On Saturday I participated in the “stand up for peace” march in East Salinas, sponsored by the Diocese of Monterey and leaders of Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA). The march began in front of Alisal High School on Williams Blvd. I missed the opening remarks, but joined the group a couple blocks from the school. Two priests led the procession. Slowly people began to join us, swelling the ranks.
There were a number (maybe a dozen?) of people from the press there, loading their cameras, looking for high points from which to shoot the crowd.
We passed a lot of small apartment buildings, small houses and businesses–auto shops, taquerias, lavanderias, and small beauty shops. Children in the yards climbed the fences for a better look. Families gathered on their front steps and on apartment balconies. Some had decided it would be a great day for having a yard sale. But from what I saw, very few took the time to check out the sales. They were all busy walking.
We headed down Williams toward E. Laurel. Some people driving by honked their horns and waved. Clearly this was considered a family event, and many brought their children. Behind me, I could hear a group of people saying a prayer to the Virgin Mary, and sometimes breaking into song. I don’t speak Spanish very well, but I could tell they were asking for her intercession, asking for peace, and an end to violence.
We turned onto E. Laurel, and someone called my name — Elbina — a friend whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. “You made it!” she said. She passed me by, saying we’d see each other at the church. I looked back, and couldn’t see the end of the line of people. Later, I read that there were some 5000. As the procession made its way down the street, people standing in their doorways watched us with serious faces.
It was interesting to see the area where Azahel lived. The neighborhood was modest, to be sure. There were wrought iron grills over many of the windows. While the houses and apartment buildings looked a bit run down, most of the yards were clean. Finally the crowd slowed down, as we came to the Cruz home. The family did not emerge. The “pocket park” where the young gang members had congregated on the fateful day was right next to Azahel’s house, bordering on their property.
Three photographs of Azahel were prominently displayed.
Finally we all turned the corner and headed another 3 or 4 blocks to the church. We passed a big school, where there were many kids playing baseball and other games. The church was located in a nearby neighborhood that was more upscale.
In front of the church there was a stage, and members of the church choir were on the stage, singing John Lennon’s “Imagine.” A popsicle vendor stood nearby, reaping the benefits of the big crowd, as thirsty protestors bought his popsicles. He had a little bell, which he rang more or less in rhythm to the song. I recorded this, but I’m still trying to figure out how to get audio on my blog.
I was pretty exhausted by this time, and I sat on a curbside near the stage. Once seated, I had a chance to do some people-watching (as you can see from the photo above, some people were also watching me!)
A number of teens were dressed to participate in the program. Some were dressed like gang members, and had painted their faces blue.
A few teens were called up on stage, where they gave “testimony” to their experience and the need to end gang violence. Some of them had lost a family member to shootings. An older woman who worked in the prisons read a long and moving letter from an ex-gang member.
There was a definite police presence throughout the march. Mainly, they seemed to be concerned with keeping the procession on the sidewalk, and off the street, and keeping the marchers safe. I think it was about as orderly a march as they could possibly have hoped for.
I left before the entire program was over (noticing someone behind the stage dressed like Jesus, I suspected that the primary message was going to be religious). Elbina was nowhere to be found. As I headed back to my car, two women were walking in front of me. One of them held some American flags decorated with peace doves. I asked them where the Cesar Chavez library was, and they kindly showed me the way.
As I walked back, I found myself asking “did I miss something”? It was a good idea to get the teens up there talking about how important it was to stay out of gangs. The prayers and songs helped people feel united, and voice their hopes and desires for peace.
But I had expected to hear representatives from the city government and community organizations talking about solutions, or at least proposing a community forum to discuss the issues. Perhaps even the police, talking about how they were going to help make the neighborhoods safer.
Obviously people care about the situation, or they wouldn’t have shown up. But I didn’t get a sense of strong leadership or involvement here from city or county. I didn’t get a sense that the testimonies and prayers were going to catalyze those emotions into something concrete. It’s possible I may have missed something at the beginning of the march, since I came in two blocks and a half hour later.
I realize, of course, that the gang violence issue is huge, systemic, and transnational — even more reason why individual intentions to do right won’t be enough. Police crackdowns won’t be enough. Teens, who are most vulnerable to the predations of gangs, need help finding decent jobs and job training, and both children and teens need after-school programs to keep them off the streets, and thinking in positive directions. They need good sports, arts and tutoring programs, too.
So what, then, is the city and state doing to fund daycare and after-school programs for teens in Salinas? In a recent article in the Monterey County Herald, Julia Reynolds and Jim Johnson report that “The lack of state-funded middle- and high school programs in the city is glaring when compared to other cities in the county. Most Monterey County cities receiving state after-school funds have at least one middle or high school program, according to the AfterSchool Network—but Salinas has none.”
That’s pretty sad, given the current level of gang activity in the area.
See Kimber Solana’s video of the march, HERE.