Norma Garcia stood on the sidewalk and flashed a thumbs-up to the passing cars, especially those that honked.
The white, paper sign she held said: “I’m here and I’m part of you.”
The words were outlined in red, matching the heart she’d drawn on the sign’s lower left corner and the letters she’d printed nearby: “CPJ.”
Comité Popular of Jasper County was one of three organizations that sponsored Monday morning’s rally along U.S. 278 East near The Crazy Crab on Hilton Head Island. The event, which drew about 40 people, many with their own signs, was co-organized by the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition and Lowcountry Indivisible. The groups’ gathering was part of a national movement on this day, International Workers’ Day, recognized annually May 1, often with marches and rallies.
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Newspapers such as The Washington Post reported that this year’s events will include nationwide work stoppages in protest of President Donald Trump’s stance on immigration and push for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. But local organizers called Monday’s event a show of support — not a protest like the ones held here March 14 — and a celebration of community.
“Our main goal is not to hurt our companies,” Garcia’s husband, Ernesto, said. “Because they put the food on our table. We want our companies to support (the immigrant community).”
Ernesto Garcia, a mechanic at a local dealership who’s lived in America for the past two decades, said he planned to go work after the rally, when he was due to clock in.
Galdino Larrea, a house framer who’s been here almost as long, also said he wasn’t striking Monday. He’s self-employed but knows workers put their jobs at risk when they sit out. And he worries about the messages strikes can send — one that people might need to hear, another that might be misunderstood.
On one hand, “they show employers what it’s like without hard workers,” Larrea said. On the other, though, strikes can reinforce stereotypes that immigrants are lazy and unreliable.
Norma Garcia, who cleans houses, said she was nervous driving to the rally. But “seeing all the beep, beep, beep” — cars honking their horns, presumably in support of immigrants, at the request of some of the sign-holders — made her feel loved.
“I worry that my kids feel discrimination,” she said, pointing to her arm and referencing the color of her skin.
One of her children recently told her that he was Mexican.
“ ‘No, (baby), you are American,’ ” she said, remembering what she told him. “ ‘This is your country. There are all kinds of people here.’ ”
Ernesto Garcia said there was a lot of fear in the Lowcountry’s immigrant community.
“The problem is it affects the kids,” he said. “People are afraid to take them to school. They are afraid to take them out to have fun.”
Most of the fear stems from being pulled over for a traffic violation, arrested and kept in jail with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement-hold, the Garcias and others said.
But people are still taking their kids to school and going to church, at least in Jasper County, said CPJ member Laura Mendez.
Jean Gross, 98, who came to America on May 1, 1946, from Chorley, England, said she came out in support of immigrants because she’s one herself.
“I’m out here to support the people who work hard,” she said. “And immigrants do their share. This is a big country, a huge country, and it needs hardworking people, good people. All types of people.”
While rally organizer and Lowcountry Indivisible member Mitch Siegel said Monday’s event was not a protest, some people held signs that said things like, “No 287(g) in Beaufort County.” The sentiment refers to county Sheriff P.J. Tanner’s controversial push to revive a locally run program that partners with Homeland Security to identify and remove immigrants who are not here legally, or are undocumented.
Tanner says the program will give his office access to powerful crime-fighting software and allow his deputies to remove “the worst of the worst” from the community. Critics worry the program could lead to racial profiling and damage law enforcement’s relationship with the immigrant community.
Tanner wrote to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in February requesting permission to revive the program. When asked Monday about the status of that request, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Bob Bromage said he would check on it.
Last time Siegel’s group tried to rally on Hilton Head, the event was moved because of what he described as roadblocks and intimidation tactics by the Town of Hilton Head and the Sheriff’s Office, respectively. Both the town and the Sheriff’s Office, though, denied that characterization, and the town has since drafted a protest policy to make the process more clear to residents.
Siegel said things went smoothly for Monday’s rally.
“This time around it was a very open, easy discussion and dialogue with them,” Siegel said. “It was very amicable, and I was happy with it.
“And we thank them for that.”