2007 at 2:06 pm

I'm a father of three: Jake, Traven and Reed. Wonderful boys. I couldn't be prouder.

Jake, my son the Blues musician and actor who's just back from making the latest Rambo movie in Thailand with Sylvester Stallone, called from Pasadena and we talked. Traven, my son the artist who's working with the restaurant workers' organization called ROC-New York, gave me a call from the Big Apple. My youngest soon, Reed, the family's computer geek, was home but still in bed when I left for Painesville, Ohio, but we talked later on the phone.

My boys are lucky — they have their father. Their father is luckier still — he has his fine sons.

Not everyone is so lucky.

I spent Father's Day in Painesville in Lake County, up by Cleveland, which recently lost a few fathers.

Since May 18 the Federal Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division — known as ICE — has arrested more than 40 people in Painesville, most of them dads. The ICE agents arrived early in the morning, rousting people out of bed. The big men in uniforms, carrying guns, went into the homes. The men were taken away in handcuffs while the women and children cried.

The next day more than 400 families, terrified by what had happened, took refuge in a church and prayed to God to return their fathers and protect them from arrest and deportation. Prayed to God to reunite their families.

Immigrants in Painesville are afraid — and they should be, for the authorities promise that the raids will continue. A couple of weeks after the raid a handful of white folks from Painesville held a small rally demanding that immigrants be deported and that employers who hire them be punished.

White people with little education find themselves competing with Latino immigrants for unskilled jobs. Right-wing racist demagogues, white patriots and Klan-types organize their discontent. Immigrants become the enemy.

There's another sad situation: Dads filled with hate toward people much like them — other workers trying to make a living.

What do you do when something like this happens? When the government swoops down and snatches up fathers? Well, you have to do something, don't you think?

The Ohio Immigrants Network, known by its Spanish acronym as RIO, decided that we should make a show of solidarity with the immigrants in Painesville. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee of Toledo, Miguate of New Philadelphia, the Immigrant Workers Project of Canton and the Coalition for the Rights and Dignity of Immigrants (CODEDI) from Cincinnati, the group I work with, all drove up to Painesville.

I went in a van with my wife, Sherry; our friends, Sylvia Castellanos and Rosita Urcia; and two men, immigrants and undocumented, to join the silent march through Painesville and the peaceful rally in the park. The two undocumented immigrants who came with us feared they might be detained and deported, but their sense of responsibility toward those now fatherless families overcame their fear.

I think this was the first immigrant march ever held in Painesville. We were only a couple of hundred folks, mostly the workers from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, with token participation from the other organizations. Almost nobody from Painesville marched with us: They were all too scared.

But a black preacher from Cleveland came and brought four young folks with him, three young men and a young woman. I would have driven to Painesville for that alone, to march with them, young black people who came out to protect the rights of Latino immigrants.

We marched from a baseball field where many Latino immigrants had decided to finish the game rather than join the demonstration. The sun beat down on us, and I was glad I wore my hat. We headed up the hill to the town square, where we stood in the shade of the trees to escape the 95-degree heat.

The rally was dominated by preachers and prayers. A mother talked or mostly cried about her husband, arrested and still being held by the authorities. A group of four girls told us the story of the morning that Homeland Security broke into their home at 6 a.m. to steal their father.

Baldemar Velásquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, always a great speaker, told the small crowd that the Latino people with their mixed blood and their Indian roots have as much right as anyone, if not more, to be here or anywhere in the Americas. A Japanese woman, the pastor of some church, told us that, whoever was here first, we're all here now — and we're all entitled to equal rights.

Throughout our little march and rally, a dozen police cars and unmarked vans buzzed around. I suppose they were preventing the outbreak of a Fathers Day riot in the abandoned downtown of Painesville on a hot Sunday afternoon. Sometimes you have to wonder what the cops are thinking.

Afterwards, to protect the undocumented workers amongst us, we all walked back together, down the hill, back to the baseball field where the ball teams were just finishing up the game. For people without papers, they play pretty good ball.

So it wasn't one of the demonstrations of last year, when hundreds of thousands of Latino immigrants showed their power through demonstrations that, in cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, became virtual general strikes. It was just a small march and a little rally on a Sunday, a Fathers Day, in Painesville's abandoned downtown, so that some families would know that others care.

But I thought it was worth it. For the fathers that were gone, I was glad to be a father who was present.

Dan La Botz is a writer, teacher and activist. His column appears the fourth issue of each month.