Rallying Ride and Call -
Freedom for Immigrants

 

The Immigrant Workers' Freedom Ride (modeled in part after the 1960s Civil Rights Freedom Ride) culminated with a Mass Rally and Festival at Corona Park, Flushing Meadows, in Queens, New York on Saturday October 4, 2003.  Over 900 immigrant workers and supporters rolled into the park after two weeks on the move which included about ten cross-country stops where they held other rallies.

Well over one hundred thousand people joined them at the Mass Rally in Corona Park - making both a statement and their mark.  Multiple nationalities were represented and the likes of Charles Rangel, Roger Toussaint, Gifford Miller, Congressman John Lewis (who was part of the original Freedom Ride in the '60s led by Martin Luther King) and other speakers repeatedly offered impassioned words in support of immigrant workers' rights - calling for, among other things - the timely legalization of immigrants' status, amnesty, and stressing the importance on keeping immigrant families together, while noting that much of America's workforce comprised immigrant labor.  As one speaker succinctly put it:  Unless you are a Native American Indian - everyone else is an "Immigrant" - meaning of course the very people themselves who were responsible for the perceived obstacles and non-rights of the people now labeled 'immigrant workers'.

There were representative performances by various nationalities, all who have in one way or the other been subjugated by immigrant labor laws and otherwise.  Native American Indians, the Haitian Tabou Combo, El Prodigio, Bronco, African Drummers and the Mighty Sparrow were part of the rally's musical segments.  At the end of it all was a rousing presentation by Wyclef Jean with unprecedented crowd participation. Wyclef himself personally identified with the immigrant's plight; he himself was an immigrant, and was aware that many musicians suffered the same fate as other immigrant workers, they being subject to the same laws.  In a pre-show press conference he said personally knew of performers who had at the expiration of their particular 'Visa' had to return to their respective countries.  Wyclef who has remained one of the people despite his global success, made sure that he did not remain aloof from the crowds, leaping down from the stage, running through the crowd, shaking hands, letting some of them sing, etc.

A steelband representation of sorts was present at the Rally.  The band - CASA - did not take the stage, but performed around the concession area, away from the main event.  It is of concern that the event organizers did not have a major steel orchestra performing on stage with the other artistes, to have the opportunity to form that rapport with the thousands and thousands present.  When Steel Talks contacted the organizers just prior to the rally and was informed that due to time constraints, this was not possible, although it was initially considered and endorsed.

Caribbean immigrants too are afflicted by the same problems highlighted by the Freedom Ride, and the steelband players are a major part of that community.  As a steelband player who attended the rally himself said:  "I would have liked to have seen a larger, more meaningful representation of the Steelband community, and performing on stage as well.  They [steelband players] are a very large segment of the New York immigrant experience, who greatly impact on the young people."

New York alone fields about ten thousand steelband players, and ironically many of them are subject to the same woes as those partaking in the actual Rally.  Many of them are part of the immigrant labor force, and yet others are 'undocumented aliens', not to mention their family members remain in similar straits.  The steelband community/immigrants would have been well represented had even one of the likes of Pantonic, Sonatas or Despers USA, or other Steel Orchestras been part of the main performance line-up which included Wyclef Jean and others.

 

By CP - Basement Press Release Writer
 

 

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2003 Basement Recordings, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Date: 10.7.03

 

 

 

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