portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting united states

economic justice | human & civil rights | labor workers freedom ride

Portland Freedom Riders Begin Day 2 in Walla Walla

Portland and Seattle riders on the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride (IWFR) consumed a breakfast of rice, beans, eggs, sausage, pastries, coffee, and orange juice with the community of Walla Walla, Washington and students from Whitman College before beginning the second day of their bus journey across the nation. The riders spent the night in private homes and campus housing after their arrival late Tuesday before traveling to Idaho by day's end.

"Walla Walla knows how to treat the Freedom Riders with dignity and respect!" shouted Maria Damaris Silva, a co-organizer of the Portland bus, at the early morning breakfast in the meeting hall of St. Patrick's Catholic Church Wednesday. Several riders shared personal accounts of their lives as immigrants or the children and grandchildren of immigrants.

After leaving the church, the pilgrims joined a rally with students on the campus of Whitman College moments away. Students and riders shared their thoughts on the meaning of the Freedom Ride to Washington, DC and New York and the importance of attaining dignity and respect, a path to citizenship, safe working environments, and living wages for hardworking immigrants and their families.

Oscar Morales, a senior at Woodburn High School in Woodburn, Oregon, left his parents behind in Mexico to get an education in the United States. As a Mormon, Morales plans to go on a two-year mission for the church after graduating from high school. He is eager to submit his application to officials in Salt Lake City and learn where he will be working for his faith. Embarrassed by what he considers poor English, Morales addressed the Whitman students in Spanish, which was translated by a friend from the Portland bus.

"We want legalization and a path to citizenship for all immigrants," he said. "We are [on the bus] because we want to participate. The students often say we are the future. No! We are the present. We are going on the Freedom Ride because we want equality for everybody, regardless of skin color.

"We want a better world," Morales continued, "not only for us, but also for the future generations that are coming after us. We will achieve these things by being united. We are going to fight together, march together, and work together!"

Whitman College professor Paul Apostolites, a co-organizer of the Walla Walla Freedom Ride events, addressed the students and urged them to consider the next stop on the Freedom Ride, a brief demonstration in Weston, Oregon. Apostolites acknowledged that many students might feel their course work piling up as they entered the third week of classes in a new semester and jokingly apologized for assigning papers that were due this week.

"If your head and your heart are telling you to join the caravan to Weston and see what it's like in the company town when two busloads of immigrant workers on a Freedom Ride come down there," he said, "that could be a very interesting learning experience."

Accompanied on the bus by a number of Whitman students who accepted the professor's offer, the Freedom Riders then departed Walla Walla and crossed back over the Columbia River to Smith Frozen Foods, owned by Oregon Senator Gordon Smith. The plant employs 200 permanent workers and swells to about 600 seasonal workers when crops are harvested and delivered to the plant for processing.

When riders began chanting slogans in front of the employment office of the plant, several workers dressed in smocks, hairnets, and hardhats peered from the doors and windows of the large industrial building. At the urging of their companeros from Portland, Seattle, and Walla Walla, about two dozen workers, mostly Latina women, exited the building and crossed a railroad track to join in the protest. Others watched from a loading dock, some signaling their solidarity with the demonstrators with furtive hand gestures and smiles. Several workers spoke to the riders in Spanish using a megaphone that was passed through the crowd.

Workers and riders shared a hasty lunch of burritos wrapped in foil and passed from a cooler. The protest and rally lasted for nearly an hour before the workers re-entered the facility to complete their shifts and the riders continued on their route towards the nation's capitol.

The riders were able to spend a few hours relaxing as the buses headed from Weston to Farmway Village near Caldwell, Idaho, a few miles from the Oregon border on Interstate 84. The village, a housing project comprised of tidy houses, dormitories, and open grass spaces shaded by tall trees, is home to nearly 1000 migrant workers, who earn their income in the agricultural industry.

A delegation of young women from Boise State University's Organizacion de Estudiantes Latinos Americanos (OELA, pronounced 'oh-WAY-la') greeted the riders as they exited the buses. The village threw an elaborate fiesta with food, music, and speakers. A group of boys and young women called Raices Mexicanas delighted the crowd with their traditional Mexican costumes and dances.

The Freedom Riders spent Wednesday night in the homes of the workers of Farmway Village, before waking for a hasty 6 o'clock breakfast in the village's escuela and departing for Rupert, Idaho and Salt Lake City on the third day of their journey.